All organisations have problems and these are nearly always concern the people within. Whether that’s how to manage them, whom they hire, fire or promote or how to properly motivate, develop and retain high-potential employees. Psychology, the main science that helps us understand people, is often a pivotal tool for solving these problems. Yet, most companies choose to ‘play it by ear’, and billions of pounds are wasted in inefficiently recruiting and retaining people.
In 2013, Forbes found that 2 million people leave their jobs in the US every month and credited these huge figures to poor leadership, lack of trust, internal politics and employees feeling their talents are unrecognised.
Alberto Brea’s article ‘Amazon Did Not Kill the Retail Industry’ argues towards being customer focussed:
Amazon did not kill the retail industry, they did that to themselves with poor customer service.
Netflix did not kill Blockbuster, they did that to themselves with ridiculous late fees.
Uber did not kill the taxi business, they did that to themselves with the limited number of taxis and fare control.
Apple did not kill the music industry, they did that to themselves by forcing people to buy full-length albums.
AirBnB did not kill the hotel industry, they did that to themselves with limited availability and pricing options.
Technology by itself is not the real disruptor, being non-customer centric is the biggest threat to any business
If I could add my own line to this, I’d say:
“The Tabloids did not kill the safety industry, we did that to ourselves by telling and not listening, by policing and not coaching.”
Many safety professionals liked having the perceived ‘power’ of being able to shut working sites down and having people play along with their every word. This was the beginning of the end of effective health and safety management.
The ‘Trust Equation’ articulates this well:TRUST = (CREDIBILITY + RELIABILITY) / EGO
The equation suggests that no matter how credible, knowledgeable and reliable you are, if you make it all about yourself, people will disengage with you, and ultimately ignore you and anything you were trying to achieve.
At some point Health & Safety lost sight of its role and its customers - it became more about policing operations and less about helping and coaching people.
In my experience of studying accidents, more often than not, the root cause of most incidents can be traced back to an initial human error. Nevertheless, many safety professionals and their businesses are too eager to close out incidents at the immediately obvious trigger, rather than backtracking to see the root cause.
i.e. ‘The operative made an error, they should have operated the machine in a different way, therefore it was the operative’s fault.’
In fact, I’ve found that in the majority of cases the root issue is a lack of efficient processes and/or proper training.
Mental health charities are beginning to look at the impact this approach has on people in the workplace. Money pressures such as receiving wages as weekly pay, encouragement of a ‘hand to mouth’ living style, lack of job security, being away from home and unsociable working hours can play an invisible, but crucial role in the mental wellbeing of employees.
The world is changing at quite a fast pace. I often refer to a visual image that I find useful when putting human evolution in perspective. If the length of one of your arms represented the entirety of human evolution, the past 200 years would approximate the white tip of your fingernail.
It’s often easy to get lost in the context of this modern evolutionary speed, as a handful of inventions have quickly reshaped our lives after hundreds of millions of years of gradual changes. Many are still scrambling to keep their bearings in the new digital whirlwind.
Because of this pace, the focus is shifting away from rigid controls as they can become out of date before they are implemented.
The constant is always people. They are not only the engine but the heart and soul that will drive any process, organisation and ultimately the world forward.
The tech sector has often utilised the idea, ‘focus on the people and everything else will follow’. The rebellious attitudes against everything that represents the ‘conventional corporation’ have led to significant changes at places like Google and Facebook – just try and find one of their employees wearing a tie. Their offices are equipped with play slides and nap pods highlighting that this is not the workplace of olden times.
So, what is the role of health and safety within all this? Does it have an impact on job dissatisfaction? Strict health & safety will inevitably have a negative effect, and the living and quoting standards to manage people will have a negative effect.
Health & safety at its core is about managing people. It’s about understanding them and their environment and, in turn, using that information to inspire and implement positive changes.
So, is it about managing or leading?
In 2008, Google created ‘Project Oxygen’, their own study into management. The project is a case study of good management that actually makes a difference.
To better define what makes a good manager they came up with a list of 8 qualities based on the data received.
Google’s Project Oxygen findings:
1. Is a good coach
2. Empowers the team and does not micromanage
3. Expresses interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being
4. Is productive and results-oriented
5. Is a good communicator—listens and shares information
6. Helps with career development
7. Has a clear vision and strategy for the team
8. Has key technical skills that help him or her advise the team.
This list might seem obvious, but there are some interesting points in it. Firstly, technical skills scored lowest. While it’s important that managers have the required technical level to guide employees, other ‘soft skills’ such as coaching and communication are essential.
This proves that having technical expertise doesn’t necessarily make you a great manager. Do we need technical health & safety managers or people managers? Should we have ‘people coaches’ whose focus is to understand and develop the people within the organisation?
Secondly, productive and results-orientated styles seem counterintuitive to the programme. By empowering and motivating your team, they will set higher goals for themselves than any manager can.
Essentially, to be a great leader you need an understanding of the process that will allow the utilisation of different techniques rather than qualities to apply to all.
The qualities that apply to my profession apply to every profession.
To manage people efficiently the modern professional should have a core understanding of:
5. Statistical Analysis