Culture Change: A Real Pain in the Mouth?

Added on Feb 27, 2015


New Year

I recently had braces put on as an adult. As I sat there those first couple days with a very sensitive mouth, I couldn’t help but think of the work we do in safety and reliability culture change. It all starts with a great idea. You want to change something. You want to improve your smile, you want to improve your culture. You set forth with a plan! Braces for 9 months! Reliability Culture Implementation in 18 months!

It’s hard at first. You feel tension start to creep in, there’s some pain and some activities that were once easy, get a little harder (like eating anything!). In our work, that might be when the Serious Safety Event Rate (SSER) starts to rise, difficult conversations start occurring, or standing up in front of the hospital board sharing your harm events.

But, you keep at it. In time, it gets a little easier and the pain may subside. Then, it’s time to get that new wire placed (in 6 weeks for me, could be 6 months for you). This may be a turning point in your culture: you start getting tougher on classification, you need to make decisions on resourcing important activities such as safety coaches or expanding your cause analysis program – the pain creeps back in again, but you stick to it – the popular saying goes, “no pain, no gain”.

And what about those gains? See, I didn’t mention before that I had braces once when I was 15. I remember the initial pain and the satisfaction the day the braces came off and how beautiful my smile was! However, the reinforcement of wearing my retainer wasn’t performed consistently over time. I wasn’t reliable in the very thing that would sustain my change. Eventually, the retainer no longer fit and my teeth started to move back.

That’s the same thing with our culture work! We have to have strong reinforcement and accountability loops so we don’t lose the gains! Otherwise, our previous pain and discomfort was all for naught. After all, you are improving something much more significant than a smile. You are on a mission to save lives.

Consider these questions:

  • 1. When you imagine the potential beauty of your “safety culture smile”, what do you see? What are the steps you will need to take to get there?
  • 2. When the journey gets painful, what are you going to do to ensure you continue to move forward and not go back to those crooked teeth?