This Opinion piece appears in the April 14 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
By Brian Fielkow
In trucking, safety means everything. Yet, when we talk about safety, our attention focuses on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program scores, historical accident data and compliance standards. These elements, while important, do little to improve safety in the here and now.
To truly raise the bar on safety, each of us, regardless of fleet size, must create a company culture that nurtures accident prevention by hiring the right people, eliminating behavior that plays a role in accident creation and tightly weaving the right processes into our company’s DNA.
In a culture of prevention, we stop accidents before they happen.
That’s the goal, and admittedly, in my own company, we aren’t immune from accident risk. But neither do we accept accidents as a cost of doing business.
Trucking doesn’t operate within the bright yellow lines of a manufacturing plant. That means it’s critical that we create a safety culture that allows our employees to do the right thing — even when no one is looking. The result will be an entire team both encouraged and empowered to prevent accidents by any means necessary.
Abandon the notion that deliberately creating a company culture is a feel-good exercise. Culture in this sense is a hard-core business proposition that will drive your bottom line.
Work with employees on culture-building, giving consideration to the differences between rich and poor cultures — beginning with these major warning signs that a company is being hamstrung by its own poor culture:
• Senior management delegates or even ignores the upkeep of culture.
• Culture is seen as a project, not a way of life.
• Culture conversations are reactive, occurring only when trouble erupts.
• Employees lack empowerment and are not appreciated.
• Cultural engagement is left to outside consultants, with no long-term effort made to make it integral to the organization.
• Bad behavior is ignored or even accepted.
And here are the signs a rich company culture is in place:
• The company is fully engaged in building a world-class culture centered on commonly understood values.
• That culture is woven into every peer-to-peer interaction.
• Employees share a common vision and are empowered to behave in alignment with that vision.
• Consistent cultural messages are communicated repeatedly.
• There are no silos — i.e., the idea that everyone works for his or her own company division and isn’t concerned with the enterprise’s greater benefit.
If a safety culture is a non-negotiable component of our company, employees will know inherently the right actions to take.
For example, how would you and your workers react if the only way to meet a deadline was to violate the hours-of-service rules? In a safety culture, nobody has to think about that answer because the entire team understands that safety is a core value that is never compromised. They will not participate in an illegal operation knowingly.
Once you’ve committed to building a safety culture, allow it to grow. The following ideas and concepts have worked for my own company, and I hope you’ll find them useful to build your own vibrant company culture:
• Understand the difference between values and priorities. Priorities can and will change; values don’t — and they define your company. If values shift, you will be unable to lay a solid cultural foundation.
• Uphold the “3Ts” of a healthy company culture — treatment, transparency and trust.
• Require company leaders to manage behavior, philosophy and attitude.
• Let employees know they are appreciated and their contributions valued.
• Ensure that compensation and advancement programs reward employees who are both productive and culturally aligned.
• Beware of culture killers such as complacency, teams working in isolation and a lack of accountability.
• Understand that company leaders must drive the culture and pull harder than anyone else. You’ll know it’s working when culturally aligned behavior occurs organically and peer to peer.
• Develop a culture contract — a simple, written affirmation whereby all employees commit to live the organization’s values. Use it for counseling employees whose behavior is not in line with company culture.
• Be prepared to terminate employees who are incurably out of line with your company culture.
Building a safety culture is far less daunting than you might imagine. It will take time, employee buy-in and encouragement, but it won’t cost much, and its effect on your bottom line will be purely beneficial. It’s not about marketing; it’s about establishing your company’s values and living them.
If every individual trucking company achieves an accident-
prevention culture, the result will be an entire industry dedicated to safety. And we’ll all spend a lot less time picking up the pieces.
Houston-based Jetco Delivery provides delivery and warehousing in Texas and the Gulf Coast states.