The Need for a Fair and Just Culture…(Part 1)

3rd November 2015

The workforce don’t trust the Executive Group’s motivations around investigating incidents – why might that be? When there is an incident, many organisations will have set the expectation that they want to learn what has happened (identify the root cause) and prevent this happening again (update the risk control arrangements) – both straightforward and sensible. Often unspoken and far less clear is the requirement for Consequence Management, i.e. an effective response to the personal performance which has contributed to the incident.

The workforce don’t trust the Executive Group’s motivations
around investigating incidents – why might that be?
The high level expectations are delivered by implementing a series of steps, which must be followed when a workplace incident occurs. These include the immediate response to provide aid and prevent further loss, communication into the management structure, conducting the investigation, classifying the incident, consequence management, reporting key findings and changing risk control measures as appropriate.

So if these steps are established, let us consider the behaviour and experience of those who are required to deploy them and work with them. Are the demonstrated behaviours aligned with the high level expectations? Might they explain the lack of trust?

Think about a recent investigation you have been involved with, or aware of, and ask yourself a simple question; what was the experience for those involved and what behaviours did you observe?

Might it be something like this…?

The Injured Person: Potentially injured and shocked by the experience and then suddenly scrutinised from all directions. Maybe has a sense that people want to know how you could let the team down so badly. Maybe frustration that all they were trying to do was keep the process running.

The Line Manager: Embarrassed by what has occurred and frustrated by pressing questions from their boss that may include “will this be a lost time”, “when will they be back at work” and “when will I have the report”? They may also be confused about priorities: “Why is H&S suddenly such a priority?”.

Senior Manager: They know the big boss will want answers and that they may well be called to explain the conduct of their part of the business in front of their peers. They press their employee for the report (like it’s a work product and not a thought process) and can lose sight of the care required for those injured and impacted.

The Boss: Their potential concerns may include, will the regulator be interested and what are the consequences for the business and their reputation? They push their team for the report and demand consequence management, often well before the root cause is known.

The behaviours observed are about classifying incidents, reputation, protecting your job, consequence management and writing reports – quite often in that order. Now reflect back on the high level expectations and the process steps ,they appear to have got lost or muddled in terms of priority in the behaviours and attitudes that you have observed.

The exhibited behaviours are developed based on previous personal experience and what people see happing around them. The behaviours are reinforced during each investigation and demonstrate what the business really wants.

If you plot a graph of consequence management actions against each type of employee from operatives to the CEO, you are most likely to find a spike at operative level employees and no one above supervisory level.

This is not realistic as we know clearly that the root causes of incidents relate to Leadership and Management issues and not solely to the actions of individual employees. This failure to identify the real root causes in a fair and just way, is one of the biggest challenges to the development of trust and engagement. In this example it feels like there is a blame culture.

In my next blog, I will develop the idea of a Fair and Just Culture and how it can build trust and engagement.

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