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Culture will always eat the unwary Behavioural Safety Consultant

If an organisation decides to go the route of using an external consultant to support a behaviour based safety programme. One of the challenges that both entities face is that the programme plan has to be based on the culture and experiences of the organisations stakeholders. Typically consultants fall into a number of traps at the planning stage, such as thinking that they know the culture from the outside, thinking that they know the culture from the description they receive from their organisational contact, or thinking that they know the culture, because it looks like a previous client. Culture isn't often the mission statement or the "about us", but getting to know it can't be an ad hoc process for the consultant. There has to be a model, that is used to build up a picture of the how we do things around here.

High reliability organisations (HRO) whether complex or simple, in their expression provide many different ways to identify their culture. There are multiple artefacts that can help an experienced consultant to identify the type of culture that they are encountering. This isn't an anything/everything process, it is guided by the tenets of an HRO so, how does the organisation view failure, simplification, operational exigencies. Where does the organsiation place its commitment to resilience, and deference to expertise? Organisational culture assessments actually take time and all of the surveys have one flaw in common. They are snapshots, possibly of how people feel at that time or think that they should feel. The outputs of the HRO considerations show how the organsiation actually behaves and communicates, how it reacts, and most importantly how the organisation treats its safety errors and those responsible.

The flow of information is central to safety, how the organisation prioritises communication, safety practices and their adherence to the agreed values defines safety culture and practices, especially when it comes to reporting and learning.

If safety really is a core value, the stakeholders will ensure relevant information is , circulated, analysed, and the lessons learned applied effectively. The problem with this level of application, is that many organisations don't have the resources, or the maturity to apply the deeper learnings. Many organisations also suffer from churn of decision makers, especially in the middle and this can lead to the dilution of the organsisations commitment over a period of time

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While researchers and academics all debate terms like culture, climate, many organisations don't go that deep and tend to think of these as how we do things around here. The role of the consultant is to work with the information and the opinions and help ensure the success of the behavioural process.

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