Mark Ormond, managing director, JOMC: zero harm has become a corporate brand rather than a meaningful vision delivered with the right programme
It is always energising to hear a company say they’re aiming for zero harm. In 15 years of improving cultures, few things say more to me about a company’s commitment to wellbeing. It reassures me that there are people out there who get it: that no one deserves to be hurt at work.
However, zero harm has become a more of a corporate brand than a meaningful vision for a culture. Put simply, zero harm is the right thing to say and little more. It has become a message conveniently plastered everywhere for short-term commercial gain, either to win more work or to say: “look – we’re focused on the right things” to shareholders.
Hopefully your organisation is focused on the correct intention behind zero, but more often than not, when safety vision becomes zero, performance comes nowhere near.
Here are five reasons why that might be the case:
Zero harm works for senior managers, but not the workforce:
Admittedly it’s a powerful statement of intent from the boardroom when a CEO declares a zero Injury target. Yet how does that translate to the workforce? What does that mean on the front-line and what changes? Meaning isn’t clearly expressed, disengagement follows and later resentment.
Zero harm doesn’t take account of the tribes:
Whether you like it or not, your organisation is composed of different tribes of people with conflicting interests. So safety performance is often seen competitively between those tribes, meaning your zero target drives reporting underground, rather than out into the open where people would learn from valuable data like near-misses.
Zero harm is practically impossible:
When senior management declare zero, they often fail to emphasise that it’s a long-term aspiration and that it won’t happen overnight. So unless people understand the vision behind your journey to stronger safety culture, each time an incident happens it’s just another nail in the zero coffin.
Zero harm is an outcome, not a vision:
Without good engagement and communication with your workforce, zero becomes just another target like all the others. It’s mistaken for a number to write in a box, and all the good intentions behind your vision are lost in cold, hard figures.
Zero harm is a cliché:
If you must use zero in your safety campaigns then bring it to life, that means thinking creatively about how you sell your vision to your workforce and make zero mean something relevant in their everyday lives. There are so many different ways to engage your workforce, especially in the process of creating that vision in the first place. Talk about what really matters to them – that way you’ll make it resonate with them personally.