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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

CEOs: do more 'chiefing'

CEOs: do more 'chiefing'
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Publication Date:
New Zealand

Organisations with the safest cultures are also the highest performers overall, yet only ten percent of chief executives know how to lead their culture – which, according to a corporate anthropologist, makes cultural leadership a risk management issue.

Michael Henderson told an audience of chief executives that they need to understand the power of the tribe, and that the ‘chief’ part of their title gave them the mandate to lead the tribe’s culture. In other words, they need to do more ‘chiefing’.

“Our peers dictate how we behave. Your followers are not following you – they may be inspired by you, but they are following the people around them.”

Speaking at the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum’s summit in Auckland last month, Henderson said human culture was the explanation for our dominance as a species, because culture enables us to progress faster than genetics. He challenged the common definition of organisational culture (“it’s what we do around here”), saying it is better to regard culture as the thing which turns individuals into a people, so that we are willing to drop some of our egotistical needs and to serve others. “Culture is a social immune system designed for safety.”

As the tribal chief, a CEO has to be the expert on the culture, and not delegate that role to HR. A good culture, said Henderson, achieves two things: it elevates morale and commitment, and it promotes stability and a sense of pulling together.

He introduced the acronym VUCA to describe the business world: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. To guard against VUCA, CEOs need to walk around and have conversations with staff and customers every day, covering three points: control (eg quality, cashflow), relationships (teams), and development (“what are you doing to win the future?”)

He warned that keeping on top of control, relationships and development can never be done by an appeal to law or compliance, but only through people’s personal values. “Organisational values are nonsense. Only people have values.”

Having a CEO who gives an annual speech about the importance of health and safety, therefore, will not work. What the chief talks about and asks about and pays attention to helps set the culture.

“You need to be known as the person in your organisation who uses the word safety more than anyone else. What you say becomes the language of the culture.”

When the chief is walking around talking to staff, he or she has to be seen as the real deal, and that requires being approachable and credible (“you have to know what you’re talking about or have people you can refer to”). In other words, he said, “you know what you’re doing and you’re safe to be around”.

Henderson also sounded a word of caution: your organisational culture is often your first competitor, because your brand promise is kept or broken through your culture. “Go ask Volkswagen.”

Earlier, in introducing Henderson, Forum executive director Francois Barton posed a challenge to the group. “When people ask why we are doing this, the answer is emphatically that it’s to keep our people safe. We need to make sure we don’t tip into a process vortex and that we don’t fool ourselves that paperwork is evidence of compliance.”



People Mentioned:
Francois Barton; Michael Henderson
Organisations Mentioned:
Business Leaders' Health and Safety Forum
Reference No:

From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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