We thought that we had grown out of peer pressure when we left high school, but it continues in the workplace. Safety rules are constantly being broken because people are afraid of peer pressure. When faced with the choice of shame, exclusion or jibes from a peer group or the choice of physical injury or harm, it is amazing the number of people who would risk physical pain over social conflict.
A safety culture needs to break the energy of negative peer pressure. This can only be achieved by a combined effort of positive leadership.
In my long experience in education, my most interesting work was in creating a positive learning cultures. My work was to create tightly-knit peer groups called Tribes. I worked with these groups to develop skills to collaborate and work together. In an industrial environment, these working groups can be empowered to problem solve areas in a company. These teams can be built from people who work together on a regular basis or mixed groups from people in various departments. The goal is to create groups that contain a natural leader who will support a positive work culture.
The peer leaders influence others. When leadership comes from a peer group, the energy spreads. If the leader follows the safety guidelines, the peers will follow.
Within the group, there will also be negative leaders- those who try to distract or sabotage positive initiatives. Negative leaders have the power to undermine a group if their are given the opportunity. The goal is to create a momentum behind the positive change and lessen the influence of negative leaders.
Management plays a critical component in this area. Managers and supervisors need to work to include negative leaders in the positive changes. There is a danger of focusing on positive reinforcement for positive leaders and disciplinary action for negative leaders. This only leads to more feelings of exclusion and deeper resentments with these members of the group. Others who share feelings of exclusion will gravitate to this energy and it will grow. Instead, kill it with kindness.
Kindness is a powerful tool and takes many forms. Kindness can be an acknowledgement of a person- a friendly hello in the morning, or “how was your weekend, Bill?”. It can be looking for opportunities to praise positive performance. Find the good.
This does not mean that company discipline policies are not followed. Focusing kindness on negative leaders exposes their complaints and grumpiness as superficial. Underneath is a person who wants to be respected and to be acknowledged.
Creating a positive safety culture is challenging but it is possible. Use the power of the group to direct the energy. One person can not create it on their own. If enough people are following the same desired path or positive outcome, the momentum carries the group forward. The culture shifts or changes and new habits are formed.