I was in a plant recently and saw the old familiar slogan “Safety is our #1 Priority.” It was on a banner that hung in a conspicuous place over the plant floor. The thought occurred to me, “that could be a good thing or a bad thing.” As I walked by the banner I noticed a slight tinge or fading. I stopped to focus a little close and realized that tinge was dust. It was a bad thing! Yet, we love our slogans. I see them almost everywhere I go. You’ve heard them too, whether you are in safety or not; “Safety is No Accident,” “Target Zero,” “No Safety, Know Pain,” “Safety First.” Even a quick google search provides 4.5 million hits including a list of the 500 “Most Popular Safety Slogans.”
They sound catchy if not a bit overused (some would argue entirely overused). The problem comes not with the catchy slogan, but what we do with them. We confuse slogans with a vision or destination. Do a Google search of “safety vision” and you get 7.9 million hits on surveillance and video equipment. We don’t think about a vision when we are drafting loss improvement plans or developing safety objectives. Too often, the slogan becomes our safety program. We like them. They make us feel good because we are doing something creative or at-least semi-creative. Sometimes they are used because we don’t know how to manage this thing we call “safety,” so we hang a banner where everyone can see and hope by osmosis people understand the meaning and follow the procedures. The reality is that slogans are dead on arrival without a plan to bring them to life.
Maybe we should start thinking about finding our vision. All great leaders have them. Companies, organizations, and even regular folks who have a vision (and action plan) are more likely to get the results they want. According to John C. Maxwell in his book The 12 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, “A leader + vision = result.” Of course, the followers must buy into the leader first, but that’s a story for another post.
A vision defines where you want to go, a destination you want to reach. Vision has the power to focus attention on what matters most. A vision answers questions before they are asked; “should I take this short cut?” The answer is in the vision. Vision helps to define goals which lead to tasks and activities that pave the path to the vision. In his book It’s Your Ship Captain Michael Abrashoff states “the secret to managing a group of people is to articulate a common goal or vision that inspires a diverse group of people to work hard together.” Slogans don’t do that.
We are talking about safety here. Do we really need a vision to accomplish 100% compliance and achieve a vibrant safety culture? I suppose slogans serve a purpose, however short term. What if we can turn our slogans into a vision. Maybe we should start thinking about finding our vision rather than settling for a catchy slogan. I am interested in your thoughts. Do we even need a vision to accomplish our safety goals?