Sammie’s Lament – A Powerless Purpose
I spoke with Sammie the other day to get a sense of how things were going. I heard the all too familiar lament of, ‘no-one’s listened before why should I tell you my story now’? Sammie felt so despondent because she was frustrated, she was inundated with paperwork and she felt that safety was creating way too much work for her. More importantly she did not understand how the new system being implemented was relevant to her and her site.
Her story was an all too familiar one; ‘I care for my workers and my clients and I do what it takes to make that happen…but…!’ And so the story goes. Sammie is a Manager of a large site with several hundred employees. She knows how to run a good tight ship.
Absolutely astounding that I still hear this catch cry some 15 plus years of being actively engaged in this industry. I came away from that hour chat not only having met with a person but also gaining an insight into the culture of this business; a culture of dehumanization. A culture of not knowing or understanding their people.
When we do not really ‘know’ our people then we have no way of knowing or understanding; risk and safety, what motivates people, what social arrangements or environmental factors influence peoples decisions and judgments, how people perceive risk. When we become blinded by mechanistic processes we will only create a negative, toxic culture within our organization.
What I also discovered was that I was asked to get caught up in the dehumanization process as well. I was initially engaged to mentor Sammie and the team of managers on what their safety responsibility was with respect to their site. My first directive was to do an audit (with a check list) to see how they were going.
I was saddened by the fact that this National WHS Manager thought that this was the best way to understand their people. He thought that he was doing the ‘right’ thing. I’m sure many of us (I have too been one of those executive safety managers trying to make a difference in the company) have thought this is the way to understand safety in our business.
And this is where I see the problem. We get so caught up in the systems, processes, measuring and numbers that we do not realize that what we are in fact doing is disempowering our people. In fact we are so blinded by the processes that we don’t even know our people. Is it any wonder though? Our safety regulators only focus on the compliance, systems and mechanistic processes.
I chose not to take the audit checklist in with me. I chose to have a conversation and asked how they were going. Sammie and her fellow colleagues were very responsive to a chat. Issues, concerns and questions were discussed and each time I met with one of those Managers I got a real sense of how they discerned risk.
So the solution to find the answer within this toxic environment is to take a step back and say no to the audit checklist and sit with a person and ask,
‘How are you really going?’