Organisations must take a deeper, more effective approach when it comes to implementing cultural change, especially when considering issues such as individual safety, according to one behavioural scientist.
Pragmatic Thinking executive director and founder Darren Hill said that, overall, most organisations fare “quite poorly” when it comes to enacting genuine cultural change.
“Most changes that take place in organisations aren’t measurable shifts to culture, they are simply incremental shifts to business operations that are trumped up as cultural change,” he said.
“While the conversation [takes place] around the integral nature [that] culture has in achieving business outcomes, far too many business leaders don’t understand culture, let alone how to shift it. There are certainly some fantastic cultural leaders out there, but in my experience, they’re a rarity rather than the norm.”
The biggest barrier to culture change is an emotional investment in the notion that things need to change, he argued, as culture change is often viewed as being a KPI or business incentive, rather than the foundation upon which strategies can and should be executed.
“The challenge for business leaders is to actively demonstrate the behaviours that align to a certain belief change,” he said.
“If this isn’t done explicitly, the integrity of the message is already challenged.”
There are a number of steps that organisations can take, he said, to resolve the challenges and thus effect genuine cultural change.
“Have more conversations about what they want to become as a culture, then what new beliefs we need to adopt for that to happen, and then how might we demonstrate this new belief through our behaviours in our work,” he explained.
“The last of these steps isn’t simply adopting the new behaviours you require from your people, but rather a significant shift in your behaviours.”
“If you can’t demonstrate willingness to change as a leader, then why would your people?” he asked.
This also has a number of implications for occupational health and safety (OHS) in encouraging safe behaviour and thereby improving OHS outcomes.
“OHS has improved markedly over the years through controls and processes, yet we know that no matter how controlled the environment can become, risks will still present themselves,” he argued.
“So, to go from a compliant OHS culture to another level requires working on the beliefs our people hold about safety.”
“Until we tackle this deepest driver of behaviour, we’ll be destined to create attitudes toward safety that are simply automated, unthinking process at best, and box-ticking at worst,” he mused.
It will be important for OHS professionals to firstly be the embodiment of belief in safety, and not just the person who follows procedures, he said.
In addition, those individuals will need to engage key influencers in the organisation to emotionally engage in the conversation around OHS.
“Until this happens, you won’t shift the prevailing beliefs around safety nor the behaviours required to go beyond best practice,” he concluded.