Having lived and breathed safety over a 30 year career spanning many workplaces and industries, a common approach I still encounter, and must confess occasionally practiced in a past life as a safety practitioner, is the use of the ‘your house is a wreck’ metaphor. Why do we still feel compelled to highlight what is wrong and can/must be done better, rather than take people on a journey to discover what good looks like and how to make it a reality?
So, what am I on about? Well, in my experience, many safety practitioners will gather evidence and information to highlight all the issues that are present in a workplace (the ‘house’) and expect this to spark workplace leaders and their teams into action or ‘fix it’ mode. The assumption being that they will not only address, but seek to change their ways and that the changes will now ‘stick’.
What they fail to appreciate is that if the people they are dealing with are happy and content with their house, and can’t see that they can do better or that better actually exists (the possibilities), then there is nothing that can be said to shift that position. Except, if over time a ‘dissatisfaction with their current state’ can be created. In the majority of cases, this dissatisfaction won’t come from being told what is wrong. This will only get their back up, create animosity and limit the focus to doing the minimum to comply.
If instead we gather, feed and present concise, clear and unbiased information on the current state and what good looks like; any reasonable person will interpret the information for themselves and a dissatisfaction with the current state will build over time. With this momentum, there is no going back. The shift will begin and the change will be sustainable.
Let me provide a simple example. You are invited to a friend’s house for dinner and after dinner your friend shows you around. Following the tour you begin to highlight that the rooms are a bit small, the house could do with a coat of paint and the backyard needs a lot of work. Do you think you will ever be invited back? I suggest not!
Now let’s rewind. What if after the tour you highlight what has been done well, what else could complement, etc… and then over the next few weeks expose your friend to nicer ‘best practice’ houses, within their reach without overdoing it. Do you think you need to highlight what is wrong? If approached in the right way, dissatisfaction will build and they will instinctively start to act. Most importantly, you still have a friend who you can continue to support in realising their vision.
Are you someone who is stuck in the ‘your house is a wreck’ way of thinking? Or do you focus on creating a positive dissatisfaction with the current state and a vision for what could be?