Changing cultures

30 April 2001

The pressure of increasing performance while increasing safety levels and decreasing the costs of operation is having a significant impact on the industry.

The public has a generally negative image of the nuclear industry. In part, this is due to the residual public suspicion that nuclear = bad, but only in part. There have been reports into claims of mismanagement. Such claims are being addressed, but, whatever the outcome, the public and customer will gain some negative impressions of the industry. These impressions can last a long time, even when erroneous.

Impressions are the result of many things; these may be good , bad or indifferent, but together they make up the organisation’s prevailing ‘culture’. Culture can permeate everything in an organisation, from the thinking of the board down to business and manufacturing processes, customer and employee relations, quality control and health and safety. There is growing evidence which shows that employees’ health, absenteeism and likelihood of accidents at work are related to “How things are done” in organisations. “How things are done” is dictated by the prevailing organisational culture.

If stress occurs in individuals when the demands on the individual are greater (or in some cases less) than their ability to cope, responsible employers must ensure that workplace demands are not too great.

Serious accidents often result from a combination or series of small events going wrong. Accidents are more likely when the quantity of regulations goes beyond a certain point and become counter-productive. Individuals with jobs offering more discretion, freedom and a sense of personal responsibility have fewer work related accidents.

Verax uses an organisational culture and effectiveness diagnostic and measurement tool, called Organisational Transitions Inventory (OTI). This measures how things are done in the organisation and the outputs and outcomes achieved. However, the outcomes are predominantly business related. A new measurement tool – Human Factors OTI – measures outcomes in terms of absenteeism, symptoms of stress related illness, accidents and near misses, human factors behaviour, safety and reliability. The new measure not only shows inputs (how things are done) and outputs (health and safety behaviour) but also the links between them. Like standard OTI, the intention is to build a norm base so that all results can be benchmarked against other similar organisations.

Culture and Health & Safety

The quality assurance data falsification at BNFL indicate the link between the culture and employees attitudes and behaviour relating to safety. Instead of carrying out performance tests and recording the results so that customers were aware of the details of the products they were receiving, old batch records were replicated. Discrepancies came to light when customers did their own checks, although there was no danger as the material fell within safety parameters.

The incidents occurred because there was no supervision of the activities of the people carrying out these checks. This was a failure of management. But it is the behaviour of management that creates the culture of how things are done. Supervisory behaviour usually comes about because of the influence from the wider culture, but of itself creates a “sub group culture” in the area for which they are responsible.

In the BNFL case, there was a clear link between the outputs of these particular staff members and the culture of the organisation.

How to correct affairs

One company was suffering more accidents and near misses than expected. Many initiatives had been started, with little effect. Senior management had offered incentives, resorted to discipline procedures and punishment when accidents did occur and thought these would reduce accident rates. It had tried training programmes and coaching/counselling sessions but did not believe these had had much effect.

A survey showed that training and coaching sessions had the most positive effect on accident reduction. Punishment and incentive had respectively a negative and neutral impact on accident rates. The most interesting finding was that local managers had a strong influence over how things were done. If these managers could be trained and coached to be more professional and undertake more on-job safety coaching, it would have a positive impact on safety.

Measuring change

Recognising that changes must happen to an organisation’s culture is the important starting point on what will be a journey to the new culture. Many change programmes (organisational or subject-specific, such as Health & Safety) are often embarked upon with insufficient clarity of purpose.

Truisms such as “change is the only constant” abound in today’s organisational vocabulary. This often means that all kinds of initiatives are being taken, perhaps with little co-ordination and frequently without clarity of the consequences of one initiative on other initiatives. For example, IT has been used as a way of affecting significant change. However, if we think about change as a journey, we need to be clear about the end point we need to achieve so that

•We will know when we have arrived – achieved success.

•We can plot a realistic route to the goal.

•We know what signposts to look for.

We need to know the start point. Many organisations assume the start point is known and everyone is starting from the same point. This is naïve. Some departments will start from different places and, depending on the nature of the programme, will have an easier or more difficult journey. This is particularly true for mergers and acquisitions which will be a feature for the foreseeable future.

A survey suggests that 75% of organisational change programmes fail – they don’t achieve what they set out to achieve.

Any change initiative must fit with the organisation's mission, vision and strategy. The organisation must know what any change will deliver. This would start off as a series of qualitative descriptions of goals, end-results required and desired. These can then be translated into a series of quantifiable “Desired States” using a tool like OTI.

Using the same instrument as a survey to measure the “Actual” state clearly shows the different start points for the various groups in the organisation. The gap analysis between Desired and Actual starts to determine what needs to be done and how it should be done to bridge the gap in terms that make sense to everyone.

This gives a quantifiable way of defining a route from start to finish. If we stick to the route then change plans, whether they be about new systems, leadership, organisational re-structures or strategies, the change should still be properly co-ordinated.

The same measurement tool can be used at interim stages to check on progress. It provides an opportunity to fine-tune any plans that may have taken us off course, and reinforce those going in the right direction.

Measurement tools help spell out what the goal is and what change everyone must make. Graphically showing the start and end points and charting progress makes an abstract process more concrete. It means that change can be managed – you cannot manage what you cannot measure. End-to-end measurement ensures the desired state is achieved with optimum success within set time scales. No journey should be attempted without time limits, especially where customer confidence and public opinion, and sometimes legislation, demand that something be done, and “done soon”.

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