Change in the workplace is one of the most difficult tasks that management can face. Change can be scary for everyone and, at times, seemingly almost impossible to implement. For those workers that have been doing the same tasks the same way for several years, change just doesn't make sense. When implementing new safety or ergonomic equipment, I have heard workers say, “I've been doing this for (insert number) of years and I have never been injured. I don’t need any lift equipment. I know how to lift the right way.” Or “It’s faster to use my two hands.”
When I talk to these workers, it is interesting to get the whole story. They may have been injured from lifting in the past, but attribute the injury to age or trying to work too quickly. The idea of changing how they work is too bothersome to think about. Considering that one shoulder or back injury can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars with surgeries and replacement workers, changing safety and lifting processes is a worthwhile project.
- Create a sense of urgency around the need for change. Management must provide a compelling reason to change. Senge believes 75 percent of a company’s leadership group must agree with the need to change in order for the change to be successfully implemented. If there are injuries from lifting or lack of equipment, show the data and show specific examples of how folks in the workplace have been affected by current processes that are not working.
- Form a guiding coalition. Strong leadership is necessary to help implement the change. If the team respects leadership’s input, it will be better received.
- Create a vision for change. A vision must be created to enthuse employees. What is the direct benefit to the individual? What is the overall strategy to make their jobs better/easier?
- Communicate the vision. Don’t let the message become stagnant during the process of change. Leaders must continue to practice what they preach and lead by example. Don’t drop of a piece of equipment and expect it to be used. Make sure there is proper training and follow up on how it is being used and how often.
- Remove obstacles. Training within the leadership group is critical. EHS managers may need to work with store managers to get them on board. Remove old equipment that workers may fall back on because it’s what they know. Old equipment will impede progress of training with safer equipment. Make the change a compensatory benefit to the team.
- Create short-term wins. Building momentum is a key to long-term success. Employees will need to see a benefit within six to 18 months to continue positive progress. In the case of implementing lifting devices, talk to the employees about how they feel at the end of the day/week compared to when they lifted materials for a full shift/work week. Show store or team leaders the reduction of injury incidents over the course of weeks and months due to new processes.
- Build on the change. Don’t stop the progress after one win. Team members may tell leadership what they want to hear, but are the new safety products getting used when leadership members leave the building? Set goals and follow-up schedules for continued successes.
- Anchor the changes in the corporate culture. Safely lifting in the workplace by using better processes and equipment must become part of the corporate culture in order to continue the “good” behavior. Corporate safety managers and team managers/store managers must be on board in order for the change to stay.
Although change in the workplace can be difficult, it has become the norm. Bringing in tools to help your employees can greatly benefit the workers overall and, long term, benefit the company’s bottom line.
Thank you for your time and attention. Let’s make it safe this Monday.
Sales Manager, Lift’n Buddy, a Southworth Company