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Management resistance to SHEQ/ISO


Management, not staff ...

We have found that, interestingly enough, it is not the general staff complement that resists this "change", it is normally the management of the company.  Even more interesting, is that it is MIDDLE rather than SENIOR management that is resistant to the idea of implementing SHEQ in the company or starting the process of aiming for ISO certification.  Our years of experience has taught us that:

  • staff does not see the extra work in implementing SHEQ/ISO and can - in most cases - see the value not only for the end user, but also for themselves;

  • senior management sees the value of these disciplines, especially when dealing with other Executives of companies who have successfully implemented SHEQ or have even obtained ISO certification; but

  • it is middle management (supervisors, junior managers and even heads of divisions) that normally resists this intervention, because (a) yes, it is more work and (b) yes, it brings a lot more responsibility and even accountability.  Hence, the resistance - sometimes small, sometimes a bit more profound.

So, why the resistance?

It is important for senior/executive management (and even staff on the shop floor) to understand why there is this resistance from (mostly) middle management.  We are not saying that senior management does not have the same resistance; in fact when resistance is found at executive level, it is even more intense.

Below we will deal with the common types of resistance statements and we will try to give good ways of how to counter these resistance statements.

  • It's the new flavour of the month; ignore it for long enough and it will disappear ...  Management systems and business history have shown us that some things are introduced simply because it is the "hot topic in industry" at the moment or because "the MD just came back from an international conference".  Senior management must be able to explain (sometimes with the help of a Consultant) that SHEQ/ISO is not something that is just looked at in passing.  Management must show its intent to implement SHEQ/ISO and must change its own ways and demonstrate how this change to a culture of SHEQ/ISO will become a way of life in the organization.  "Don't tell them what to do; show them how it will be done."  When staff see that "this thing isn't going away", they will - together with middle management - slowly but surely embrace and support this initiative.

  • It can't be important, otherwise we would have seen or discussed it ...  The biggest mistake senior management makes when it starts with or reignites SHEQ/ISO is to keep the discussions in the board and meeting rooms.  If you are (really) going to do it, tell everybody and then tell them again and again!  All staff must see management's commitment to SHEQ/ISO and all internal marketing (official communiqué from MD, posters, appointment of change agents, regular and different types of communications, etc.) efforts must be used to indicate and convince all staff - including middle management - about the company's commitment to the full and ongoing implementation and practise of SHEQ/ISO.

  • It's too big a task; we won't be able to do it with everything else that's going on!  SHEQ/ISO is a mammoth task, especially when the company tackle it for the first time.  But, it is like devouring the symbolic elephant - one has to do it in very small and manageable chunks - piece by piece.  In this regard a Consultant can be of great assistance in that he/she can do the first things first.  Normally companies do not know where to start, but with specific techniques, a Consultant can accurately determine where the best place to start is.  It is important to explain to staff that a systematic approach will be followed, that the "quick wins " will get attention first, but MOST IMPORTANTLY, that staff will be given progress reports on the implementation process.  To make SHEQ/ISO implementation believable, staff must be part of the process and must see progress, at least communicated on a weekly basis.

  • We already have budget constraints, where will the money come from?  In tough times - similar to the recession we're in currently - this may be one of the more valid reasons for resisting (any) new initiatives.  The answer simply lies in being able to prove the benefits (in monetary terms if possible) of the SHEQ/ISO initiative(s).  Again, this is not an easy exercise.  Consultants can help companies to explain the benefits to employees.  Cost-Benefit-Analysis and CONC (Cost Of Non-Conformances) calculations are often used.  Sometimes, hearing this explanation from a Consultant, is more easily accepted by staff than hearing it from their own management team.  The worst that can happen is when incorrect figures and statistics are presented.  Management loses credibility and the system is flawed from the start.

  • It is another paper exercise of which the final product - after months of meaningless meetings - will end up somewhere in the filing room.  It is true; no one can deny it.  Setting up a combined SHEQ system or aiming for ISO certification is a lot of paperwork to be done.  But, the good news is that it is only true in the BEGINNING phases.  Once the basic system has been documented (hard copy or electronically), the upkeep and maintenance is not that big a task.  Especially for companies which operate in an industry where MAJOR changes does not happen that often.  Staff must - from the offset - also be made aware that these documents form the basis of job descriptions, indicate how departments inter-link and how "silo sickness" can be minimized if not prevented, it help with identifying staff's KPA/KPIs (Key Performance Areas/Indicators) and that these can improve the way in which their contribution to the company is measured, which in turn helps with performance reviews, salary adjustments and even bonus/share payouts.

  • We do not affect the environment around us.  Why worry about this at all?  They say that ignorance is no excuse for not complying to the law.  Although our employees get more educated about the environment, most staff members still lack the knowledge of how their actions at the office/factory directly or indirectly affect the environment.  It is for this reason that employees must be taken through all day-to-day activities to understand their influence on the environment.  We have seen that where waste management was successfully implemented at an administrative type of business, a lot of these employees put a similar (yet smaller) system in place AT THEIR HOMES.

  • Nobody is really interested in the environmental initiatives we implement and the monitoring results we capture regularly ... these results are only seen by the big boss!  This is again indicative of how little staff know about how important environmental issues have become from a company point of view.  Similar to companies reporting on their BBBEE (Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment) statistics, the time will come where companies will have to submit reports on environmental impacts, incidents and progress with their EMP (Environmental Management Plan).  The monitoring results may shortly not only be requested by the MD/CEO of the company, but the Department of Environmental Affairs will shortly request these statistics.  Similar to getting a BBBEE rating, we will find that companies will get an Environmental Compliance Rating.  All of this of course also forms part of Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Governance (as highlighted in the King I, II and II reports).  Companies need not wait for legislation to be passed.  They can take the lead and prove to their stakeholders their commitment to the environment.

  • We've never had an injury on duty, why is health and safety so important?  Again, staff is focussing on the past and forgetting about where this sphere of business is moving.  Occupational Health & Safety is especially goof entrenched in mines, engineering and production companies.  This does not mean that all other companies does not have a responsibility towards their employees to provide a working space safe of injury and ill health.  Staff also - in most companies - is unaware of the COID payments made to government and that these payments can be reduced if the Injury On Duty (IOD) rate declines.  This makes more money available to spend on other initiatives in the company.

There are obviously a lot more types of and reasons for resistance.  We normally cover more of these in our training sessions, but the above can help to get the implementation of SHEQ/ISO approved or reignited.

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