RIGHT BRAIN / LEFT BRAIN: Of two minds about our national standard for psychologically healthy and safe workplaces

Posted by on Jun 3, 2015 in Articles, Culture Change, Workplace Respect, Workplace Safety | 0 comments

One of the great challenges for organizations trying to understand what to make of Canada’s relatively new voluntary standards for psychological health and safety is to wrap their minds around where to begin. There is absolutely no question that the emergence of Canada’s new National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the spring of 2013 was a landmark step forward. We can be proud to be citizens of a country in which government, the private sector and the not-for-profit Canadian Standards Association could come together and create such an important new framework aimed at building a safer and healthier society. However, while the architects and supporters of these new national standards have followed up with a series of how-to guides, to anyone on the outside looking in this still seems like a tough and complicated thing to take on. Before I describe what I offer up as the most efficient and effective start point, it is important to discuss the context for how this important new standard has been brought forward. It offers considerable comfort and direction on the administrative and system side of a psychologically healthier workplace because of the framework it was built upon. For those seeking to accelerate the people and culture change side toward a more positive, inspiring, healthier and safer workplace culture, the path is not clear. The new standards have been laid out in a way that makes them easier to integrate into existing OHS ramps or other systems that rely upon documentation of processes. This is particularly useful for large organizations because there’s a well-known framework for implementation. This is very much a left-brain document, organized and designed to complement and build upon existing occupational health and safety regimes that govern workplace practices in many organizations, particularly larger ones.  It contains not only the 13 recommended standards for compliance but also tightly organized information on how to plan, implement and evaluate progress. The reality is that large and well-organized institutions with mature OHS systems will be the first adopters of the new standards because they have the wherewithal to do it. Meanwhile the widespread integration of these voluntary standards across smaller businesses or other organizations unfamiliar with such advanced concepts will take much longer. Thus, while this linear connection with past Occupational Health & Safety policies and procedures is one of its strengths, it also carries with it the inherent limitations of the system we have built over the last 100 years. The limitations are these: systems, policies, rules, regulations, punishment, discipline and dogma do not move people to change to safer, healthier workplace cultures. People do this. I discovered, from the inquest into my son Sean’s death at work, that...

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Up-Stander: Kevin Vickers

Posted by on Nov 5, 2014 in Articles, Culture Change, Up-Stander, Workplace Respect, Workplace Safety | 0 comments

This week’s Up-stander at first glance may seem obvious to many people, as millions of Canadians will instantly understand why Kevin Vickers clearly deserves this and a whole lot more recognition for what he did on Wednesday two weeks ago in our nation’s capital. I have more reasons to be grateful for what Kevin did, because of his impact on my daughter Robin, who works with him in the House of Commons. Recently, I was the keynote speaker at the Canada’s Safest Employer Awards celebration in Toronto, less than a week following the events on parliament Hill. The subject of this week’s Up-standers piece, Kevin Vickers, is embodied within the text of the speech I delivered to award winners and attendees that night. ————————————————— “It is my privilege to be with you tonight. We are here to honour great achievements created by inspiring people who have made Canada a better place to live, learn, work and play. It is their core values, your core values that bring us together, at this time, in this place. You – have embraced workplace cultures that are built on civility and respect, and on the physical and psychological protection of the people you work with. You – already understand that a life lost or damaged, or a life saved or healed, isn’t about rules and regulations. It is about people – people committed to breathe life and soul into the values that such rules are based upon. I like the way Dr. Kevin Kelloway of Saint Mary’s university puts it. Kevin says a healthy workplace is one that promotes dignity: both the dignity you and I earn through our work and the innate human dignity within every human being. And he says, dignity comes from respect for ourselves, our respect for others and the perception that others respect us. Workplaces that function in the absence of dignity and respect are far more dangerous places for our families and friends or anyone else to work in. A healthy workplace, a safer workplace, Kevin says, is one that embraces, promotes and nurtures dignity, and with it, respect. I want to tell you two, very personal stories with two very different endings that explain why I personally know this to be so true. The first story is about an unsafe, unhealthy workplace where, in the absence of dignity, respect, civility and physical and psychological protection, everything went wrong. Almost 20 years ago to the day, 19 year-old Sean was on the third day of a new job. He poured thick fluid from a large drum into smaller cans, preparing them for shipment to automobile dealers to undercoat new vehicles. What Sean did not know was that this liquid was...

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Culture vs. Strategy

Posted by on Nov 2, 2014 in Articles, Culture Change | 0 comments

Peter Drucker is attributed with saying – Culture eats strategy for breakfast. It was a simple phrase that stirred the pot, creating heated debates, particularly among people who make a living consulting on strategy.  Some of this stems from the critics’ view that such a statement is absolute, as though Drucker was saying the only choice is to focus on one or the other and that culture comes first. One argument is that culture doesn’t matter much for a failing company losing most of its market share.  When that happens, not enough employees are left to have a culture anyway. Think back to Blackberry’s precipitous decline several years ago as an example of such a scenario, notwithstanding its recent and new strategy and product launch designed to bring it back up the competitive ladder. I would never argue that great strategy isn’t a critical factor for success. But once a potentially winning strategy is set and products are out there, then it is all about execution and team performance. It is the organization’s people (and the culture in which they work) that are now on the front lines, duking it out in the trenches. This is what team performance must be geared up to deliver: smart, inspired, tirelessly energetic marketing, selling, customer service, distribution, delivery, meeting targets, goals, quotas and technical performance standards, with continuous improvement in every area. There is no time for distraction. The high performing team is one with every person in it committed and engaged. Success requires clarity and aligned focus on outcomes. Is the team trained up and fired up to the task – or not?  And the chances of that answer being a yes are a whole lot higher if the culture is one with a common language of mutual respect and shared ownership of outcomes. Drucker’s proposition, that culture eats strategy for breakfast, was aimed at the other end of the scale, where any strategy, no matter how viable it may seem to be, is vulnerable to the failings of a dysfunctional culture. This can include organizations pre-occupied with an inward focus, or preoccupied with activities not outcomes, or driven by rules and procedures without engaging employees in their purpose.  In these or any other organizations where respect, accountability and communication are seen as distractions and not critical to success, strategy is not eaten by culture in a single serving. It is an all day breakfast. — Paul Kells Business Accelerator, Culture Change Expert, Respect and Safety Specialist “Reach new standards for safe and positive workplace cultures” www.paulkells.com...

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Accelerate to Elevate – Execute Strategy and Achieve Results

Posted by on Sep 2, 2014 in Articles, Culture Change | 0 comments

  A bump, wall, roadblock, stall, ceiling or plateau; sooner or later everyone hits it. The process I will describe in this post lays out a path to overcome the inertia that paralyzes us when we are not sure where to go or what to do. It causes us to re-imagine the future and get on with taking it to the next level. I have a deep interest in the connection between accountability and finding “the better way” forward. As a journalist, I was often involved in stories that were ultimately tied to holding individuals or institutions to account. As a father and husband who owned a business I was not only accountable to my clients but also to my family for their well-being. Failure on either front was not an option so part of my journey through life has always involved re-imagining my future then re-inventing it. Since the death of my 19-year-old son Sean in a warehouse explosion, a significant amount of my time has been focused on safer and healthier workplaces. The rest of it has been devoted to running businesses I have owned or been part of and helping others to make their own businesses more successful too. No matter the circumstance, my particular skills are tied to engaging others to understand and then participate in the next step forward toward successful outcomes, whatever that might be. The tools I have utilized in this area have largely been centered around implementing strategy, accelerating growth, stakeholder engagement and helping to manage stressful or even crisis situations. In both my own businesses and those of my clients, no matter what the size or complexity of the organization, there are clear, recurring patterns, not only relevant for private sector organizations trying to get to the next level of growth or profit, but also for those who aspire to create safer workplace cultures. In every instance, at one point or another and over and over again after that, we need to accelerate in order to elevate. To expect things to change by doing what you have always done is not a reasonable idea. So something must change. Here are some of the accelerators that are absolutely necessary to elevate to the next level: The future, near and far, must be re-imagined, visualized and verbalized. Everyone in the organization must be brought to and put on the same page, repeatedly. Strategy, tactics and actions to get there must be defined, prioritized and time-lined. Accountability for each outcome is assigned to the one person in charge of the function required to implement it (e.g. HR, Marketing & Sales, Finance etc). Capable people who get what you want and want to go...

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People Want to Matter

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in Articles, Culture Change, Workplace Respect | 1 comment

Recently, I worked with nine people from five different organizations, ranging from large to mid-size employers to a small business. We were focused on a second phase of exploration around issues connected to respect in the workplace. Prior to our morning together, each of the participants had prepared in advance for it by taking the 90-minute online program Respect in the Workplace. There were several reasons for doing this, but the most important of all related to a key principle of culture change.  Whenever we seek to move a group toward any action plan or any attempt to generate broad support for change (including workplace culture change) we need to establish a common start point. This is best accomplished by ensuring that everyone is speaking the same language created through one vehicle. In this case, the 90-minute online program established the definitions and illustrations of what constitutes respectful and inappropriate behaviours.  There was no longer any uncertainty about where one person’s teasing ends and another person’s view that they have been bullied begins.  The shared base of understanding was critical to moving forward quickly into understanding what actions needed to be taken toward for change. Let me underline this point with an example that arose during our discussions.  I asked each person in the group to talk about the one idea they thought was most important to them that they were taking away from our discussions. Two of the most senior people in the room called it their aha moment.  They walked away with a profoundly deeper understanding of the more subtle forms of inappropriate behaviour, not just the patently obvious forms of physical or verbal abuse. They realized that the emotional impact or harm from teasing, joking around, embarrassing people in front of others or even just being ignored can be every bit as undermining to a person or a culture as the other stuff! Earlier in the morning I asked what other words or thoughts people associated with the word “respect”.  As an aside, I would recommend this as a very useful discussion to have in any work group.  Within fifteen minutes such a question can deliver great insights about the values and attitudes most people see as important to them in a respectful environment.  But it was the follow-up question later in the meeting that told me something I had not so deeply understood before. I asked everyone in the room to consider what “disrespectful” meant to them. The answers came in different forms – but all connected to one simple principle that was most certainly, at least from this small sample group, fundamental to a respectful organization: people want to know they matter. This surfaced in many...

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