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Blog Building Safety Culture Takes Commitment, Communication

Building Safety Culture Takes Commitment, Communication

October 11, 2018

From the ‘People Power’ column in Timber Harvesting magazine

By: Wendy Farrand, Owner of WFarrand Consulting

They say “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” which means a logging contractor may have the best business strategy in the world, but if the culture is weak or corrupt, it can destroy strategy in a heartbeat. So, if you have a low bar for what your business stands for, or how employees interact on the job, most certainly your crews are not producing at their maximum potential.

Leaders in the woods should not leave culture to chance. Company culture is more important now than ever. Focusing on culture can improve business relations inside and outside of your business. From the inside, if you put culture first, it will have a positive impact on morale, production, communication and turnover. From the outside, a strong balanced culture can attract the best operators and support staff into your business.

Culture is important in any type of business, but for those who work to move the wood, it’s more important than ever. A strong ethical culture can help set the bar for how the public views the industry we love, which always seems to be under a tightly focused microscope.

What Is Culture?

The culture of a company usually reflects the owner’s ideas for what he or she sees their company standing for. Stated in the values the company wants to uphold and reinforced by the mission statement, a company’s culture lets the world know how they will be conducting business. It’s often considered a company’s personality. Culture can propel a business forward, or hold a business back from reaching its maximum potential. It’s another one of those intangible things that consists of elements invisible to the human eye. So yes, in the woods your crew has a culture, and if you haven’t been paying attention to that culture, it may be working against your business strategy.

Culture sets the standard for how employees interact with each other. A culture where crew members feel criticized can breed secrecy. When dealing with expensive equipment and extremely dangerous situations the last thing you want in the woods is secrecy. So in the logging industry a company’s culture may eat strategy for breakfast, right after it devours your employees for a midnight snack. Respect for safety is one element to building a strong culture within a logging company.

Determining Culture

As a logging contractor, you control the culture, set the limits and raise the bar for how your crew members interact with each other and the public. It will never be perfect, but focusing on the culture of your crew can only make things better for the health of your business.

If you are family owned, parts of your culture have been set in stone by those who came before you: work ethic, how people are treated, etc. Take the best of that culture, the things you know are good, and let the other unhealthy things disappear over time. Old cultures will sometimes have to shift to accommodate the needs of the incoming workforce in order to strengthen our industry going forward.

I would coach a client who runs a logging business or crew to approach defining their culture like this: Take a piece of paper and pencil, and at the top of the paper write “Trust” and then write “Safety.” Those two things belong as part of a crew culture in the woods on every single job around the world. When you work in one of the world’s most dangerous professions, safety and trust must be a part of your core values. You cannot have safety without trust, and you cannot have trust without safety. As a business owner it should never be acceptable for you to drive up to the job only to see crew members scrambling for their hardhats. This shows a lack of trust. A culture of safety says that we all care about the wellbeing and safety of each other. We own it, we live it and we trust that everyone else does too.

After writing “safety” and “trust,” think about what your other core values will be. What is something that you would never tolerate within your business? Maybe one of those things is lying, then one of your core values will be honesty. If you expect everyone to treat each other like family, then loyalty might be another one of your core values. There are many things that go into caring and keeping loggers safe in the woods. Jot these things down as they come to mind. You, along with your employees, are to determine the values you want your crews to live and stand by. Maybe you expect everyone to always think about continuous improvement, then make that one of your core values. Now, those who work for you should always be looking for ways to improve the systems that exist within your company.

Lastly, write down some of the things you feel sets your company apart from other logging companies. Maybe you have a strong emphasis on “low impact” logging, then that would become one of your core values. Maybe you want to tackle every hard job that comes your way, no matter how high risk, then that would be one of your core values. Write them all down to determine the core values for your business. Then at the next crew meeting share what you have put together and look for feedback and suggestions. One of your employees may think of something you may have overlooked. Sharing and getting feedback is extremely important to transparency, communication and overall employee engagement.

Emphasizing safety, trust, core values, and what sets you apart from other logging companies is a simple way to guide you through determining what your culture will be.

Communicating Culture

Now that you have determined your core values they should be communicated and reinforced on a a daily basis. Your culture, just like your personality, is a part of everything you do. Communicating culture begins during the hiring process. A very wise logger once shared this with me…“Hire for values, not skill. Hire people whose values align with your own. You can always teach new skills and get better work performance from an employee. But you can’t teach values.”

Communicating your core values right at the beginning of the hiring process will determine if a new employee will be a good fit with your culture. If a potential new employee does not align with your values and you hire him or her, based solely on their operating skills, it could begin to erode your company culture. Guard your well defined culture to protect and strengthen it. To hire someone based solely on their skills is not only doing your company a disservice, but the rest of your employees as well. A decision like this would chip away at the strength of your culture and add to an erosion that may not be reversible. When you put money above values your culture can suffer.

You want the potential new crew member to understand your culture. The best way to do this is to have a process that welcomes your new hire. Standardize this process so that every single new hire goes through the same welcome. Educate them regarding your core values. They should know what you stand for, what your mission statement is, and what your values are. Let them know that they will be expected to uphold these values in order to work for you. The employee handbook should not only explain practices, procedures and benefits, it should also share your core values, mission statement and vision for your company. Research shows that a standardized employee indoctrination into your company raises the chances of retention, keeping costly company turnover low. Then reinforce the value of culture at the 90 day review.

When you are living your culture every day it’s very hard to avoid it. It will only be reinforced and grow stronger. Communicate, communicate and communicate, then expect. When I say expect, that means everyone, including all the leaders in your company. Crew supervisors can never expect anyone to uphold values that they don’t hold up themselves. Make sure that there are culture strengthening activities on a regular basis that reinforce the values of your company. I know one logging contractor where the entire company conducts community service on a yearly basis. Giving back is one of their core values.

A strong culture based on values, ethics and norms should permeate throughout your business, from the support staff in the office, to the crews working in the field. Don’t leave your culture to chance, determine what you want your company to stand for, then communicate and reinforce it every day. If you aren’t, you might have a culture that is munching on your business strategy in small bite sized portions. Culture is powerful and if you are leaving it to chance, you are leaving one more business tool in your toolbox that could help lead to a safer, more productive crew.

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