One of the key drivers of organisation success is the development of an enabling organisational culture. A high performance culture is the lived out experience of espoused organisation values and beliefs, role modelled by leaders and consistently reinforced throughout the organisation. As a result, the culture of an organisation affects the outcomes achieved, and one such aspect we explore is the impact on organisation’s workplace safety and health (WSH) and ultimately, the overall business performance.
The Importance of Organisation Culture Development
Businesses with a strong organisation culture inspire employees with a work environment that is driven by purpose, trust and clear expectations. This means that apart from being aware of their assigned roles and responsibilities, employees are guided by the larger purpose and organisational culture, which then enable them to look out for one another, take risks, make informed decisions and execute actions at work.
Exploring Organisation Culture in the Context of Workplace Safety & Health
The WSH situation in Singapore (and the rest of the world) aptly illustrates the significance of leaders in developing their organisations’ culture. In recent months, there has been an increase in workplace fatalities, such as at construction sites, calling attention to the need for employers to establish a proper workplace safety culture that protects both the safety and well-being of workers.
“For a strong WSH culture to germinate, grow and flourish, it must start from the top — with the chief executive and company directors. This is because they are the ones with influence and control over budget, priority and training,” said Manpower Minister Dr Tan See Leng at the Singapore WSH Conference this year.
While culture and its impact on safety outcomes are well documented and espoused by many leaders across pockets of the society, the reality is that what’s espoused and what’s happening on the ground is not quite aligned. Even large organisations with significant spendings on “safety” are not spared the consequences of a dysfunctional culture. The cost to the organisation is not only financial; there are reputation damages, heightened business risks and actual lives lost.
We take a look at multinational corporation Boeing to understand the importance of organisation culture, and how this can be shaped by leaders to achieve workplace safety and health outcomes.
Boeing: A Case Study
The importance of organisation culture can be observed in Downfall: The Case Against Boeing, a Netflix documentary film that re-enacts how the aircraft company’s negligence of safety for profit led to the ruin of its reputation.
(Image credits: Netflix)
After Boeing acquired its rival McDonnell Douglas in 1997, the company’s originally safety-first culture gradually evolved to become a dysfunctional one that prioritised maximum profits over the safety standards of their aircrafts. The poor decisions made by a toxic leadership team stifled staff’s concerns and eroded the psychological safety and trust of employees — a fundamental behaviour that forms the basis of The Five Behaviors® Model, Vulnerability-based Trust. This eventually resulted in two catastrophic crashes of Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft between 2018 and 2019, where 346 crew and passengers on board were killed.
These two crises caused Boeing an approximate $20 billion dollars, which included compensations to affected families and significant reputational loss. Boeing’s incidents highlighted the potential repercussions of neglecting company culture, and serve as a reminder for companies to be mindful of the culture they are building. It underscored the importance of organisation culture for businesses to ensure that all employees are aware of what is expected of them, not afraid to speak up, and able to respond to any situation with informed decisions and appropriate actions.
As the management consultant and writer Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Without a strong culture in place, no strategy alone will be enough to empower everyone to work towards their organisation’s success. We understand that in Boeing’s case, they have all that is called for in any espoused Workplace Safety and Health Best Practices: Safety Strategy and Metrics, Workplace Safety Structure and Safety Officers, Safety “Culture” Check-lists, Risk Management Systems, Safety Training etc. Yet, it did not prevent such catastrophic outcomes. In this case, the toxic culture has “eaten” all the benefits of good strategy, systems and capability building Boeing invested in.
Developing an effective and inclusive organisation culture requires the combined effort of everyone in the organisation. Beyond ensuring the physical safety and well-being of their employees, leaders should make it their mission to create safe spaces for employees to voice any concerns they may have. By providing a psychologically safe environment for exchanges of opinions and ideas, organisations will be able to continually improve, and navigate organisational growth based on a culture of trust and collaboration.
This is the opportunity for leaders to investigate and inculcate the integration of Culture as an “Amplifier” of investments in Strategy, Systems and Competencies in your journey of Safety and High Performance.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Source : Albert Einstein
Are you prepared to do things differently this time? Honestly?
For more case studies and steps to develop your organisation’s culture, take a look at aAdvantage’s Workplace Culture Guidebook.
For information on how The Five Behaviors can help benefit your business, read more on this page.
Vincent Ho, Co-owner & Director, aAdvantage Consulting Vincent has 26 years of business advisory and senior leadership team coaching experience. He focuses on organisation transformation, customer experience, culture development, senior leadership team coaching and change management. His motivations are driven by his core values of Respect, Humility and Collaboration.