Welcome to the third of six posts providing practical and actionable steps to improve the health and safety culture in your organisation. This post focuses on how to get board level buy-in and, more than that, to provide the leadership needed to dramatically impact culture.
All of these posts are sampled from our free eBook: Beyond Compliance: A Guide to Changing the Health and Safety Culture in Your Organisation which provides much greater detail than provided here.
Getting C-suite and board level buy-in to create a proper health and safety culture is a cause of unending frustration for many health and safety professionals. Before we get on to how we do this, it’s important to note that by ‘buy-in’ we don’t mean some passive role where they maybe sign more cheques than they used to, rather, one where the CEO leads the cultural change process and maintains it once established.
One of the most important things about influencing company executives and board members is to recognise that they don’t think like you do.
The eBook highlights nine essential and practical tips that you can use to get C-suite and board level buy-in. They are:
- Think Strategy
- Adopt the Right Tone
- Speak their Language
- Focus on What’s Important to the CEO
- Make it Tangible
- Make it Easy
- Tap into their Competitive Spirit
- Team Up
- Become a Leader Yourself
For this post we’ll explore three in more detail.
The first thing to understand is you should be talking to the CEO and other senior executives about strategy and vision, not policies and procedures. The CEO is interested in big-picture issues and the overall direction of the company. You need to understand this from the outset.
Also, you must demonstrate how the strategy you outline will have a positive impact on the performance of the organisation. We’ll get more into that in a moment.
If you don’t talk about strategy, though, and you don’t outline how it will improve performance, the CEO may regard the issue as not being worth their time.
Focus on What’s Important to the CEO
Your CEO will be interested in a range of things, but those things usually come under the following three headings:
- What is the impact on strategy – how changing the health and safety culture benefits his/her strategic vision and objectives.
- What are the direct benefits – explain this using tangible benefits to the business such as increased productivity because of reduced levels of absenteeism, lower insurance premiums, or reduced numbers of accident claims with the resulting financial saving. You can also talk about the reputational risk that exists when companies have a poor health and safety culture.
- How much it is going to cost – this might sound unusual to you, but your CEO will consider ROI – return on investment. That means they need to know the cost of delivering your plan.
Become a Leader Yourself
You can’t create a health and safety culture in your organisation without buy-in from the CEO and the board, but you can help to create an environment where this becomes more possible. You can do this by becoming a health and safety leader yourself. This is different from being a health and safety professional, expert, and/or manager. Also, it is absolutely not about being the health and safety enforcer in your organisation.
Instead, being a health and safety leader means having the right attitude to people in the company. For example, do you think people in your company just want an easy life and will take every shortcut they can, particularly when you’re not looking? This is not how leaders view people.
Leaders view people as being essentially good and wanting to do the right thing. Leaders also believe people generally want to make the right decisions and they want to have pride in what they do.
In addition, good health and safety leaders don’t conduct themselves in a way that involves blaming others, criticising what they do, and complaining about them. These are all negative actions.
The approach you should take as a leader should be much more positive where you are supportive and take steps to reinforce and promote good behaviour rather than always focusing on the bad.
Another thing good leaders do is encourage others to make health and safety decisions. This does not weaken or threaten your position. Instead, it strengthens it while also giving people ownership of the decisions they take. This is more powerful and effective at bringing about cultural change than people simply following decisions taken by someone else.
Part 4 of this series focuses on how to communicate, motivate and involve employees. If you want to read that now then you can sign up for the eBook here.