The Human Dimensions of Organizational Change in the Safety, Health and Environmental Movement

Raising the corporate consciousness about safety, health, and environmental (SHE) performance has become a global movement. Each participating company, division, site is involved in a transformational change effort that impacts everything about the way they do business. This includes the way change is managed in the areas of systems, team dynamics, and interpersonal relationships. Leadership competency plays a critical factor because it is the common thread that aligns these complex and ever changing elements into the desired results. Operational systems cannot compensate for poor leadership.[1] However, it is a leadership competency to ensure good systems are in place.

This article will focus on the human dimensions of organizational change. In my experience managers are leaving some basic change management ideas and tools on the table. In fact, there are leaders who have already employed them with great success.

[1] It is possible to have a strong leader in the field compensating for poor leadership in corporate. The notion of leadership extends as well to frontline employees who take responsibility.

“The time is right to acquire the additional resources we need to achieve fewer fatalities and environmental incidents because SHE is a global movement.”

The time is right to acquire the additional resources we need to achieve fewer fatalities and environmental incidents because SHE is a global movement. The Gulf of Mexico Oil spill created the opening. Major corporations have made SHE a core value that features prominently on their web pages. The status of SHE is a common part of annual corporate reports, and in high hazard industries it is known that you must have a good record and safety management systems to even be considered for a contract. How well reality on the ground matches what is advertised is a separate issue since the important point is that companies are conscious of how a bad safety record affects their bottom line. It’s taken a long time and a lot of people’s hard work to get here!

Benefiting from this opening will require some courage because some actions fall beyond the category of commonly funded activities. Millions possibly billions will be spent on digital information systems, improved equipment and maintenance protocols, but vastly overlooked will be the education and people-to-people communication structures needed to build the relationships that make the technology work.

“Future of SHE in industries such as Oil and Gas lie in strategic partnerships and collaboration”

The challenge isn’t limited to internal relationships. All over the Internet you see the big consulting companies reporting that the future of SHE in industries such as Oil and Gas lie in strategic partnerships and collaboration. But as long as we don’t create the opportunities to construct these relationships, we limit our choices and become stuck in repetitive actions that fail to lead us where we want to go.

I have written many posts on LinkedIn about the loss of trust and open communication that arises from neglecting the importance of relationship. Judging from the response there is widespread recognition that this is an important topic, but the fact remains that it is difficult to address. Yet it must be done, and to do so we must address the human dimensions of organizational change that can block or support it such as hidden agendas, power, politics, fears, aspirations, dreams, beliefs, and assumptions.

“The most difficult aspect of change management is that many of the human dimensions are in the unconscious.”

 Now lets talk about how to identify and work with these dimensions to engage the desire to support change. The most difficult aspect of change management is that many of the human dimensions are unconscious, which is why the change management process seeks to make the hidden visible. It has been accepted since Freud that the unconscious mind determines most of our behaviors and that making the unconscious conscious gives individuals the power to have greater control of their life and environment.

Often misused are surveys and other anonymous forms of communication developed to provide a safe avenue for people to bring up issues that have been suppressed, ignored or are simply too difficult to speak about openly. So many times the sad, sometimes angry cries for help that arise from these surveys are dismissed or lightly addressed via announcements, memos, trainings or new rules that do little to change the underlying conditions that created the negative comments. When this happens the assessments create more distrust in the changes management is trying to implement.

People have needs that must be addressed if they are to adopt a change.

People have needs that must be addressed if they are to adopt a change, and the change is more sustainable when it is done as part of a group. One of the most important needs is to belong, be accepted and valued. Another is the need for certainty. It does not matter if these needs seem immature or weak. That is logic speaking. All humans need these things no matter how deeply they may be hidden in our unconscious.

I have lost faith in the ability of the survey assessment process to fill those needs. There can be no substitute for conversation. “Conversation is communication understood,” per complexity management thought leader Ralph Stacy. Even when focus groups are involved you are not touching every individual therefore real communication is missing. It is not that the CEO or an executive has to talk to every person; it is that someone important to each individual must deliver a common message via conversation where listening and inquiry can discover the needs that must be addressed. This type of communication is resource intensive since we must train leaders as communicators and give them the time to have these conversations, but it is an example of what we must do to grow the movement’s success.

The organizational change tools that affect these human dimensions include inquiry, conversation (especially around the why for change), relationship building, and empowering people to speak up and co-create the solutions to improve the work process. These are the leadership skills that need to be emphasized to inspire and manage change. Compliance, due diligence, risk assessment, IT development, as well as project and financial planning are a given necessity for a professional organization. The high performance factor lies in developing the leadership capability to address the human dimensions of change.

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