I can just feel the outcry jumping out of the screen as safety professionals read this. But hear me out…
We’ve got safety performance metrics all wrong
I was recently interviewed for an employee remuneration podcast about linking safety to pay and what was clear was that it was all based on lagging indicators; all based on outcomes. Now, of course, if you’re in the safety and risk profession like I am, you’re driven by reducing harm to people. My goal is to reduce the number of slip-and-fall accidents around the world by half a million a year. So, I totally get that the output matters.
Controllable vs uncontrollable
But the key thing to understand is that we can’t control the outcome. I can’t just click my fingers and make 500,000 slip-and-fall accidents a year disappear. We can’t prevent every single insurance claim. We can’t just talk about safety culture and expect to see zero RIDDORs.
But we can control the inputs. I can slip test 500,000 floors to check their safety levels (and do something about that if they are slippery-when-wet). We need to focus on where we can make a measurable impact.
Enter the sales director…
There are two reasons why a sales director is the perfect person to run health and safety.
1) A high-performing sales director is obsessed with controlling inputs
2) They can “sell” the return-on-investment business case to the board with aplomb
The support of some safety professionals would certainly be required because his or her technical knowledge simply wouldn’t suffice. But, if we have technical knowledge in the team, do we need it in the director?
To lead a team, concentrate on leading indicators
A good sales director knows, understands, respects even loves the fact that it’s all about the inputs. It’s all about measuring what is manageable. It’s not about controlling the outcome, because you can’t do that. All you can control is your inputs.
You can’t tell your sales team: “you must sell £1m this month” because your sales team doesn’t have the ability to force customers to buy. Just the same as you can’t force your team to be safe just by telling them to be so.
But as a sales leader, what can you control? You can control the number of telephone calls, the number of emails sent, the number of LinkedIn connection requests, and follow up messages made, the number of outstanding quotes followed-up each week, the amount of times posts are made on social media, the sum spend on advertising. There are a raft of inputs that are within your control, that will influence that outcome.
Let’s think about that from a safety perspective. It’s not possible to demand and ensure that slip-and-fall accidents don’t happen in your building. That’s not within your control. What is in your control, though? Getting a pendulum slip test at least every 12 months and acting on the results, ensuring you have a rigorous spillage control regime in place which quickly dries the floor, cleaning the floor effectively so that the slip resistance of the floor when wet is maintained or enhanced (and certainly not inhibited), using signage diligently and only in the right circumstances, managing lighting and noise to make any hazards clear and prevent distraction. These are the things that are within the health and safety teams’, control.
Yet, what we typically find is that these control measures are dealt with in only a very superficial manner, probably because we’re only really interested in the outcome now the inputs.
The second reason health and safety would benefit from being overseen by the sales director is that this person will know how to engage and influence the board. This means presenting a return-on-investment conversation and a business case to enable the correct time, effort and resources to be placed into the inputs that will make a difference to the outputs. It’s great to identify the inputs you need, but only if you can afford them.
Far too often safety is considered an unwanted necessity; not a “must have” want. Whereas every CEO wants a good sales function. To generate results and impact, this needs to change. Safety is an investment, but that isn’t fully understood or appreciated by boards in most cases, in spite of: “safety is our number one priority” being almost omnipresent in values statements.
But where this approach is taken (such as the seminal Alcoa example where safety was prioritised above everything else, investment was made, inputs were focused upon, and the culture truly was safety first,– lived and breathed not just spoken), the results can be massive. Protecting your staff, drives them to perform better. This in turn produces more profit for the business which gives the business the power to do bigger and more meaningful things in the world. Any board in the world would want those outcomes. But to get them, someone needs to powerfully pitch the business case.
Safety = sales
So, to achieve the outcomes we want, my view is: why shouldn’t we consider putting safety under the control of the sales director. He or she will understand the importance of managing and measuring inputs, not just outcomes. And the fact that the inputs drive the outcomes. And secondly, they will be able to build a better business case to enact that shift, which will lead to the business, its staff, its customers, its supply chain and all its other stakeholders seeing huge benefits.
So, what do you think, did I persuade you that taking a sales-based approach to safety, may be the way forward? Did your initial outrage dissipate? Can you see the logic?
At very least, we should look to collaborate with and learn from commercial colleagues such as sales directors to help achieve our desired outcomes. After all, if we continue doing what we’ve always done, we’ll get the results we’ve always achieved.
I’d love to debate this with you. Fire away in the comments and, if you’re super-passionately opposed to this idea, would you be up for joining me on the Safety & Risk Success Podcast to debate it?
#safety #insurance #riskmanagement