Christopher Goulart developed an important article in a recent issue of Professioanal Safety magazine that discussed a lost art of discipline in workplaces in regards to overall worker safety.
We have been drilling down into this article in a series of posts, which go from the importance of discipline in workplaces, the tools at our disposal to enforce and encourage discipline, and diving into more specifics about each of the tools and ways they can be effectively used.
Last time, we started with explaining discipline as a step above punishment as a negative consequence, and we discussed accountability as a tool rather than blame as a bludgeon. In the fourth installment of this series, we’ll look into using feedback and coaching as methods of enforcing safety protocols in the workplace.
Feed(back) the Beast
Feedback can sound like platitudes, but it it’s done well, it can be an effective motivator for workers, even if the feedback is more constructive (read: negative) than affirmative.
Affirmative feedback is used to show appreciation for actions or behaviors that should continue, and they usually will when acknowledged. On the other hand, constructive feedback is intended to encourage change in action or behavior into something that is more safe for the worker and others, without it being negative.
To give effective feedback, Goulart writes about five key factors that go into any good piece of feedback, regardless if it’s constructive or affirmative.
- It should be specific to the behavior or action, so the criticism or praise is clearly understood.
- Giving the feedback means the actions or behavior means something to the person giving the feedback. And addressing a positive action or behavior immediately makes it more likely that it will be repeated.
- Feedback does not have to come from above. Feedback from an equal can be as or more effective than from a supervisor.
- Feedback can help relationships, solidify positive behavior and actions and leads to positive morale.
- It maintains and establishes standards of action and behavior.
Put Me In, Coach!
Sometimes, coaching can be the best route for reinforcing ro encouraging positive actions and behaviors, and this can especially be effective in workplaces where there is a lot of turnover and there is a culture of ignorance as to the ways to comply with safety standards. If a trend is noticed that has several workers conducting the same at-risk behaviors or actions, a coaching session would be effective to drive home the necessary points so the workers can be educated on the proper behaviors.
For coaching to be effective, these are some keys to keep in mind as you plan your sessions.
- Respect. Use respectful words and a positive tone when giving feedback. Even if you have negative feedback, showing respect to the worker by speaking a their level will make them more receptive. Focus on the action or behavior and not the person.
- Socrates. The Socratic method is about asking questions and having a conversation. If you’re not in school, you don’t like to be lectured to; have a discussion where the supervisor asks questions, the employees answer, then there is a back and forth about how to move forward.
- Honesty. Don’t tell employees not to act in a way that is natural for them, even if they are acting defensive. Allow them to express their real self openly and honestly,while keeping the focus on the topic at hand.
- Solution. When possible (and necessary), use the coaching session to develop avenues to solve the problem that is being discussed. Work with colleagues who have the ability to put whatever needs to be in motion for the issue to be resolved; nothing gets done with just talk.
- Perspective. If you only look at a situation from your own side, you may miss a lot. Force your personal biases aside and discuss the situation from the employee’s view, and maybe even the view of other witnesses. Getting a full look from all angles and removing biases, may help clarify what the real issue is and how to address it in the most effective way.
- Comfort. Coaching is done best when it’s in a comfortable location, or at least a neutral one. No one likes to go into a boss’ office to talk about mistakes. The coach should go to the worker, or meet somewhere that s more comfortable like a conference room or break room. And privacy would be good too.
- Commitment. Provided you have a coaching session that is effective in all the areas mentioned above, you may find it easier to get a positive response when you ask for the employee to commit to being more safe in the workplace. This commitment is important for trust. Put that commitment in writing in some form of informal agreement and hold the worker responsible and the coach accountable. (See how I did that?)
Our last installment will discuss motivation as a tool to encourage safety.