Winning a Tough Ballgame: 4 Questions to Help Assess Culture


Courtesy of Behavioral Science Technology, Inc. (BST)

It's my senior year in high school, and I'm pitching the biggest game of my life. We're in the district finals, winning 5-0, and I'm throwing a shutout. It's the bottom of the 6th inning (in high school ball, you only play 7) and I've managed to get myself into a jam. I've loaded the bases with zero outs. I'm clearly rattled, and I've lost command of my pitches. After calling for time, I motion for my catcher Robbie to talk with me on the mound. My coach trots out to join us...

My coach knew I was pitching a gem, and had seen it erode in front of his eyes, just as I had. With a mouth full of tobacco, he chawed, 'Josh.... I need you to throw strikes.' He then turned around and walked back into the dugout.

Big help he was. I was expecting more from him. I needed wisdom; what I got was frustration.

Not knowing what else to do, I turned toward Robbie.

'Listen Josh, your lead shoulder is dropping when you deliver the ball; it's causing you to throw high on almost every pitch. You're missing your mark way up in the zone. Keep that lead shoulder up, relax in your motion, and you'll be just fine.'

Getting Culture Right

In our work with clients, we often discuss culture (and its aspects) as a predictor of safety outcomes. We do this because it's true! But aside from just presenting theories and statistics, we talk about why it's important to have a strong safety culture, and offer recommendations on how to get there. If you're a leader in your company, know that nobody influences culture more than you do. If your team believes you make fair decisions, then you have influence. You have credibility. You can contribute to their ability to work safer. If your team believes their boss 'has their back', they don't feel intimated to bring up safety issues. They feel like their input is valued.

If I perceived Robbie to be unfair, would I have paid attention to his suggestion around my arm mechanics? Would I have even listened to what he had to say? If I thought Robbie never supported me when I argued with my coach, would I have trusted that he had my best interests at heart when he told me what to change?

We often hear, 'We know that culture plays a role in our safety problems, how do we improve it?' Do you know the state of your organization's safety culture and how to address those aspects that drive exposure and injury? Do you know how your organization's safety culture measures up against others in your industry?

Using my baseball story as a guide, consider these four questions to help assess the current state of your organization's culture:

  1. 'Can your pitcher call a timeout when he sees or feels something wrong?' In other words, can your people stop work, without any repercussion, if they see a problem? When was the last time stop-work authority was exercised, and how did workers perceive it? Knowing this is important because it's a quick proxy for understanding your organization's value for safety.
  2. 'Do you often see your 'Robbies' providing the feedback needed in order to make a difference?' Robbie told me which arm mechanics to change. Is your culture one of focused improvement, driven through observation, and partnered with positive feedback? This is important because it's indicative of the broader cultural aspect of approaching others around safety.
  3. 'Do your 'Robbies' have the skill set they need to be an effective catcher?' Robbie's job wasn't just catching my pitches; it was paying attention to the things I wasn't aware of and setting me on a path to success. Are your supervisors able to demonstrate safety best practices when working with their line personnel? Are your supervisors and managers comfortable making regular safety contacts and influencing the behavior of their direct reports?
  4. 'Are your coaches communicating effectively and is their message heard and respected by their pitchers and catchers?' In my story I was frustrated with my coach because I didn't think he was doing much to help. Is this the feeling among your workers? Do you know the perception of leadership's credibility within your organization?

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