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If you are in a safety leadership role, you are actively trying to keep your employees engaged in the mission. Whether you realize it or not, you’re in the business of marketing. Eventually your employees might drift, and you need to find ways to reengage them.
Think of the Super Bowl. Every year, people are buzzing more about the commercials than the actual game. Simply stated, marketing works. If you could harness that sort of energy, what could that do for you? Wouldn’t it be nice to have that same sort of organic excitement and viral sharing about safety? It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.
One day, at a morning safety meeting, I noticed we were really losing people. Eyes were anywhere but on the presentation. Some were looking at their phones and some were, well, closed. That was potentially deflating, but the thing is, I get it. Here we are, making employees attend a safety meeting first thing in the morning, and they’re thinking of upcoming tasks for the day, what they’ve got going on at home afterward – any number of things.
Facing a new year, I took a really hard look at my approach. I decided to scrap all of my “currently popular in safety” research and go with a simple meeting format:
Summer is a peak time for injuries because of heat and other factors. In the early days of safety, employees would try everything to avoid being audited by safety personnel, so behavior-based safety (BBS) observations allowed employees to more casually observe and comment on unsafe practices (or compliment safe practices). We needed an initiative to make sure employees were performing safety observations. That’s when I came up with a Lip Sync Challenge. You may have seen Jimmy Fallon do this with his celebrity guests on late night television.
For every behavior-based safety observation, the employee would cast a ballot for their manager. The top two managers for that month would have to face off in a lip sync duel. I was very excited about this idea, but not so excited about what an extremely hard sell it was going to be to get managers to participate.
Now, it’s never smart to ask people to do something you’d be unwilling to do yourself. I decided I had to do a demonstration. Without sharing my plan, I put on a Tyvek suit and safety glasses, and performed “Intergalactic” by 1990s hip hop legends, the Beastie Boys. Employees had no idea this would be how they would start their morning.
Even in the sort of temporary blindness that accompanies doing a routine in front of an audience, I saw that I got their attention. I got the managers’ attention, too. They couldn’t possibly refuse to participate now. I had set a bar, and they decided to raise it. I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
Over the course of the summer, we had managers facing off in lip sync battles dressed as Elvis, Tina Turner, Prince, James Brown, Billy Idol and DJ Khalid. The employees loved it. We had unprecedented participation in both our BBS program and our safety meeting attendance.
By kicking off our meetings with a lively, topical event, we kept the energy up and stayed relevant. Everywhere you went following one of these events, you could hear people talking about it. I loved walking down the hallways and hearing people laughing and saying they couldn’t wait to see what came next. People actually were looking forward to attending safety meetings!
Data tells us everything we need to know: The more BBS observations our employees do, the less injuries we have. We need to get our folks out and observing, and sometimes that requires a grand gesture. As a result, employees are now far more interested in volunteer safety group leadership positions.
One of my predecessors held the title of local safety improvement team (LSIT) chair for nearly nine years. He couldn’t find anyone that wanted the post. Just recently, I had two employees enthusiastically take over as LSIT leaders. I couldn’t be more excited to see what they’ll do with their positions.
It behooves all leaders to generate excitement so that new generations are excited to pursue and assume leadership roles, ensuring ideas stay fresh and engaging. Find what’s out there that encourages and delights those around you, harness it, and use it to engage your workforce. If you can engage employees in your meetings as a start, safety engagement will follow.
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