Individual change is difficult and very complex
on its own. Everyone has a reason for digging into
points of view. As an outsider it might look irrational and even childish at times but if given the opportunity there is usually a powerful story fuelling the current impasse.
Now add to the individual complexity by lumping 80 unhappy, untrusting, confrontational employees pitted against a reactive, untrusting and confrontational management group.
The perfect tinder box of human factors ready to explode.
This actual situation, back in 2006, was the first full industrial operation that Switchback was asked to step in and see if transformation was even possible.
Like any sociologically warring tribes
of industrial workers and management there are always the official and unofficial leaders and influencers
. These leaders from both sides of the conflict agreed something had to change but really no one knew exactly what to do.
From the union side, grievances had lost their effectiveness due to overuse. From the management side, individual progressive discipline seems to only add fuel to the fire.
I think this was the moment that our three day training model was born. Three days broken up with group training in the morning for 4 hours a day and then one on one coaching in the afternoons.
When in really tough workplace cultures gathering up folks for one day or even two days has diminishing results. The primary reason is that often leaders and influencers need more time to consider the logic embedded in the training and also need more time to watch how those who look up to them are responding to the offer. Only then will they consider tipping their hand and concede to a possible way out of the conflict.
As so we booked the first of many three day Safety Culture Training dates. Both sides signed up their top leaders and influencers to the first “show-down.”
Day one, the room bristled with the warring factions.
Day two the bristle was replaced with individual examples of human pain and tragedy.
Day three… the magic happened. Out of seemingly nowhere a common ground was discovered.
The two top dogs in this protracted multi year, multi million dollar fight were both having domestic problems with their wives over the stress/joy of grandchildren. Both wives had recently laid down the law after separate incidents involving their husbands each losing their tempers in front of the grandkids. Each had been told under no uncertain terms that yelling and swearing in front of the grandchildren would never happen again and that if it did there would be marital consequences.
I’m not sure if you can picture the moment but here were the opposing warlords, with zero trust in each other at work, facing the same “need to change” at home. This seeming insignificant domestic stress point turned into the catalyst that resulted in the transformation of the entrenched operational culture.
Adding metrics into the equation. The operation had, for a couple of years, averaged 40-50 grievances annually. When the penny dropped for these two leaders the cascading effect over the next 12 months resulted in an annual average of 4-5 grievances.
People can Change
Organization Cultures can be Transformed
(It might take more than a quick zoom call)