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Safety 2013: Four Strategies for Turning Change into a Competitive Advantage

June 25, 2013
Question, align, reposition and collaborate – these four words represent the steps organizations must take to effectively address change.

At the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Safety 2013 opening session in Las Vegas, Peter Sheahan, founder and CEO of ChangeLabs, shared four steps to effectively address change and turn it into a competitive advantage.

Sheahan told thousands of Safety 2013 attendees during the June 25 opening session that while he may not be an occupational safety insider, he can certainly see that the profession and industry is facing change – and his presentation was geared toward helping professionals navigate that change.

Throughout his work implementing platforms for change all over the world, Sheahan said he has witnessed only three responses to change: curling up in the fetal position and simply hoping it all goes away; acknowledging that change exists but being unwilling to do anything about it; and recognizing not only that change is happening, but that the organization must do something about it. It is this final, most construction approach to change that Sheahan focused on.

“It turns out that just being open to change and acknowledging it and being willing to do something about it is not enough,” he said. Instead, organizations and leaders must take additional steps to ensure they can turn change into an opportunity and create a competitive advantage.

Four Steps to Effectively Address Change

Step One: Question your assumptions. “When you start moving forward from what’s changing to how to address it, the very first place you must start is to question the assumptions you’re making,” Sheahan said.

But first, leaders and organizations must first be able to recognize when they are making assumptions in the first place. Sheahan urged attendees to be aware of conditioning (“People good with a hammer think everything is a nail”); that change is bigger than any one individual and that people must be willing to let go of their specific roles in the process; too narrowly defining the scope of the value that you can bring; failing to test assumptions; and the willingness to test change in small, controlled, manageable environments.

Step Two: Create clarity and alignment. “Let’s say you have a vision for something – the next step is to very clearly articulate what success would look like if you do it well. Align everything in the organization toward that vision,” he said. “Large-scale, fundament change is never about intent. Your desire to create change is not enough. Execution always comes down to alignment.”

Step Three: Actively reposition new vision for safety in the business. Do not assume your stakeholders, staff and partner will automatically understand this new reality. “You have to actively go and reposition the new reality,” Sheahan said. For example, when McDonald’s began selling salads, the change brought more customers into the store. These customers, however, did not typically purchase salads – instead, the change shifted the way people thought about McDonald’s.

Step Four: Collaborate. “Collaboration is the fastest way to drive engagement,” Sheahan said. For example, Best Buy’s attempts to woo female customers were only successful when the company asked its female employees for their input on ways to improve the store’s shopping experience. When their suggestions – ranging from functional labeling, wider aisles, prominent signs and clean bathrooms – were implemented, the company enjoyed a significant rise in both sales and employment applications from women.

“Don’t create it in a room and give it to people; create it with them,” Sheahan said. “Once they create it, it’s theirs. They own it.”

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