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Same language – different dialect. Why small business and big business can’t have a sensible conversation about safety

Same language – different dialect. Why small business and big business can’t have a sensible conversation about safety

By Bronwyn Reid

Later this year, I will be presenting at the NSW Regional Safety Conference in Newcastle, and I’m very much looking forward to meeting with everyone there.

Anyone who follows my writing will know that regional small business and safety are two recurring themes in my work, and they both come pretty high up in importance. Hence, having the chance to attend a whole conference that covers both these topics is a real privilege for me.

My presentation will be on “Safety in the Supply Chain – From the Small Business Point of View”. My work is in the space where big business and small business meet to create profitable business relationships.

But unfortunately, in spite of the potential mountain of value available to both parties, they just can’t seem to get it together.

After more than 20 years of being a small supplier to large organisations, I finally figured out that there are three things getting in the way. They are the same three issues for both parties, but they are looking at the problem from their own point of view.

So what are the things that stop big and small suppliers creating valuable relationships, and working together happily ever after?

The first is Complexity. Small business owners don’t understand what is expected of them, and how big organisations think. Their requirements are complex, and they change all the time. Likewise, big businesses don’t understand small business, and complain that small suppliers just aren’t good enough to be successful suppliers.

Same problem, different point of view.

When we start talking Safety, this difference becomes all-too obvious. They’re speaking the same language, but a different dialect.

Big companies talk in acronyms – and sometimes gobbledygook. (There is a difference!) Often, the big companies themselves don’t seem to know what they want. Rules are applied inconsistently, systems are inconsistent. Lastly, it sometimes actually becomes difficult to discern an actual commitment to safety, and not a box-ticking exercise. Small businesses often don’t have the complex systems required.

You will all be familiar with the character of the colonial Englishman who thinks that all foreigners will understand him if he simply speaks louder. The safety conversation can easily end up like this. In fact, in a research report by the CMO Council, one small business owner summed up his impression in the following quote:

“If people talked to you the way that corporates speak to small businesses you would punch them in the face”.

I can categorially state that successful small business owners, the ones that any big company would be happy to have in their supply chain, do not complain about spending money and time on safety – but only if it is actually keeping them safe.

I will be touching on the other two obstacles in my presentation at the conference. In the meantime, suffice to say that I think we need some language and understanding lessons. I know this sounds trite, but safety really is important, and if there is a way to make improvements, why don’t we give it a go?

I hope to see you at the conference in Newcastle in July.

Purchase your tickets here to see Bronwyn speak at our 2019 event