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Despite record safety performance and 23 consecutive E.H. Harriman gold awards, NS determined that their safety leadership practices were not optimizing safety performance. CEO Wick Moorman stated in an interview in Progressive Railroading, “We had lights-out safety performance in 2011 [but] we didn’t have that buy-in from everyone in the workforce. We want to make people feel better about the company.”
Prior to this initiative, many employees felt disengaged. While they had a great passion for and commitment to the company and to railroading, they didn’t feel empowered to work together and find new ways to improve safety. With this new effort, the focus is on recognizing what people do well around safety and encouraging everyone to make the workplace even safer.
“Based on our initial assessment, we recommended a two-pronged approach to improvement,” stated Judy Agnew, Senior Vice President of Safety Solutions for ADI. The first was changes to NS’ organizational safety systems (including shifting the focus to leading versus lagging safety indicators, changes to safety audits, increasing opportunities for supervisors to interact with direct reports, higher quality job safety briefings, etc.) and the second were changes in the nature of people-to-people interactions (with a focus on increased use of positive reinforcement and improved positive and constructive feedback). “Once the leaders of NS learned about the science of behavior and understood how to apply it in their environments, they quickly began making substantive changes in the way they managed safety and the culture change had begun.”
The project, which will impact about 25,000 employees, is being led by Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Manion, and Vice President of Safety and Environmental David Julian. It involves training and coaching for thousands of managers, supervisors and craft workers. With this training and coaching, they will have the behavioral tools and approaches they need for effective problem solving, better communication, relationship building and improved strategies for identifying and responding to safe and at-risk behaviors in both management and craft employees. NS’ senior-most managers are a big part of the initiative, as they too have been trained and are actively learning to use behavioral science to effectively create a positive safety culture.
While a cultural change of this magnitude, that involves the whole of the organization, takes time and considerable effort, many new systems are in place and changes are being recognized and acknowledged throughout the company. “The rate of change in NS is unprecedented in our consulting experience. It is a testament to the power of positive reinforcement and, more importantly, the dedication of the NS leaders who are determined to make a change,” Agnew states. The employees of NS are noticing the change too. In a recent survey, leaders acknowledged that as a result of these efforts there has been a positive change in the way safety is managed. The positive changes will accelerate as the project continues to roll out over the next year.
As Moorman stated in the above article, “This is a journey, a long process…This will change how we interact with each other…It has to become a different way of doing business for us.”
Founded in 1978, and headquartered in Atlanta, GA, Aubrey Daniels International (ADI) works globally with a diverse spectrum of clients. We help accelerate the business and safety performance of companies worldwide by using positive, practical approaches grounded in the science of behavior and engineered to ensure long-term sustainability. ADI supports its clients in accelerating strategy execution while fostering employee engagement and positive accountability at all levels of their organization.
ABOUT NORFOLK SOUTHERN CORPORATION
Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE: NSC) is one of the nation’s premier transportation companies. Its Norfolk Southern Railway subsidiary operates approximately 20,000 route miles in 22 states and the District of Columbia, serves every major container port in the eastern United States, and provides efficient connections to other rail carriers. Norfolk Southern operates the most extensive intermodal network in the East and is a major transporter of coal and industrial products.
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