I’m reading a lot recently that discuss leading and lagging indicators, behaviour, culture, systems etc., do they work, don’t they work? Seldom do I share an opinion based post such as this, but I’d like to share this story as to where I have personally observed remarkable leadership and culture at work.
Some years ago, I spent time with a mid-sized engineering company in Perth, Western Australia. On my very first morning, meeting with the Managing Director, we made coffee together. As he (let’s call him Kevin), made his coffee, I noticed that once he had finished with the teaspoon, he proceeded to the other side of the kitchen, washed it, dried it and placed it back in the drawer. Then, he proceeded to wipe down the bench where there was only a slight amount of water, then hung up the tea towel on the dedicated hook, where it had come from.
Observing the time and attention to detail, Kevin put into this seemingly menial task, I naturally, followed suit. A couple of hours later, I was in the kitchen again and members of the workshop had descended for their morning tea and yes, you know exactly where I’m going with this…they ALL did the exact same thing in the exact same way.
Here was a relatively small engineering firm, with no policies, no systems to speak of, but…a very obvious values and trust based culture, demonstrated consistently and visibly, by the senior member of the business. The teaspoon was a minor indicator and behaviour, but one with such a significant impact on how things were done, from making coffee, to handling and maintaining tonnes of heavy equipment on a daily basis.
Needless to say, this was a business that had impeccable workshop areas (and I truly mean impeccable), communication and cooperation like I have never seen before and frequency rates most companies only ever dream of. Sure, it wasn’t just the teaspoon example, this behaviour was carried through, consistently within every area of the business.
I guess, what I’m simply saying here and it’s only an opinion, that in nearly 30 years of working around the world, within the safety arena, the above example of leadership and culture, has remained with me and will always be the best example I have ever seen, of how a culture is cultivated, built and sustained, that leads to a genuinely safe and cohesive workplace. I’ve seen many attempts at the creation of a strong culture, but never one quite this effective or meaningful.
Thank you Kevin G, for confirming that it’s not the policies, over-engineered systems, signs, meetings, reports, statistics, or courses that keep people safe, it’s people, how we treat them, how they feel and respond as a result, and of course, how we make coffee!