Employee Connectedness: A Look at Safety Culture with Michael Fackler

Episode 7: A Look at Safety Culture with Michael Fackler

Many companies approach safety as something to measure in terms of accidents or incidents. We didn’t have any accidents, therefore our company is safe. However, safety is so much more than OSHA compliance. Employees who feel a sense of safety within their team are better able to adapt to changing scenarios, including a crisis like the covid-19 pandemic. Teams with a culture of safety respond quickly to change because there is established trust within the team. Caliber Safety founder Michael Fackler helps companies build cultures of safety. Organizations that embrace a culture of safety across their entire business are better positioned to adapt to the current crisis, as well as poised to emerge quickly from it.

In this episode of Employee ConnectednessUnitonomy founder Charley Miller discusses the importance of proactively cultivating a culture of safety within organizations, and how that sense of safety helps entities adapt rapidly with special guest Caliber Safety consultant Michael Fackler, as well as UofL researcher Dr. Brad Shuck and OnPlane consultant Martin Low.

In this discussion, they will address the impact of an integrated safety culture, as well as how a strong sense of safety is allowing some companies to handle the covid 19 crisis better. Safety culture should not be seen as separate from the overall culture of an organization. Companies with established safety cultures have been able to focus on people during this unprecedented time. That human-centered approach has real value now, and after this crisis passes.

Episode 7: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWPQKhi9QMw

Employee Connectedness is live-streamed every weekday at 10:15am EST on the Unitonomy YouTube channel. You can join there and ask questions in the chat. You can also find previous episodes posted there and on the Unitonomy blog.

Connected Employees

Full Transcript:

Employee Connectedness: A Look at Safety Culture with Michael Fackler

Charley Miller 0:01
Hi I’m Charley Miller, we’re live with Unitonomy today, Monday, April 6th. We’re going to be talking safety today, we have our first guest on the show, Michael Fackler, here. Hi Michael, welcome. Michael’s with Caliber Safety. We also, we’ve got people you probably recognize from before Martin Low, OnPlane Consulting, and we’ve got Brad Shuck, Dr. Brad Shuck from the University of Louisville. We were just chatting here before we started and kind of realizing the common denominator here of everyone on the show, besides just being some boring white dudes–which we will improve here in time, we also are all passionate about people and how people can reach their potential as performers and companies and how do people collaborate. So, here is my crowd…I forgot to push it live. Hey everybody. You have to remember I have to be the director and the host here, and I’m not too good at two things at once, sometimes, especially early on Monday morning. So anyways Michael, thank you so much for joining us today. Michael Fackler, Caliber Safety. Michael, do you hear me okay. Yeah, okay. Yeah, great. So let’s start, Michael by just telling us a hair about what you do and what Caliber Safety provides.

Michael Fackler 1:24
Well, we’re a safety consulting business and the big challenge we have with is that it’s way more than just helping on safety. We help bring alignment to a business…very good…there are some reverb errors kind of throwing me off here. So what we do is we work with business owners to really understand what’s going on inside their business, both from a safety and health standpoint but also from a people standpoint. You know, when we talk about managing people, it really comes down to one word: interdependence. Our organizations are a collection of complex interdependent systems and so what we do is we help organizations understand that you really just can’t focus on safety because how you do safety is really how you work. And so we focus on leadership, employee engagement systems and processes, performance improvement, continuous monitoring. So really, at the end of the day what we really do is we help businesses build leaders who lead organizations effectively, and so it’s bringing alignment with safety into the rest of the organization and really helping drive value through the safety domain.

When we talk about managing people, it really comes down to one word: interdependence. Our organizations are a collection of complex, interdependent systems and so what we do is we help organizations understand that you really just can’t focus on safety because how you do safety is really how you work.

Michael Fackler, Caliber Safety

Charley Miller 2:45
Alright, so super interesting: inner connectedness, interdependence. Safety obviously provides a huge role to everything and when I hear that word, I don’t just think of “oh there’s a machine that could cut my finger off,” I’m also thinking of emotional safety. I work more with knowledge workers with Unitonomy. And in that area, when we think about safety we’re always talking about any collaboration starts with a sense of safety that my professional idea identity is accepted here, I can say what I think, I can put ideas forth and those ideas will be respected, and I will be treated well by others. There’s a sense that anyone can raise their hand and not be hurt in any sort of response. So, I want to first of all, throw this over to Brad real quickly., Brad in your world when you research all things employee engagement, what do you know about safety in this sort of context?

Dr. Brad Shuck 1:00
I think, to Michael’s point, I think this is all very interconnected. You know one of the pillars of engagement is safety, and we talk about safety in a variety of different forms from physical safety to social safety, Charley, to being able to raise my hand at a meeting and feel like I’m a part of the team, that my voice is going to be heard. All of those things, they matter and they build these micro experiences that build up towards the entire the employee experience. And when we, when we think about safety there’s no question about it that it is one of the absolute pillars of employee engagement today.

One of the pillars of engagement is safety, and we talk about safety in a variety of different forms from physical safety to social safety.

Dr. Brad Shuck

Charley Miller 1:42
Go ahead, Michael.

Michael Fackler 1:44
Yeah, we believe that and what we see sometimes is oh, you know, safety is, is almost like an afterthought. It’s seen as a separate part of the business, that we manage safety differently. You know when I was in operations, we did a safety climate survey and one of the questions that we asked was “who’s responsible for safety?” Well, I mean, I always knew that I was new to this role, so I was trying to kind of get the lay of the land and the overwhelming response of the people, in the vast majority of people said the city manager was responsible for safety. And, you know, that’s exactly the kind of culture or the kind of culture that we want to fight against. We want to build a culture where everyone feels accountable and responsible for doing the right things to deliver the right types of results.

But that’s often the challenge that we see in organizations, and what we say is that, you know, everybody, organizations are nothing but a collection of systems and processes, and like all systems, whether it’s a, whether it’s like an engine in a car, or whether it’s a biological system like a tree or it’s an organization, the whole of the system is not improved if you just focus on one aspect and improve it, right, because there’s things that you can do in safety, that impact productivity and quality, and there’s things that you can do to improve productivity and quality that have an impact direct impact on safety. And so it’s like you have to look at it more holistically and, you know, what are the things that our employees are doing on a daily basis, how we know, how do we define and nurture their approach to work in a way that provides optimal outcomes, more consistently over time. And part of that is what Brad’s saying is, how do you get people engaged, how do you get them, you know, see in themselves the value that they can bring, you know through, you know, solving problems, addressing issues, so on and so forth.

Organizations are nothing but a collection of systems and processes, and like all systems, whether it’s an engine in a car, or whether it’s a biological system like a tree or it’s an organization, the whole of the system is not improved if you just focus on one aspect and improve it… you have to look at it more holistically.

Michael Fackler, Caliber Safety

Charley Miller 3:48
I have a question for you, Michael and for Martin here. You’re both consultants that go into companies and you advise them all these things, and sort of something I want to think about here is sort of past, present, future in the context of the pandemic. In the past before the covid 19 thing happened, when you would go into a company, how much convincing does it take to say, look, the earlier you all get ahead of cultivating your culture, thinking about safety, making this holistic approach so that everyone feels that they own this and can be a part of improving this culture, how much of it, do you really have to, I don’t know extend that philosophy so they buy into that or, or do you think companies lately are starting to wise up and realizing the earlier, we get ahead of this, the easier is going to be to scale over time?

Michael Fackler 4:40
Yeah. You know, speaking for myself, I mean that’s often the challenge. Right? And that’s the challenge of safety, right, because if you look at, for the most part, from since the 1970s, since OSHA was enacted, safety has been largely defined by the absence of accidents. Right, so if my company has a zero accident rate, then the belief is that we’re good, you know? And then the opposite of that: if my company has a high accident rate, then we have poor safety. And so, usually “no news is good news” to a lot of business owners’ minds. And that’s exactly the reason why we start this business is because safety professionals aren’t having these conversations. They are having conversations about safety is so much more than an envelope, safety is a process. You know, if, if you look at it, it’s not. And that’s the challenge is how you get employers to say, okay, you know, because I can run across a four-lane highway in the afternoon blindfolded and I can get to the other side, that can be fine. Not a hair messed up on my head–well if I had hair, right. But that’s not an optimal way to go about crossing the street. But unless there’s some type of pain, unless there’s some type of place like we’re experiencing now, people really, it’s hard for people sometimes to focus and adjust their attention towards employee safety and health.

I can run across a four-lane highway in the afternoon blindfolded and I can get to the other side, [with] not a hair messed up on my head…But that’s not an optimal way to go about crossing the street. But unless there’s some type of pain…it’s hard for people sometimes to focus and adjust their attention towards employee safety and health.

Michael Fackler, Caliber Safety

Charley Miller 6:17
Martin, would you concur when you go into companies there is that kind of behavior. How much of this is sort of delivering a philosophy and getting them to buy in early?

Martin Low 6:26
Well, you know the philosophy, and having this built has allowed some businesses to pivot very quickly, or a lack thereof has exposed the weaknesses in the foundation very, very quickly. And I think for people who are sitting, you know, at the leadership positions inside a business, I’m guessing that before we went into this, they said “oh you know maybe I could do a little bit of work there but not today I’ll do that by next week,” right? And then we get into this and all of a sudden, you have to react now, and the speed at which your organization can move is completely driven by the culture in which you built up inside that organization. And so some organizations have effectively pivoted and done a lot in the last two or three weeks to address that, and some organizations are, you know, effectively out of business now. And I think that when you start to look into the future, people are going to become really interested in, not just to Michael’s point, “how do I keep myself from getting hurt today,” but “am I operating this business in the most effective way to get in front of the things that may be out there in the future?”

The speed at which your organization can move is completely driven by the culture…you built up inside that organization. And so some organizations have effectively pivoted and done a lot in the last two or three weeks to address that, and some organizations are…effectively out of business now.

Martin Low, OnPlane Consulting

And for me when I think about safety, safety is all about a culture of safety. Safety is not driven by a process, in and of itself. It’s driven by the people that are operating the process, and whether or not they care to be saved that day, and that they’ve bought into it, and that they’re all together trying to do it, you know. From working in manufacturing companies with multi-site operations, you would have some sites where they had built that culture of safety and their safety metrics were substantially better than the sites that hadn’t built that culture, and the only difference, in terms of the process that they had, was how much people were bought into what they were doing and set a safety culture.

And so I’m hoping that coming out of this, people will realize “hey I have these processes, I have these machines, I have all this stuff built, but it doesn’t go anywhere without my people.” I mean, at the end of the day, the biggest thing that’s changed for these businesses is all of a sudden their people either can’t come to work, or are afraid to come to work. They’re not sure what they really need to do, or they really need to reallocate resources very very quickly and they’re just not calibrated to do it, and a lot of that’s driven by culture, whether that’s safety culture and keeping people safe today, or culture inside the business generally that allows them to pivot and move fast. So I don’t know if I have. There’s a lot to unpack there.

Michael Fackler 9:05
Yeah, you know, and to add on to what Martin was saying is ultimately what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to shift people’s thoughts that, “hey, we have a safety culture and then we have our broader organizational culture” where really what we’re trying to say is no, you just have your culture. You just have a way about going about your work, you have a way about how you address problems. That your safety culture is just a small subset of your broader organizational culture. So it’s about a shared philosophy about how we get things done. It’s about, you know, how we, you know, shared philosophy and values around communication and engagement.

And so, when you start talking about that, you start having a much bigger conversation. And this is where I really think that safety professionals can really add a lot of value to the organizations, because safety is oftentimes, front and center of how work gets done. You know, the safety manager interfaces with all levels of the organization. And so this is where I really think we can help leaders understand what they can do now, in the midst of all this chaos, but also what they can do in the aftermath, you know, so they can build engagement, build, build communication, build levels of trust, and build that culture where people really propel the organization for success.

Safety is oftentimes, front and center of how work gets done….this is where I really think we can help leaders understand what they can do now, in the midst of all this chaos, but also what they can do in the aftermath…so they can build engagement, build communication, build levels of trust, and build that culture where people really propel the organization for success.

Michael Fackler, caliber Safety

Charley Miller 10:26
That’s a nice segue to talk about the present, and I believe that culture is something we all own inside organizations. Not, I think to your point, Michael, you know, the safety manager being the only person to worry about safety–no. Everyone’s got to buy into everyone’s gonna feel like they have some ownership and cultivating this thing. In every aspect of the culture, I think that’s true.

So in the present, boy, are we seeing the companies that were ready for this versus not ready for this, to Martin’s point. Right? If you’ve been kind of thinking about this, you can shift very quickly if you need to shift when crisis hits because your culture is nimble. If not, you’re gonna have these problems. Great example: how many companies are you seeing where they’re getting complaints from employees because people don’t feel safe right now, based on the virus is spreading. They’re literally having to raise their hand, sometimes externally, saying “hey in this environment I don’t feel safe going to work and my employers aren’t doing enough.” That tells me here’s a culture where the employees weren’t owning it. They didn’t feel safe to speak up about their own safety, right? It’s something that’s coming top-down in terms of safety processes, and so forth. And that means you have an inflexible culture that couldn’t pivot overnight when the pandemic started to happen. Michael, how many groups do you see suffering like this right now?

If you’ve been kind of thinking about this, you can shift very quickly if you need to shift when a crisis hits because your culture is nimble. If not, you’re gonna have these problems.

Charley Miller, Founder of Unitonomy

Michael Fackler 11:37
Well, I see it in my own, you know, in my own community and own network of friends and family who are dealing with this, you know, who are struggling with “Hey, no here’s my company doing what absolutely what they can, doing the best they can to protect us as employees.” And I think that employees are trying to do what’s right and I think it just in the chaos I think some of them were trying to shotgun it, and they’re just taking things piecemeal and doing what they can. But to Martin’s point, if you have a culture that’s built on trust where people communicate, collaborate, plan and execute better all around, then having to shift your business to work remotely…that transition, while painful, you’re gonna be able to make that transition better and faster than your competitors.

I think companies are trying to figure it out. I think when they saw this, they were like “okay so I guess we’re doing this, you know, working remotely.” And then as reality set in, it was “Okay, yeah. Now how do we do this.” And then now it’s like reality settling in and they’re just, you can see a constant refinement, you see it in Lowe’s, you’ve seen a Home Depot, Walmart, where you know they’re each day, they’re doing more and more to protect their employees, but also to help the public protect themselves sometimes.

Charley Miller 13:00
So with our last five minutes, let’s shift now to the future. To your point, Michael, companies are sort of adapting and real-time taking care of people and figure out every day what they can do a little bit more. That’s awesome to hear. All right. Fast forward, three months, six months, 12 months. No one really knows how this is going to be playing out, but let’s assume at some point we’re kind of moving past the worst of it. And we’re getting used to what my colleague Brittain Skinner likes to say, “the new normal.” And what does that look like? I’d love to hear from everyone here and I’ll maybe start with Brad. What are you kind of anticipating next fall looking like for people?

Dr. Brad Shuck 13:40
So…one of the things I was thinking about Charley as you were talking about just moving to remote work, is there’s so much that’s changed, beyond just remote work. There’s so much about my daily life and the routines and the rituals that I’m involved with, there are new parenting styles that are developing, there’s the relationships between people who are married, living together partner, spouses. This isn’t just about like, I’m just working online now, but it is a complete shift in the way in which life is being done. And I think my expectation for the way that the Fall is gonna roll out is I think we’re going to get really clear on the things that are important, not only from an organizational perspective but from like a human perspective. And the other thing is I think we’re going to be more connected to our communities, our localized geographical communities. And I think that’s gonna be a really good thing. It’s going to inform the way that we do our work and I think people will live better lives through their work, not just by their work, if that makes sense.

Charley Miller 14:49
All right. How about you, Martin.

Martin Low 14:56
No, I think the future is going to be set–and I think about this from a company culture standpoint, and we’ve talked about this a few times,–but I think the future is going to be set based on your activities right now, and how you make those decisions. What do you do when someone says “hey I don’t feel safe coming to work.” Like, how do you address that? And, you know, this gets back to that trust component that we’ve talked about a lot, and you know a basic piece of employee engagement, which is “my manager cares about me.” And that’s a very valid, very often used statement. One of the best ways to care about people is you putting them in a position to be safe. Like, that’s a basic fundamental Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s like one of the foundational bits, right? So, you know, how you’re addressing those things now is going to play out very dramatically in your relationship with your employees in the future, because they’re not gonna forget about that.

And so I think for the people that have stepped up and done a lot and taken this time and communicated and worked with their employees through these things, I think they’re going to have a stronger and tighter relationship than I think for the companies that haven’t done it, that have said, “Hey, our employees are the most important thing but we got to run the business” and kind of on the side of that, they’ve swept under the rug the fact that their employees don’t feel safe. I think that comes back to bite them. Not just from a public standpoint, but privately inside the business in terms of the way that they end up working with their employees, long term. And the next time that this blows up again, that flares up inside the organization because I think that there’s a strong probability that as we go into the fall, that we’re gonna see, you know, more of these cases. Like I think we, you know, hopefully we get through an initial shutdown period but there may be more. And I think when that happens, you know, you’re gonna get dividends back on the trust you build, or you’re gonna get hammered again on the places where you broke that trust.

Charley Miller 16:59
That’s great. Mike, I’m gonna give you the final word today as a guest.

Michael Fackler 17:04
Yeah, Martin hit on a lot of points. You know, in times of crisis, I like a quote by Henry Ford it says you know “one of the greatest discoveries a man makes is to one of his great surprises is to find he can do what he was afraid he could do.” And to Martin’s point I think you know how companies build trust, they demonstrate caring concern. You know how they develop. You know that. I think last week you guys talked about confident compassion, right? How you lead with compassion. I mean, people are scared right now. And I think that, you know, the things that we can do to help drive out that fear through building trust and focusing on relationships, you know, challenging our leaders to over-communicate sometimes, and also be transparent about what the organization is doing and how…they’re addressing these problems. You know, this is why I think at the end of the day, the companies who really focus on building relationships, focusing on their people, are the ones that, you know, in six months or so are going to be much better positioned to win this thing, when this when the dust settles and the economy starts to rebound.

The companies who really focus on building relationships, focus on their people, are the ones that in six months or so are going to be much better positioned to win this thing when this when the dust settles and the economy starts to rebound.

Michael Fackler, Caliber Safety

Charley Miller 18:15
Thank you everyone again for the time. This is a great, rich conversation. Michael Fackler of Caliber Safety…whoops, I’m pointing the wrong way. Brad Shuck, over at the University of Louisville. Martin Low, OnPlane Consulting. It certainly feels like the Brady Bunch now for people. But this was awesome. Another awesome rich conversation, so thank you all for joining this morning. And we’ll all be in touch here as we continue this conversation. Michael, hope to have you back here. This is great. Thank you. Yeah. All right everyone, have a great week and stay healthy and safe.

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