Are You Providing the Right Kind of Feedback for Safety Performance?

coaching feedback for safetyA key skill of a good coach is the ability to give feedback in such a way that the person receiving it will either change a behavior, or continue and improve on a behavior, based on the coaching received. For that reason, it’s important that anyone setting out to coach someone else, either in a formal or informal role, understands the three types of feedback, and when it’s appropriate to use each of them.

The first, and most common form of feedback is formative feedback, designed to help the receiver improve safety performance. This is often referred to as constructive criticism, but it is not; criticism is criticism. Formative feedback is best thought of as advice.50 things you must know about safety leadership

Formative feedback must be appropriate to the performer and the job being done. The desired change must be geared to something over which the performer has control. If a process is running at a high level, it is useless and demotivating to suggest that the performer increase output. Similarly, if a performer can do the task well, but is not motivated to do so, formative feedback is useless. She already knows how to perform the task well, she just doesn’t want to. That situation calls for a very different conversation.

When giving formative feedback, two key considerations should be kept in mind: focus and timing. Focus requires you to be specific in the aspect of performance you want improved. For example:

“Bill, I noticed that you’ve been making several trips to the tool shed to get equipment for the job. I know that you only use the right tools for the job, in order to do it safely, and I appreciate that, as safety culture is our goal. What will it take for you to do a check list of all the equipment that is needed for the job, and get them together before going to the job site?”

The second consideration is timing. Formative feedback is best delivered immediately before the next opportunity the performer has to put it into practice. When delivered after the task, and the receiver has no opportunity of putting the advice into practice, the feedback is perceived as criticism.

Advice comes across as helpful, criticism comes across as judgmental. If you can’t be there the next time the performer is scheduled to do the task, write the feedback down and ask the receiver to read the feedback immediately before starting:

“Bill I want to give you some feedback on job prep, but I won’t be here tomorrow at startup. I’ve jotted down a note, but please don’t read it until you’re at prep. Thanks.”

The reaction? Appreciation, and a belief that you are interested in him doing well. It may seem a bit awkward at first, but the payoff will be much greater than if you delivered criticism instead.

fctc-online-bannerMotivational feedback is the second type. It’s basically catching people doing something right, and its aim is to reinforce repeat performance. Motivational feedback should be delivered right after you see the behavior that you want repeated. The key here is to be specific:

“Tom, up until last week, you averaged 40 lines a day. So far this week you’re at 42, and I see that you are doing everything in a safe manner. Great work! What will it take for you to keep at or even improve this rate?”

Motivational feedback, although not used as often as it should be, is a key tool in a coach or leader’s toolkit.

The last type of feedback is extinguishing feedback. This is used when you need to stop a behavior immediately due to the creation of a dangerous or unsafe condition:

“Sam, put out that cigarette; you’re in a no smoking area.”

Ideally, you will have very few opportunities to use this type of feedback.

Following the above tips will make you a more effective coach and leader, and will help you develop the kind of lasting relationships of trust and respect that are critical for a maintaining a safety culture.

That’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.

~Gene Drumm

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About the Author

safetyBUILT-IN is the safety-leadership learning and development division of SCInc. We believe sustainable safety performance is best achieved through a core-values based safety culture, and that culture must be driven by leadership. Our safety-leadership programs are competency-based, and focused on performance outcomes. We believe in building capability and ownership into our client organizations—as well as sustainability into our programs—so that our clients can continue running those programs long after we’re out of the picture. Our emphasis is on building better leadership presence, better leadership communication and better leadership coaching by first building relationships of trust with people and learning how to engage them on the level of their core values and beliefs.