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Complacency: “Cultural change takes time”

Many managers assume it takes years for a culture to change. Even those managers committed to change often have low expectations about the pace of improvement, while the uncommitted engage in passive resistance—they wait things out. In either case, the results are the same: a failure to enlist key influencers, generate momentum, and deliver the early wins critical for successful transformations.

A change in perspective can have a big impact. For instance, a manager who has just had to inform a family that a loved one died in a work-related accident is likely to start talking about safety with a greater sense of urgency. However, managers can’t and shouldn’t wait for this kind of event to find personal meaning. Managers should work to find their own reason for why safety is important to them, and it’s this perspective that would make them an effective promoter of change.

One chemical producer sold off a factory that ranked lowest in safety, productivity, and financial performance because it believed that the plant’s culture was irreparable. The new factory owner shut the plant down for three weeks to revamp operating processes, improve plant tidiness, fix high-priority safety defects, and provide much-needed training. Three months later, the factory had significantly improved its profitability and injuries were virtually nonexistent. The speed and magnitude of the turnaround in performance and culture were remarkable, and it was driven by leaders whose every decision and word communicated an unwavering commitment to the safety and well-being of all involved with the business.