How to create a culture of safety that drives performance and innovation

with Cherry Ward. Thiess

Thought Leadership

Working in an organisation that operates from multiple countries and cultures provides unique challenges when it comes to creating policies and initiatives. What works in one country may not translate well to another.

Cherry Ward is the Head of People, Asia for Thiess, the world's largest mining service provider. Cherry looks after 8000 people across Thiess’ Asia operations, a huge job that she does with unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion.  

During our conversation with Cherry we discussed diversity and inclusion across different cultures, the culture within an organisation, and how to foster psychological safety in a workplace. 

If you’d prefer to listen to our conversation you can do so here: Apple Podcasts or Spotify

What is it that you love about working as a People and Capabilities Manager?  

[Cherry:] It really is the people. I feel privileged to have an opportunity to make an impact. I work with Asia operations within the Thiess business. And recently we had the opportunity to celebrate Kartini day which is the Indonesian equivalent of International Women's Day. Kartini was a woman who made some big strides towards gender equality in Indonesia. 

“I’ve been working with my team on diversity and inclusion around all of these events and I feel like we are actually shifting the culture, and I have a part to play in that.”

Having conversations to shift mindset whether it be around leadership, inclusivity or alliship. I have that opportunity to really shape the culture of the people I work with, the lives that they lead, and the organisation as a whole.    

What have you learned about working with diversity and inclusion across cultures?  

[Cherry:] I think my biggest takeaway so far has been that we don’t have ‘one size fits all’ cookie-cutter solutions. I think a lot of organisations genuinely want to do the right thing. They have all these great policies and initiatives that may work in the US or the UK but don’t work in another country. 

So it’s really about understanding the social norms in a culture and then creating solutions that really complement and fit within that culture. Thinking about how you want to make that impact and where. Rather than saying ‘this is what we’re doing’.  

Let’s say I’m a leader in an organisation of 500 people, does that hold true in a single location as well? Can you create a culture within a workplace culture? 

[Cherry:] Say you work for an organisation in Australia and it’s only based in Australia. It’s really about understanding the demographics of your business and their culture. I also think that businesses need to look externally at the communities that they’re engaging with, their customer base and understanding that. Reflecting their understanding of their community in their internal DSI policies or initiatives is really important. At my organisation, we do that alot in the indigenous space. 

“We ask who are the local indigenous communities that we can work with? And that filters through into not only our internal initiatives but also our supply chain.

If we’re having an event we make sure that we’re including a local indigenous supplier, so we’re promoting them as well along the journey.  

Now I want to flip it. Let’s say you’re an organisation, what’s the cultural piece that holds your organisation together? 

[Cherry:] It’s the values of the organisation. The values of the organisation filters through everything. It’s that and respect. Having respect for different cultures. If you can live by the values of an organisation then that will shine through in the culture of an organisation.  

How do you create a culture of safety in the workplace? 

[Cherry:] It wasn’t until I joined the mining industry that safety actually permeated into my personal life. And that’s the kind of impact that an organisation can have on a person. Safety isn’t a mindset. An organisation can have the best procedures and protocols but if people don’t genuinely believe in it and look at it in terms of this is about me and keeping me and my colleagues safe. 

Both this organisation and the previous organisation that I’ve worked for in mining had a very good safety culture. I recall doing a safety leadership program and we had to actually write a safety plan for home. Up until that point, I had never thought about it. Where is my fire escape? What’s my evacuation plan? That exercise really changed my mindset around safety. I consider myself a bit of a risk taker but since completing that exercise I’ve incorporated personal safety into everything I do. Working for an organisation that has a strong safety culture can really change an employee’s life. And I think that’s the best outcome that any organisation can hope for. Safety is something that you take home with you.  

What have you learned about psychological safety in the workplace? 

[Cherry:] I think psychological safety actually underpins physical safety. You want a culture where people feel free to speak up. Psychological safety is so important for an organisation and I think it links back to our conversation earlier on diversity and inclusion. You want to create a workplace culture where people can feel included and feel safe to be themselves and bring their whole selves to work. When people can bring their whole self to work and not be worried about their religion or their sexual orientation, it allows them to perform well. 

Do you have any tips for encouraging psychological safety? 

[Cherry:] I think it starts with building an environment of trust and it has to start with you as the leader. So recently in my role, I had to step in and manage a team of individuals based in Asia and a few things that I’ve done is really open up the conversation around safety and being vulnerable. That doesn't mean sharing everything, but opening myself up to them and allowing them to open up to me and showing an interest in their personal lives. When people feel safe they feel more open to share about things that may be going on in their personal lives. 

And I think having those intentional conversations will allow for psychological safety. It doesn’t happen overnight, it definitely takes a bit of time to develop.    

To hear more of Cherry Ward’s insights on this episode of Humanity Works, listen here on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

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