Carletta Ooton, Vice President, Health and Safety, Sustainability, Security & Compliance, Amazon
Have you had this moment: you are in the depths of solving a deeply complex technical issue in your EHS program, and someone reminds you that it would all be better – or may not even matter - if you could just solve the culture problem? And there you are – the thing you cannot engineer or control runs right across your path like a deer on a darkly lit highway. Safety culture can be so ephemeral – there is a correlation between the number of people selling you ways to fix your culture and our collective failure to find repeatable ways to measure it and improve it.
There are so many ways to market, sell, and position culture fixes, and it is because culture, engagement, discussion – all of it matters. At the bare minimum, it means lower costs, higher productivity, and a greater willingness to change. But just as the Grinch learned, we know engagement is not sold in a store.
Real engagement comes from human connection. Relationships make a culture what it is, or what it is not. That is it. Article over. We know that, and I am sure you can visit a workplace and just sense the culture and whether it is working. But what we are still struggling to do is measure it. Everyone can gauge it by what they experience, yet so few have figured out how to measure it, and then, after measuring, what to do next.
There is a path forward that we can all embrace, regardless of our scale. I will share how we do it at Amazon, and I think even though we have a large scale to consider, some of what we are doing could be leveraged at your own business. Measure, act, revise, repeat.
The first step to measure culture of safety is to ask your employees about it. You do not need a tool or a gimmick to do that. Get some paper, and pass out the survey, make it anonymous. Pick a few things simple things you want to know about – Do you feel safe? Does your manager support you working safely? Do you have the tools you need to do your job safely? Many companies will do an
engagement survey or maybe even a safety specific survey once a year. They will load all the results into a database and trend them by site and by business. They then might ask the sites to look at data and create an action item list. This can be effective, but it can also be a blocker to getting the results needed to make decisions and subsequently take impactful action.
"We know that, and I am sure you can visit a workplace and just sense the culture and whether it is working. But what we are still struggling to do is measure it."
Here is where the tech comes in. Instead of surveying culture once a year, at Amazon, we are asking our employees questions about safety culture through our Safety Leadership Index, every single day. We implemented this program to collect real-time feedback and insights from associates who know what it is like to work in a fulfillment center and what will make a difference - and we have been able to integrate this tech into our normal warehouse systems.
An associate sees a question like, “Does your manager care about your safety?” pop up on their screen while working through their shift and then takes the time to respond using their standard technology tools.
The second hardest part of culture is not determining what to do with the results, it is determining if what you are doing is working. How do you do this? Measure again. This is the innovation that I wish to share with you. Your actions may be well intentioned and well planned, but only your employees can tell you if they are working. To enable this continuous feedback loop of measure, act, adjust, measure, your cultural assessment must become an ongoing activity you are addressing daily – and then communicate back to the employee that you have moved their concerns into actions. If you can do this, you can watch the ebb and flow of adjustment; understand your managers who may need coaching, and your teams that are stressed.
At Amazon, we have turned this into one of our vital EHS metrics, the Safety Leadership Index. We are measuring our teams’ views on safety every week, which has enabled us to take that feeling in the air about a culture and turn it into a statistic representing how our associates are feeling not only about safety but general well-being and health in the workplace. In turn, we have action plans and updates on them integrated into nearly all of our weekly operations reviews.
And the best part of this process is that there is not an end – it is that lesson in humility that teaches us we have to work to maintain this every day. Those human connections have to be sincere and happen regularly; culture cannot be solved and it cannot be bought in a store, but I think you can find a way to start to measure it and act to improve engagement at your workplace. If you try something like this, let me know how it goes, I would love to know what you have learned.