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The Power of a Safety Agreement to Boost Safety Culture with Ken Roberts

Dr Nippin Anand_The Power of Organizational Learning



Don’t miss this engaging and enlightening conversation with Ken Roberts, who brings over forty years of rich experience in mining, heavy industry, and construction. Ken shares invaluable insights on how frontline workers can buy into safety by building trust within teams and understanding the profound consequences of their actions. He emphasizes the importance of creating a safety commitment agreement for frontline workers to truly embrace safety in their daily lives. Ken also introduces the concept of ‘Convenience Kills.’ He discusses its stages and explains how organizations can effectively engage frontline workers in a powerful safety agreement to enhance their safety culture.


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe, yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is the Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today, I’m very excited to have with me Ken Roberts. We’re going to have a fun and exciting conversation. I can predict it based on prior conversations that we’ve had. Ken has a program that talks about convenience skills, a book on it as well. We’re going to dive into it. He’s also talked about something really cool that he calls the agreements culture. Ken, welcome to the show. Really excited to have you with me. Let’s get started with your story in mining and how you got started moons ago.

Wow. Such a great story, too, Eric. So please, hang on to your seat. So, my story started many, many years ago. 1981, I was 16 years old, and I went to visit my friend who lived in a place called Southern Cross, which is a mining town. Western Australia is a mining state. We have the biggest mining company in the world, BHP, pretty well owns us. I ventured to Southern Cross. I visited my friend, and we’re a bit sneaky, you see. I’m 16 years old. He’s 17. We drove to the pub, you see. We’re going to go into this hotel. We looked all of 12, and we walked into the front bar, and we’re sitting there having our first ever beer and looking at each other. The next a minute, this big old miner comes over. Cole, his name was. He had a big bushy beard and mud all over his boots. He comes in, he wraps his arms around us. He goes, hey, boys, you’re looking for some work. I was on school I’m in school holidays, and I thought, Yeah, I’m looking for work. Yeah, that’s us. My little high pitch voice. He’s all right, I’ll pick you up in the morning.

Me and Jeremy were standing at the front of his house, and along comes this old Yuit, this old mining Yuit with the numbers on the side and coal in the driving up. He says, Get in, boys. We jumped in and he threw us a can of Coke. He goes, this is Coke. This is the best cure for a hangover. He took a big swig. That was our first ever safety.

Oh, my goodness. So, we drove onto the mine site, and there I am.

 I’m a 16-year-old in sand shoes and a tank top. And when I’m shoveling, you see, just all day, there’s a hole in a conveyor belt. Rather them to stop and fix this thing, they thought they’d hire me for the day. And I just shoveled all day in this sand, this big pile. I look at the end of the day and the miners come up and they said, Wow, good job. You want to come back tomorrow? And I did that for a week, and they said, would you like a full-time job. So, I rang up Mama, says, Mama, I’m not coming back to school. That’s it. And that was my first ever venture. I was earning more money than she was, and she’s a schoolteacher. Went to university, and here I am earning more money than her at 16. And that was There was no such thing as safety back then. It was more about survival. How do you nimbly get around all of the gear without hurting yourself? So that was my introduction.

I think one of the things that struck me is you said, then safety started coming along, but nobody enjoyed safety. Tell me more.

 Well, we used to have a lot of fun, you see. You could get to the gold room by jumping in the front of the loader bucket, or you could jump into the back of the Yuit. I was driving the Yuit at that stage. I was 6 now. I didn’t even have a license for the road. I remember once I was reversing the vehicle and just being a little bit young, I suppose, and I nearly reversed this thing over the side of the pit. I jumped out and I looked down and there it is, hundreds of feet down there. We didn’t have any wind rose. There was no real signage or anything, and they had to get a loader to pull me out. But it was fun. We really enjoyed it. I used to love going to work, 16, 17. Went underground when I was 17. I remember the first day on the site, I was working around the brace up the top and the shift boss, old Doc Snell, you see, he comes up with his glasses and he says, Kenny, we need you to go down the hole tonight. And I’m thinking, you bet.

 Yeah, absolutely. Go into the changer and grab yourself a pair of overalls. So here I am with these big overalls. I don’t know who they were, and floppy rubber boots. I jumped into the skip, and then he looks at me, he goes, Rob, you’re not 18, are you? And I thought, Oh, that’s it. He’s going to pull me out of the hole. But as I stepped out, he pushed me back in and he goes, no, you can go down tonight, but listen, if you hurt yourself, I’ll bloody kill you. That was my second safety message.

Oh, my goodness.

But I loved it. When we went to work, it was fun. It wasn’t very safe, Eric, but it was a lot of fun. And so, over the years, I’ve noticed that as I progressed and I started getting roles as leaders, supervisors moving up in management roles and safety came in, it was so much more control. The idea of fun, I felt, was being replaced by control.

You then had an aha moment later on in life that really took you from living in a min environment, living around safety, to really having a spark and new ideas when it came to safety. Tell me a little bit about that time.

Well, that was too. So, I’m in and out of mining and construction as well. I got an apprenticeship as a carpenter and then went back on mine sites building. And when I was about 38, I was going through my midlife crisis, as we may Maybe most men do. And I joined a group called the Mankind Project. I did this special weekend, which is called the New Warrior Training Adventure. And it was about having a look at myself and how I was showing up and what were the things that I was doing, and the consequences of my actions were creating a dynamic where my relationship was failing. I had children to two different women at that stage in my life, and I wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t have much purpose. And I started to see, and they showed me some principles: accountability, personal responsibility, what are the consequences of your actions? These are things I’ve never heard, especially not in the mining game. But I took it like a fish to water, and I really started to look at how I wasn’t taking ownership for my actions. And so, as I became more proficient in facilitation, and I started to get some qualifications in the field.

I really love the idea that I could actually literally change myself through changing the way I felt, the way I thought, the way I behaved, what were the consequences of my actions in my personal life. And as I started getting roles as a construction manager, and I moved into safety eventually, there was the same philosophies could be applied in the workplace. I had work teams that were not achieving any real passion in their work, basically. They were not finding any meaning in what they were doing. I started to apply these personal development techniques, and I found that I was encouraging them to find a little bit more satisfaction in what they do, that they could go home at the end of the day, that their job meant for something, and that they were able to get a sense that their attitude was able to create a workplace which was a lot of fun because we had all these controls, you see. Go out, do your JSA, take time, take charge, take five, all of the different names that we have for things now. But Where’s the fun? Where’s the enjoyment? And that was the epiphany that it was leaving.

There wasn’t any sense of joy in what we were doing anymore. So, I made it an effort to try and bring that back, and I felt it was starting to be recognized as a person who was able to connect more with the work crew. 

And I think one of the pieces that you shared with me before that I really liked is the element of the power and agreements. And We had some really cool stories around how you got people to follow rules that was not the traditional way. Tell me more about that because there’s some really cool elements in that part, and it’s connected to that aha moment you just walked through.

It was definitely in personal development. In the Mankind Project, we do this thing called accountability. Most men end up in situations in their life, and I was one of them, where I didn’t follow through with my word. I would say that I was going to take the kids out for the weekend, but if a good footie match came on, that went by the wayside. Or I promised the wife that I would be taking her somewhere or doing something with her, or even just simple commitments around home. I was never taught. My father didn’t show me these things, and especially not in the early days in the mining. The idea that you can make an agreement, follow through on that agreement, or own up to something when you didn’t keep it. So, we would sit in meetings, and if I arrived at a meeting five past seven, I would be asked by the facilitator, So Ken, what was the agreement? To Are you here at seven? Did you keep that agreement? No, I didn’t. So, what did you make more important? What did you do instead? Where did you think that not keeping that agreement was going to work out for you?

And then the big question, what’s the impact? What was the impact of you not keeping that agreement? Well, of course, I kept the meeting back. Now I’m standing here looking like a fool. I’m bringing shame upon myself because it’s ultimately, what is the impact on me? And so, these questions, they were really foreign to me. So, I used to start doing pre-start meetings. So, team, what time did we agree to be here? Seven, Ken. Cool. So, did everyone keep that agreement? And then a slowly a hand goes up. And I arrived here. And so, I would run that process. And then I started to apply it to things like, say, working at heights. You got a working at heights team. And you’d be, as a supervisor, about to send them out in the field. And so, it’s like, have you got your PPE? Check. Have you got your risk assessments in place? Great. Do you have your training? Have you got your permits in place? And then I would say to them, good. So, before you go into the out into the field, I want to ask you this question. What will be the consequences if I walk out into the field and you’re not wearing your PPE?

And when I first started this, of course, it’s a smile. Oh, we’ll put them back on. I go, Well, no. What if we applied something that really made you think about what the impact might be if we don’t keep this agreement? And eventually, we’d get to a negotiation. We would negotiate terms where they would say back me, all right, if you come out in the field, Ken, we’re not wearing our PPE, we will have to do retraining. We’ll go back and get our working at heights, because obviously… So, the whole goal is to get them to create what the consequence will be up front if they can’t meet the agreement. Now, I can tell you, Eric, over the years, it’s just amazing how we develop this conscience. You say, oh, this is a real agreement. And There’s consequences in place. Now, I really need to keep this. Now, it’s happening like we just did it the other day in the refinery here at Olympic Dab. For years, people have been taking their phones into the tank house. One time, the supervisor said, well, let’s make an agreement here. What if? Because there’s safety issues. If you drop a phone into one of the tanks, there’s an acid reaction.

And also, so texting your girlfriend while the overhead crane’s rushing around is not really conducive to your own self.

That’s a good idea. 

Good idea. So, we just made a… Just called it out. So, what are we going to do about the phones? And one of the guys standing there said, well, you know what? We’ve been banging on about this for 20 years. If you take your phone into the tank house and somebody sees you, it’s a written warning. Now, I was a little bit thought, wow, that’s pretty harsh. You’re going for the joke here. But everybody agreed. They said, yeah, you’re right. Why do we keep going on about this? So, we got a little note, a texter, got it out onto the whiteboard and we said, so it’s with the team, the negotiator’s no phones in the tank house, consequences, written warning. Now, that was months and months ago. We have not had this issue yet. We’ve seen it yet. But people start to develop the idea that this is an actual, really clear engagement with each other, and it builds trust, Eric. We have now built a level of trustworthiness. I myself am trustworthy. I can keep agreements, and I also trust you because you can keep agreements. Its just personal development introduced into the workplace.

I think the magic of this is you’re co-creating Most organizations, they go straight to the consequence, but it’s not co-created with the employees, and so they don’t feel a commitment to it, and then they fight it, union grievance, et cetera. But here you’re getting them to say, okay, what are we going to do? What’s the consequence? Getting them to create that buy-in, that commitment. And 20 years couldn’t get it right, and now you can get it right. Simple change. 

It is a simple change. Well, we used to make up the consequences, you see. Some leaders, and I included, we didn’t have really clear expectations. They’re ambiguous. They’re gray. Do you have rolled up sleeves? No. Our letter of offer said you’d wear your PPE in a certain way. Rolled up sleeves is not really to do that for reasons where it can get caught in machinery and things like that. But people still did it. When we started making agreements, Okay, PPE. Let’s make an agreement here. And who agrees that we’ll keep our sleeves rolled down and wear our PPE as designed? And when everybody says, Yeah, okay, but this negotiation, some people will say, well, look, I’ve got to go into this part of the area where it’s really hot and I need to somehow get some personal comfort. So as a leader, I might be able to negotiate. All right, well, let’s put a risk assessment in place. What will you do with the sleeves? Well, I can wrap some tape around them. So, we’re actually talking about things now that we never used to talk about. They would be expected or implied around things because we’ve opened up the idea of negotiation.

 The work crew now have a say in the decision making. I think that empowerment has given them some ownership in their work tasks that they never had before.

 It’s backed by research. If you look at the psychology of influence, it highlights the very same concepts you’re talking about in terms of get people to put skin in the game, and they’re more likely to follow through.

 Well, and I think we should be extending this more than safety. What are some other aspects of a culture that are really important? Trust, not being talked down to. We I encourage people to speak up all the time. But sometimes when they do, we’ll say, well, let’s not talk about that now. Some leaders find that they lose control when people speak up. We’re trying to teach the leaders now that if you’re in a pre-start meeting and you’ve particularly asked, all right, team, any agreements to discuss? And someone will pipe up and say, Yeah, I’ve got one to discuss, and they might get a little hot under the collar. Well, they’re invested. They’re engaged. Why would we try to block that down? I encourage him to come out, vent his feelings, a bit of silence, and say, okay, so what’s been the impact for you, man? Tell us. Underneath the emotions in any workplace, there’s always an impact on somebody, and we really go there. But that impact is psychological, could be physical. More often than not, it’s about a person’s belief about themselves. And quite often, safety doesn’t allow that belief to come out.

 Everyone has to act the same way. I remember inductions in the early days. No common sense in the workplace. This idea that you don’t think for yourself, just follow our procedures and you’ll be safe. I’m bringing it back, you see. I want to bring common sense back. There’s going to be a renaissance in common sense.

 The worst I ever heard was, I’m only paying you from the neck down.

 Yes. I used to hate that one. And you think about an induction room, right? You’re sitting there in a classroom. There’s a row of desks. You’re sitting there, you got a pen and paper. And what do you do? You do a test. I can think of better ways to do inductions.

 So, if people commit and they come up with their rules, have there been cases where people break those commitments? And then what happens?

 Well, we’re human beings, aren’t we? Yeah, of course. The process is two-pronged. So, you have to be able to set an agreement. That’s fine. How do you reset one? How do you allow human fallibility? I said it, Eric. You see, human fallibility in the workplaces is a foreign word. You can’t make a mistake. And especially in mining- We all make mistakes.

 When have we not make a mistake?

 How do we create a workplace where mistakes are part of the deal, and we are able to create a space where… Because I’ve been in the I’ve been in pre-start meetings where I’ve been in the work crew and someone’s had an incident and in comes a lead and say, Right, you broke the bloody lost time injury frequency rate. Now we’re bugged. I don’t want to see any incidents today. I got to… And this idea that we don’t. Yeah, it doesn’t. And so, the agreements model allows somebody to stand up and own something, but we take the energy off the person. And the way I’ve been able to do that is with the work teams and the leaders, we create what I call culture goals. What are the things that you’d really like to see in the workplace? Now, I’m a little sneaky. What I do is I meet with the work crews, and I say, What’s so stuffed about this place? What don’t you like? What is it about coming to work that’s restricting you from, I believe, finding some meaning in your work, finding that you are appreciated for and valued for what you do, and that there’s some sense of fulfill at the end of the day.

 When we flip those, then it’s usually about we create a workplace where you can speak up, where there’s 50/50 respect, where our voice is heard, we have a say in the decision making. And these are really common themes across most workplaces where we do this process. Now, if I put that culture goal and I write it up and it’s sitting there in the pre-start room, now what mistakes or even misdemeanors are based against is not about me and my character, but about how are we not fulfilling our culture goals, which we created as a team. Now what we can say is, so did you keep that agreement? Yes, or no? Well, what was the impact on our culture goals? When you take the energy off of the individual and it stop blaming them for their behavior, there’s another one, you see, this idea of behavior in the workplace. Don’t get me started on that one. See, behavior is something that’s instinct. It’s something that’s evolved through generations. But conduct, we have control over. So, I prefer to call it conduct-based safety, to be honest. But when you’ve got the culture goals up there, now we can say, all right, so do you believe in the culture goals?

 Anything we have to tweak? Is there something about it that you haven’t bought into? And most times I say, no, I’m just being human. But here’s the deal. What was the agreement? I didn’t keep it. No. What I made more important was this, and I see the impact it has had on you. I want to get back into, say, integrity or back into agreement with the team. And I’d like to reset that. Would everyone like to support me? Now that’s clunky. They don’t actually talk like that. So, I’m paraphrasing. But the energy is, if we want to be able to, you can see my picture of the hill at the back here. The idea is that we’re all trying to get into a sense of teamwork. And teamwork is allowing people to make mistakes, allowing people to find their trust again by remaking agreements. So, it’s not about punishing anybody. It’s not about picking faults with somebody’s personality or their behavior. What is the agreement to the culture goals? And would you like to maintain that? Yes, we welcome you back into the fray.

 This episode of the Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, re-energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions, Propulo has you covered. Visit us at

 I want to pivot to convenience skills. But before we go there, you met somebody who’s been on this podcast before, and not because of this podcast, but you had an amazing encounter and a great aha there as well. Tell me a little bit about that.

 You’ve met him, Theo Venter.

 Yeah, Theo.

 That was an amazing experience for me. I was working with a company that was having some problems with their safety on a BHP site, and I’ve got a lot of experience with BHP, 25 years, in fact, as a consultant through basically every mine site that they operate in Australia, from BMA to Iron Or right across Nickel West and now Olympic Dam. I remember they said, oh, we’re going to bring this speaker in to help you, Ken, with the culture. I’m going, Yeah, that sounds great. I sat at the back of the room, got my laptop on my knee. You see, I’m arrogant. Theo started talking, and then slowly my laptop comes down. He really grabbed me with his story. He was up in a work basket, and he took his gloves off to access a 10-millimeter nut. But at that time, you see, I had investigated hundreds and hundreds of incidents, and I kept seeing this pattern in every single case, bar none. There was this idea that right at the moment of impact, a work crew were trying to get the job done. It’s like our biology. See, it closes everything out. We just focus on, here’s a task.

I’m really challenged. I need to get this job done. What do I got to do? Get this job done. And so, the idea, am I going to go back to the workshop and get a ladder, or am I going to stand on that drum? Am I going to crimp this hose and just quickly change the tap off at this nozzle over, or am I going to go back to the tap and turn the tap off? And here he was, living proof that this idea I was thinking of, convenience. The idea that convenience is the root cause of all workplace incidents and accidents had been shown here right before my eyes with this guy called Theo. So, I went up to Theo afterwards. I said, Theo, we really need to talk. And he’s thinking like, yeah, I get this all the time. I go, no, no, we really need to talk. And he says, well, he’s looking at his watch. Sorry, but I’ve got to be out of here. I’m going to see to this remote mind site in the middle of nowhere. I need to get going. And I said, oh, yeah, me too.

Where are you going? He says, Rocks be Downs. And I said, I live there. And he looked at me and I said, well, this is serendipity, isn’t it? So, he went on one flight. I was on another. We arrived there two days later at the Rocks by Tavern. I said, Theo, I know why you took your hands out of your gloves. And he goes, Yeah, looking sideways like, where is he taking this? I said it was convenience, wasn’t it? You could have gone back to the yard and got a tool, or you could have turned the power off, you could have I’ll go with the basket and check the risk assessment. But right in that moment, what was the most convenient choice for you? And he said, Yeah, it was. And his eyes lit up. And we were silent for a while. And I said, We’re onto something here. Why don’t we join up and write a book? And so we wrote Convenience Kills together, and the rest is history. It’s starting to really make an impact. It was mainly because of a chapter in a previous effort I had called Convenience Kills. People were talking to me just about that a lot.

They’re saying, Ken, this thing about convenience, you’d so right. I remember my phone going off in my car, and I was just about to reach over to answer it while I’m driving. I thought, Oh, yeah, convenience. Convenience kills. So, we had to take note. And the impact it’s having now, we remind work teams before they go out in the field, hey, be careful. Convenience will lure you today. It’s in your biology. That’s why we have the wheel. That’s why we have refrigerators.

Theo’s story, for those that haven’t listened to that episode, is basically he was doing electric work, and you always do it with big rubber gloves when it’s energized. And literally, there was a bolt that he couldn’t just get quite right and took one of the gloves off just for a second. But that particular part should have been safe. And if I recall, it just slipped a little bit, and then he made energized contact, 22,000 volts going through his body. In the other part that was interesting is, I think it was a week or a couple of weeks prior, he had seen somebody else for the first time break the cardinal rule of doing work without rubber gloves. So, he had also gotten a signal that maybe that cardinal rule is not as cardinal as I think it is.

Well, I’ve done a lot of asking. I would catch people immediately after an incident, and I build trust and rapport with them. And I usually say, look, I’m not here to ask you about this, not about investigation. What I’m really interested in is what was going through your mind immediately prior to the impact. And time after time after time, again, they would say, I just needed to get the job done. So, I’ve discovered that in the heat of the moment, all of a sudden, our brains, our biology, are absolutely determined to get this job done. We call it Swiss cheese model, and we’ve got all sorts of behavioural-based ideas about why a person takes a shortcut. But I found it is because there is no other thought in our mind in that moment. In Theo’s story also, you expand that. He covers so many different layers. Agreements. He had an agreement with his wife that he would look after himself, had an agreement with his father before he came to South Africa, that he would make a fist of it and not stuff this up, as he said. So, the agreements model was reflected a lot in Theo’s story as well.

 And trust. He was there, he was going to… He’s sitting there and he’s got a black mark around his arm. And he asked, what’s that for? And we’re going to have to amputate. And they’ve come at him with five signatures. You see, they’re all signed except the fifth one. It was his signature thereafter. And he’s going, no way. But before he goes under anesthesia, he pleads with the plastic surgeon, please, Dr. Ann Newey, who he now has a great relationship with. He had to trust it as he fell under anesthesia that he would do his best to save his arm. He wakes up in the morning, here, shake on it, Theo. Trust, I think, is the glue that holds any workplace together. I’m worried that safety has become more important than trust. My feeling is if we can build a workplace where we keep our agreements, where we’re able to show trustworthiness, and we have camaraderie at a deeper level, deeper connection, the safety would naturally take care of itself.

You talk about convenience skills. You’ve got a culture hill that comes with it. What’s the impact of introducing this concept that convenience can kill? How does it help a team member?

What I’ve been able to do is I went back to the science. I felt that if you have a look at the basis of agreements, it’s on the consequences. What are the consequences of any action, especially of not being able to keep a commitment? And so, the model that I’ve been following for a long time was called OARBED, O-A-R over a line, B-E-D. And I think Robert Kiyosaki and the well-known proponents of personal development used this, the O stands for ownership, A for accountability, and R for responsibility. And with the line, to stay above the line, you would have heard that concept, means that you don’t go to blame, excuses, and denial, bed. And so, I’ve been using that for a while, but it just wasn’t… There was no traction. I’m trying to introduce it to work crews. And basically, people say, what, you think that I’m not accountable? So, they switch off. I heard somewhere, I think it was on YouTube, a guy was on a video, and he said, Why all bed doesn’t work is because if you’re above the line, you’re good, and if you’re below the line, you’re bad. I thought, that is so true.

Here I am promoting the idea that we don’t accuse a person’s behavior, take the shame off that so that they can take ownership. No one’s going to own anything if they have punishment for doing so. So what I did was it came to me, a guy here on site, Kenny Manumea, was a manager who first employed convenience skills. He was the first one to see it with work with his work groups. And he introduced me to tribal leadership and the idea that there are five cultural stages. And I got that idea and I thought, so it goes from stage one, which is life sucks. Stage Two is this suck, or I suck. And then it goes through stage three, four, five until you get to a life’s great culture. But I turned it around to using Australian cool localism. And that’s stage one at the bottom of the hill is it sucks. It’s a person who says, you know what, just pay me the money. I’m only here because I have a mortgage and I’m not really bought into this. They probably have low self-esteem. The idea of agreements and keeping commitments wouldn’t be high.

And basically, from the Orbed model, blaming other people, having excuses, and denying. The thing about this model, though, is at stage one, if your HR department has done their job, we don’t really bring those people into the organization. But occasionally, even I go there, this place sucks, but we can jump out of it pretty quickly. The next stage on the hill, I call nothing changes. Now, this is a clique of people who quite often will engage in conversations talking about how this place never changes. What are they bringing in that for? Not another one. Gee, we tried that last time, and it didn’t work and not going to work this time. Now, they take up quite a chunk of energy in a workplace. The problem for a leader is the moment you engage at that level; you’ve lost the mantle as a leader. At the top of the hill is a person standing there, hands in the air. I’m great. I made it. I took the ownership. I was accountable. I call it agreements. And I changed responsibility to respect because I felt that respect was probably ownership, accountability, responsibility mean the same thing. 

So, I changed A to agreements and R to respect. The problem with the person standing at the top of the hill is, there’s still a lone wolf. It’s like, I’m here. I made it. I’m good, but you’re not. Because I’ve got things. I want to go places. I’ve got progression. But it’s a necessary stage, you see. But at the top of the hill, at least you can become a leader and you can say, hey, my attitude, my mental approach to being in this workplace was able to create a level of stability and leadership for you to follow. But if you’re a leader and you go back down the hill and engage with people that nothing changes, you might be there, look, I’m going to introduce something, but it’s not going to work this time, and you join into those conversations. You have basically diminished your role as a leader. So, we say this, if you’re a leader, you can’t ask anyone follow you if you’re not at least at the top of the hill. So, I remember when I said this into a supervisor’s workshop I was running, and I remember one guy, Ryan, he’s sitting there, his hands between his knees.

I go, Ryan, what’s the matter? And he says, I just led a priest start meeting from the bottom of the hill. And I went, yes, you’ve got it. And so, they all made an agreement with themselves. Why don’t we just, if we’re not at the top of the hill and we can’t get ourselves up there, let’s ask someone else to run the meeting for us. So, this concept that our own personal attitude and our own demeanor can affect the rest of the work team is so important. It’s about taking ownership of my own attitude, but especially as a leader. And then, of course, the moment I reach down the hill and drag a few nothing changes up, I’ve jettisoned myself into were great. The idea that as a collaborative organization, the teamwork, it always feels more empowering than doing something on our own. We’ve got the model up on all the pre-start meetings now, and it’s really simple. Hey, team, where do you think we are on the hill? And now you have a visual, immediate, real-time, finger on the pulse. Oh, this is where the culture is right now. And a lot of people will say, Gee, we’re right down the bottom there. 

Now they’ve got an opportunity. How do you correct it? It’s simple. The signpost says ownership, agreements, and respect. Obviously, if we were blaming others and we’re not taking ownership for the consequences of our actions, obviously, it’s going to throw us down the bottom of the hill. But now you have a visual representation. I don’t think that’s ever been done before.

What I love is it’s in colloquially speak, it resonates with the frontline team members. It’s not an academic model. It’s really to drive that conversation you’re talking about with the team members in terms of where we are and how do we need to show up differently, reframe the current state to address this.

Yeah, and I’m trying to take the stigma off it. It’s no longer above or below the line. I don’t know if I can say this, but I can say it like this. If you’re on the left-hand side and you’re at the bottom, you’re pushing it uphill. If I’m in a pre-start and I’m saying, who needs support? I don’t know what it’s like where you Eric, but in Australia, that’s a little bit… It’s not real. That’s not how we talk. But if you say, who’s pushing it uphill? Yeah, that would be me. Great. Who needs a hand? Yeah, it’s very Australian. But if we talk in the language that’s not condescending. I think safety can be condescending. I think not because we want it to be, but we have so many rules and we have so many expectations, and they’re necessary, totally necessary. I’ve been in safety for over 20 years. I absolutely buy into it. But how do we do it in a way that is natural and as part of our culture? Brings me to the next point, which is- Go ahead. Who believes in it? Safety. You see, 40 years in the game, one of the things that I just can’t get my head around is, I’ve asked people this all the time, do you enjoy safety?

Do you believe in your safety system? I have never met one person yet in my 40 years of mining and construction and heavy industrial, put up their hand and say, yes, I believe in it, or yes, I enjoy it, probably because of my culture. But why I feel it now, my voice has changed because it really affects me. How is it that we’re not buying into the one thing that’s absolutely there to save our lives, that’s there to keep us out of harm’s way? And so, I’ve dedicated my life. My passion and my purpose are to bring back that joy I had when I was a young man but do it safely. How can I create the empowerment that I had that I was making my own decisions, but now with the insights that I have as an older person, an experienced person, how can I still have that joy with the idea that safety is absolutely necessary to keep me out of harm’s way? I think if we find that answer, we will all be billionaires, but it’s so important that this changes. I can’t wait until I have a team of people who say, we love safety.

We love our safety, man. It’s cool. You should see what we’re doing with our safety. And they might be terming it like psychological safety, which I believe is more important than anything. If I can be psychologically safe, I will be empowered to keep myself physically safe. I think that’s a really important It’s an important point. 

I love the topics you introduced. I think the power of the agreement is something that we often miss. And I think this element of going straight to consequence blame or punishment, as opposed to saying, how do I lay the foundation so that we don’t end up there? I think that’s a very powerful, simple thing that anybody can implement. It doesn’t take a lot, just how you frame things as you start. Then the other one is really in terms of this element of convenience and how do you relate it to Kraft employees in terms of simple constructs, simple ideas in a way that they speak, but also highlighting when you’re stuck Back in that moment, Theo, I remember, I just needed to get the bolt on. But he could have gone down, he could have done in many different ways, but it’s just that moment, tunnel vision of I need to get this done that can get you in arms’ way.

Well, I call it the backstop. If you are in what I call the heat of the moment. Now, things are great when you’re in the pre-start or in the crib room and you’re writing your risk assessment. Yes, if this happens, we will do that. Yes, we have this control in place. But in the heat of the moment, when everything changes, what’s going to kick in? And I believe that that is a deeply invested engagement with your work environment before you go out and do the task. When my mind is totally focused on taking that nut off, when is it that my biology will then ask me the question, is this in line with my principles. So, we rarely have our principles worked out in advance. That’s why I go with the culture goals. We create a workplace that empowers communication, camaraderie, respect, and the idea that we can all speak up in the workplace without recrimination. Now, if that was my mantra, I think I’ve got a better chance of being able to process what I’m about to do that could be dangerous through that prism. See, here’s the thing about Theo, and I think this is really important, and this is why the Culture Hill works.

Theo is up in the basket. Nico has a go. He can’t do it. But see, Theo is the go-to guy. So, you always go, Theo, you have a go, mate. They swap over. Now, Theo is there. Nico is in the basket right behind him talking to the safety observer down the bottom, right? Now, if I’m a lone wolf, and I’m even… This is the dangerous part about being at the top of the hill. I’m good. I’m going to say, I’ve got to get this nut off at all costs. It’s up to me. I’m the go-to guy. I can do this. What if this had happened. What if the prism was, I’m in a team, we’re great together, we collaborate, we can solve these problems as a team. All Theo had to do is elbow Nico in the ribs. Nico, you think I should take my gloves off. You think about that moment right there. So, you’re either going to be the lone wolf or you’re going to be in the wolf pack. Now, that can only be determined by the culture of your workplace. If you create a wolf pack mentality where collaboration is key and where you can work together and solve problems together, and that you are empowered to have a say in the decision-making process.

So, People won’t feel that. They won’t be empowered to speak up, and they won’t be empowered to use collaboration and teamwork unless they feel like they have a sense that they were part of the decision-making process. And That’s where the agreements come in. Team, any agreements to discuss? That sentence there is my purpose. If I can get every single pre-start in the planet, just kick off their pre-start meeting with team, any agreements to discuss? You think about that. Now everyone’s invited to talk about their culture. Yes, I’d like to raise something about respect. Or yes, I’d like to raise something about the housekeeping. Or yes, I’d like to raise something about that I don’t really understand the task I’m about to do. To be empowered to have a say is about what is the basic agreement that you have a voice, you can speak without the fear of recrimination, that your part of a team, and what you say matters to us. If you can build that and get that culture happening, and we’re starting to see the green shoots of that now, where everyone has an equal say just in that moment, that first 20 minutes at the start of the day, now we can start to create a place where safety is elevated because of the collaboration.

No more lone wolves. Sure. Most incidents are caused because of the lone wolf syndrome. I’m on my own. I can do this. I’ve got to get this done, as opposed to, what would the team think if I did this? I don’t know of any other method that can appeal to the subconscious and conscious minds in that way, because it appeals to us that we have a say.

Ken, thank you so much. This has been a really fun conversation. Somebody wants to get in touch with you. You’ve got your website, Any closing thoughts? I love your storytelling today.

The closing thought is If we can create more enjoyment in the workplace, we will get more engagement. If we can create more engagement, we’re going to be able to have people who buy into our systems and buy in. See, the reason why they’re not bought in is because they haven’t been able to raise the parts that they’re not bought into so that they can be resolved.

Excellent. Thank you so much for joining me today, Ken.

You’re welcome, Eric. Thank you, listeners. Looking forward to the next time.


Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.  

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With over forty years of rich experience in mining, heavy industry, and construction, Ken Roberts is a pioneer in transforming workplace cultures. He is the creator of the ground-breaking ‘Convenience Kills’ program, designed to move cultures from being convenience-driven to being consequence-driven, through his innovative “Agreements Culture” formula, which promotes voluntary accountability and ownership. His extensive global experience in enhancing safety cultures directly tackles key workplace challenges like low morale and conflict, fostering a sense of camaraderie and empowerment within teams. Ken’s dedicated efforts significantly boost safety, productivity, and leadership effectiveness, leading to profound improvements in organisational dynamics and outcomes.

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Transfoorm™ Culture Hill

The Culture Hill illustrates the progressive stages of cultural development within an organisation, with each stage representing a significant shift in attitudes, behaviours, and shared values. It is inspired by the ‘Tribal Leadership’ model from Logan, King and Fischer-Wright. Here’s an explanation of each stage depicted in the image:

Culture Hill by Ken Roberts

LH Signpost – Blame, Excuses, Denial: This phase is located at the base of the hill and characterised by a culture that deflects responsibility. Instead of taking ownership, there’s a tendency to blame others, make excuses for failures, or outright deny responsibility. It’s a reactive stage that hinders growth and learning, where individuals avoid accountability.

  • “It sucks”: These individuals embody the LH signpost showing little to no enthusiasm for investing the effort needed to overcome the cultural obstacles before them. They resonate with the inefficiency of their current circumstances. A notable absence of dedication to transformation is present, with the dominant mood being one of discontent and a resigned belief that the existing conditions are permanent. Either HR didn’t do their job or that signpost needs to turn into an exit door.
  • “Nothing changes”: Further up the hill there’s dissatisfaction that company inaction is responsible for their inaction. “Nothing changes” is marked by frustration, as there’s awareness of the need for change, but either the pathway to change is too hard, been tried before but failed, not expressed in terms of the work crew’s values, or there’s an absence of momentum or support to make it happen. Arms folded they form cliques to reinforce their paradigm and make them right.
  • “I’m good”: Reaching the peak of the hill signifies a moment of self-realisation and positive affirmation. When asked how they are, the response is always “I’m good.” It’s here that individuals start to recognise their own ability to effect change, marking a turning point in personal accountability and a shift towards a more proactive and positive attitude. If there’s any downfall it’s the difficulty to shed personal achievement and accolades aside for the benefit of a collaborative effort. 
  • We’re great”: Coasting downhill now, the other side of the hill represents collective achievements. “We’re great” signals a culture of collaboration, mutual support, and collective accomplishment because it feels better to share the experience with others. It represents a proactive, positive culture, where the focus is on shared success and ongoing improvement. The moment someone turns to help others up the hill from the “I’m good” stage, their effort is met with a sense of purpose and meaning.

RH Signpost – Ownership, Agreements, Respect: At the other side of the hill, these elements reflect a mature culture where individuals and teams have taken the journey through the various stages and emerged with a strong sense of ownership over their roles and actions. There’s a commitment to living up to the agreements made, and a deep respect for one another that permeates the culture, contributing to an environment where individuals are valued and accountability is a shared responsibility.

The terms “Convenience” and “Consequence” at the top and bottom of the image respectively, illustrate the choice between the easy path of short-term convenience, which leads back to the base of the hill, and the path of understanding and embracing the consequences of one’s actions, which leads to the summit and beyond into a culture of collective excellence.

In essence, The Culture Hill is a metaphorical journey from a negative, reactive state to a positive, proactive culture that thrives on ownership, accountability, and respect.




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