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Safety culture

See, guide, do

Using basic instructional techniques to develop and promote the Safety Culture you desire.


The impact that Safety and Organisational Culture have on the health and wellbeing of the workforce, consumer and the bottom line has been thrust into the spotlight. High profile investigations like the Banking Royal Commission in Australia and the catastrophic Boeing 737MAX accidents call the respective organisations’ culture into question (Fortune Article). Wether it be safety or organisational, the culture of a company or sector can have a major impact on its ability to maintain a reputation, service its customers and stay afloat in the market.

Australian banks and Boeing are so large that these events will not “close them down” but they will continue to have an impact for some time. Smaller business’ however, do not have the luxury of billions of dollars to pay fines, manage public relations, not to mention the time to defend their position in the courts.

A toxic or unhealthy organisational or safety culture in this context could and does crush small business. But how can you change it? How do you stop your organisational culture impacting on your bottom line?

Culture development

Identification of where you are and where you want to be is a crucial first step. As a business owner, company director or manager, you will have an idea of what you would like it to look like, but if you develop it in isolation your dream culture will remain a dream, stay as a “vision” or statement on the wall. Struggling for buy-in, unable to convey the message across the workforce and with no longevity. Buy-in and longevity are essential for organisational cultural change. It is a slow process that needs a concerted effort form all those in the workforce.

To achieve success the workforce needs to be part of the “dream”, involve them. In smaller organisations (10 or less) you can involve the entire group, in larger organisations it would beneficial to use a selected few, selected not by management but by the workforce. Then using workshops, discussion groups, surveys, questionnaires or what ever method fits with your operation, you get them involved in the development and decision of what you want your culture to look like. What works now, what needs improvements, ideas and examples of good bits from other organisations, should be considered.

Once input is gained, as a decision maker you can outline the culture you desire for the company, importantly providing feedback to those involved on why things were and were not included.

Try and keep it simple – start with a couple of key changes then gradually introduce “improvements” along the way.

As the workforce was engaged its development, the culture is their creation so buy-in should follow. Those involved will become the drivers in the workplace to make the change happen.

Many technical instructors have been taught and teach by a straight forward process of Demonstration, Direction and Monitoring. Using this simple flow you can develop and shape your organisation’s culture. For simplicity I have translated demonstrate to See, direct to Guide and monitor to Do.


The workforce drivers, along with the decision makers, will become the “see”. They demonstrate how to act, what to report, how to respond. They will show those around what the culture should be like what actions are and are not acceptable. The benefit of having workers and decision makers in this role is that the workers can do the ground work and be the ones who notice behaviour that does or does not align with the desired culture. Providing a ground level opportunity to correct and when needed they know they are supported by the decision makers. Demonstrated by either rewarding those demonstrating the desired culture or by holding those accountable who do not or refuse to do so.


As more of the workforce relate to what you are trying to achieve, reward and accountability are shown, then those who helped develop the culture can then assist in guiding the rest of the workforce to so the same. Providing feedback on reports, assisting and guiding those to carry out the desired behaviours. Creating simple to follow procedures (renovating old ones or deleting those not required) can assist in the guidance on how to continue cultural evolution.


Eventually, and it will take time, a few reviews and amendments, the whole workforce will be doing! They will be conducting business the way you need them too, the culture will be driving positive behaviours.

An organisational and/or safety culture will change over time as people come and go, requirements change, markets shift but using the flow above on a smaller scale, in smaller groups, is a method to continuously enhance the desired culture. Somethings may work and others will not. Being careful not to hide those areas/procedures/ideas that fail and feedback on what did or didn’t work will continue the evolution and ultimately improve your market standing. This process can also ensure workforce engagement and investment in the culture of the organisation and its future.

What not to do

Like any instructional plan there are things that work those that do not. Below are a few things that you and your business should not do or things that can and will impede your progress toward the desired culture.

  • Never act in a way that is not in line with your desired culture – the old “do what I say, not what I do” is one sure way to damage a safety culture.
  • Never ignore feedback and input from those who the culture affects.
  • Receive safety reports, ideas and/or criticism without providing feedback as to actions taken and why. Without feedback what incentive is there for the workforce to report or provide an idea again.
  • When trying to influence organisational and/or safety culture do not make all the decisions without any involvement or input from the workforce.
  • Change is challenging for many people so trying to make an extreme change all at once and/or expect it all to happen in a short time frame will most likely lead to failure. It places pressure on the workforce and it may be placed into the too hard basket.


Cultural change and development will not be an easy task. Setting the example and believing in the safety culture you desire is required particularly by management and business owners. Without commitment by the management the workforce will be unable to buy-in to the desired culture. It will take some hard decisions and commitment to make it work, but in the long run the benefits will be worth it – even if it is just a more contented workforce that gets to go home every day. To hear a discussion on this topic and much more check out Rotary Wing Show Podcast.