Employee Resistance in aviation SMS Programs
Without question, employee resistance in aviation SMS programs the biggest roadblock to successful SMS implementation. Employee resistance doesn't simply mean "front line employees," but rather all employees. This includes upper management (executives) and middle management (department heads) resistance .
Resistance can be a frustrating nuisance or a crippling plague for companies. Either way, aviation safety managers are constantly asking, "How do I get employees on board with the safety program?" In theory, the problem of motivating employees to follow your SMS program is quite simple:
- Priorities; and
But creating the right incentives, influencing priorities, and changing Norms is a confounding task. To compound this problem, go do a search on this subject and most of the information you find is uselessly vague, with tips like "make safety an important part of your organization's culture," or "be champions of safety." All this does is repeat the initial problem - how do I do it?
Here are 6 ways to motivate employees to follow SMS programs.
1 - Include Safety Performance in Employee Reviews
Do you include safety performance in your employee reviews? Mostly likely, you don't. Without safety performance reviews, employees will have very little accountability for safety behavior. Without accountability, nearly all employees will put a marginal effort the safety program.
The single greatest step you can take right now to motivate employees to follow your SMS program is to include safety performance in employee reviews. With aviation safety management system software, this is relatively easy to develop. Manually doing it is harder but not impossible. The general steps are:
- Choose which employee safety data is most important to performance;
- Implement a means of tracking this data;
- Inform employees that you will be monitoring the safety metrics; and
- Include these metrics throughout performance review (i.e. DON'T have separate safety/quality performance reviews, have them intermixed).
For a full walk-thorough of how to include safety performance in employee reviews, see this free guide:
2 - Demonstrate Return on Investment of SMS Program
Upper management is beholden to investors, and probably the most common resistance from upper management comes down to the "bottom line," money. In such cases, upper managers push performance over preparedness, and aren't willing to expend the resources needed to implement a compliant and performing aviation SMS program.
Demonstrating a return on investment of the SMS program should peak their interest and motivate them to get on board with your safety program. Demonstrating a return on investment for SMS programs is not something that is discussed often, but it is actually not too difficult to do:
- The potential for SMS ROI is very high; and
- Producing the data for ROI is straightforward.
Showing return on investment to resistant upper management is simply a way of speaking their language. There's no need for employees to follow the SMS program out of the altruism of their heart and their concern for safety. What's most important is that all employees:
- Provide needed resources;
- Follow safety policies and procedures;
- Are involved in the safety program; and
- Demonstrate safe behavior.
3 - Involve Employees in Decision Making as Much as Possible
Along with safety performance monitoring, involving front line employees in safety decision making processes is another fantastic method for motivating employees to follow SMS programs.
You should allow employees to:
- Participate in the purchasing of safety equipment;
- Be on investigation teams;
- Be on safety committees;
- Make safety suggestions (which are follow up by management action); and
- Conduct safety evaluations.
When employees are involved in the decision making processes, they will own the program. "Owning the program" is exactly the place you want to get to.
4 - (Quality) Aviation SMS Training
Safety training can do wonders for generating a strong safety awareness, and establishing norms. In the same sense of the expression "you are what you eat," we can say about safety behavior, "you act what you understand." When employees understand why safety behavior is important to themselves, they tend to follow the safety program.
Most employees resistance to the SMS program comes from a place of apathy - they might have "knowledge" of safety, but they don't understand why it's important themselves. Quality aviation SMS training will definitely motivate employees to follow SMS programs. Signs of quality aviation SMS training are:
- Pre and end of course assessments;
- Practical application versus definitions/concepts;
- Tailored to your aviation SMS program;
- More "doing" and less listening (i.e., many hands on activities); and
- Take home materials and references.
The above points are all integral in making training "stick" in employees' minds. In most training courses, employees forget 95% of the training material the moment they leave the class. Which means that nearly all training is a complete waste of money.
5 - Create More Transparency with Safety Issues
Updating your transparency policy is another quick way to motivate employees. It's something you can do right now. When employees are in the dark, it creates the precedent that the SMS program is a "management thing." Talk about destroying safety culture.
Having an open book about safety issues is important for establishing the Human Factor Norm that safety is everybody's business. Steps you can right now are:
- Decide how your company can be more transparent;
- Send a company wide email or having company wide meeting reasserting company commitment to transparency and notify of impending changes; and
- Follow through to demonstrate that the transparency is real.
Before you do anything, you may need to find out exactly how motivated employees are. Use these safety culture survey templates to assess your safety culture: