Anker & Marsh

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Dr Tim Marsh PhD, MSc, CFIOSH, CPsychol, SFIIRSM is MD of Anker and Marsh. Visiting Professor at Plymouth University he is considered a world authority on the subject of behavioural safety, safety leadership and organisational culture.As well as many of the world's most recognisable industrial names Tim has worked with diverse organisations such as the European Space Agency, the BBC, Sky TV, the RNLI and the National Theatre in his 25 year plus consultancy career.He has key noted and chaired dozens of conferences around the world including the closing key note at the Campbell Institutes inaugural International Thoughts Leaders event in 2014. He has written several best-selling books including Affective Safety Management, Talking Safety, Total Safety Culture, the Definitive Guide to Behavioural Safety and Organised Wellbeing. Previously he led Manchester Universities ground-breaking research team into behavioural safety methodologies in the 1990s.
March 6, 2023

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THE TIM MARSH BLOG

The Aussie ‘Fair Go’ & safety culture

In his latest blog, Tim Marsh looks at the influence of Australian culture on safety mentality…

Recent articles in the Times by Hugo Rifkind and Matthew Syed contrasted the Aussie mentality to public health with that of the UK. (They have far better survival rates whilst actually spending less).

It reminded me that the Aussies have been punching above their weight for many decades now in the health, mental health and safety field generally and the work of Dekker (an adopted Aussie) and his colleagues at Griffith University and Andrew Hopkins and his hugely influential ‘mindful safety’ concept just the most obvious examples.

Central to their health performance, thinks Rifkind, is the Australian notion of ‘fair play’ which means, for example that there’s no inheritance tax at all because: ‘now come on mate … play fair… already paid me tax on that little lot once’. On the other hand, PM Rishi Sunak wouldn’t be embarrassed to admit to using private healthcare – in Australia he’d be slaughtered for not using it when he can clearly afford to. (Thus, freeing up resources for someone who can’t afford it).

Unspoken assumptions and perceptions around the world

Australia flagThese unspoken values and mindsets are vital when seeking to understand and influence behaviour.

Anker and Marsh’s work in safety culture around the world takes as a central element the importance of ‘subconscious perceptions’ and ‘unspoken assumptions and norms’. We feel that the importance of these simply cannot be underestimated when seeking to understand why people do what they do on a given day and in a given place.

In ‘Outliers’, for example, Malcom Gladwell described how the culture of deference in Korea led to a co-pilot asking his captain “are you certain you are happy with our current altitude sir?” when he should have been screaming “climb, climb you bloody idiot!” However, there was a strong culture of deference in a Korean cockpit at that time and on a previous flight a perceived slight by this co-pilot had resulted in a physical slap!

(Seconds after the polite inquiry they flew directly into the side of a mountain. Following an inquiry all Korean airlines’ crew were instructed to converse in English (less conducive to deference) and all also received assertion training).

Returning to the Aussie mentality popular culture refers to six values, all reflecting an often unspoken but important mindset and all with direct reference to safety culture. They are:

Mateship” refers to the Australian attitude that sticking with your friends and peers is vital and is reflected in the fact that deference to authority is perhaps even scarcer in Australia than in most countries. Whilst the downside is that workplace norms are even harder to overcome, the upside of the ‘fair go’ value (discussed above) mitigates this somewhat. Getting that stupid new idea from HQ accepted by the workforce might be impossible – but first up, at least, you’ll get a reasonably fair hearing in the canteen!

To an extent the related values 3 and 4 of ‘she’ll be right’ and ‘give it a go’ reflect the macho ‘get stuck in and get on with it’ attitude that isn’t always ideal from a safety perspective but also reflects ingenuity, self-reliance and innovation. (Though a Kiwi – with major cultural differences acknowledged! – the ageing motorcycle rider played by Anthony Hopkins in “The World’s Fastest Indian” who turns up in America and breaks the world speed record on something he built in his garden shed exemplifies all aspects of these values – and the risks associated – perfectly. Think Crocodile Dundee on a bike his mate Wally built.)

Clearly, not necessarily always ideal from a risk management perspective but forewarned is forearmed! (Please see a previous article on risk management and Formula One).

The fifth value ‘Fair Dinkum’ stresses the importance of honesty, integrity and trust. Say what you mean and mean what you say – a trust concept utterly central to the ‘interdependent’ element of the Bradley curve. Finally, “Good on Ya” reflects the ease with which a typical Aussie gives and receives praise.

Simply presenting ‘down under’ provides illustration of these values. For example, when you ask for people to really get stuck into an early morning clap along exercise and a couple jump on the table! (No, I hadn’t risk assessed that)! Feedback later will be direct, warm and constructive. Interestingly, comments on the ‘authenticity’ of the talk are far more frequent than elsewhere in the world.

Therefore, anyone who has seen the film Crocodile Dundee actually already has a working understanding of the sort of mindset valued in a typical Australian workplace and the benefits and challenges these bring!

On the other hand, an example of a misleading mindset might be film “Borat” which of course doesn’t in any way reflect the national culture of Kazakhstan! Anyone hired to undertake some work on the oil fields of Karachaganak (as we have) might want to do a little research on the (Soviet era influenced) norms and values that still underpin that society!

Conclusion

Culture, is to an extent underpinned by values, beliefs and mind-sets that manifest in assumptions, norms and behaviours that differ from country to country, organisation to organisation and even crew to crew. As ever, ongoing dialogue with lots of listening is key and it is, of course, certainly always worth trying to get a reading on these issues before cracking open the generic power-point!

Book prize. The name of the ‘classic’ (!) Aussie biographical book that’s title references rigging and piano playing that I’ve often stressed should be compulsive reading for any young consultant. A perfect reminder to anyone with a HQ written PowerPoint that you really wouldn’t want to be able to mind-read the thoughts of the group of experienced and world-weary workers sitting near the back!

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Simon Rosser
Simon Rosser
11 months ago

Don’t Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs, She Thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whorehouse

Paul Carter
Insightful, Tim – but can culture cross national boundaries (and stereotypes)?

Tim
Tim
11 months ago
Reply to  Simon Rosser

Thanks for the entry Simon (though Paul beat you to it …) Id have to say thats a HUGE question … see for example local employees on western sites in the likes of India and Kazakhstan – where the host infliuence is clearly apparent (on site/ Rig at least). Then there’s multi language Europe where lots of shared values cross boundaries … a story from my travels makes me smile. I once worked on a Pan European committee and commented on how one set of countries were easier to work with than i expected and another set harder than expected… Read more »

Paul C
Paul C
11 months ago

“Don’t Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs, She Thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whorehouse”
Good article as usual Tim. I think we need a more Aussie outlook in higher management places – a bit more humility

tim
tim
11 months ago

Well done Paul … your namesake indeed the author of the compulsory book i had in mind – and thanks for the kind comment!

Tim
Tim
11 months ago
Reply to  tim

PS Please send an address to [email protected] and I’ll send you a book of your choice (so long as it’s one of mine i mean!)

Paul C
Paul C
11 months ago
Reply to  Tim

Email sent, thank you, and finally got the answer first 🙂

Andrew Floyd
Andrew Floyd
11 months ago

Showed this to an Australian academic friend of mine. He was highly critical, his reply in summary. In the end, I couldn’t work out the purpose of this mythological article in faux Australian History or the connection of mythical jingoism to safety. Neither has much to do with Australian culture, reality, or safety. Then again, when it comes to the project of Behaviourism, nothing seems to make sense except the power of compliance to systems and the focus on behaviors. So, throwing about some ahistorical mythology and concocted ideas about culture is consistent for an industry that is yet to… Read more »