Minimizing “Interference” in Your Safety Coaching

In our last issue we looked at the first of many potential sources of interference when coaching safety performance and behaviors. “Interference” is anything that might diminish the ability of the person you are coaching to make the improvements you want them to make.

The first source of interference that we looked at last issue, “telling v. asking,” is just the tip of the iceberg. There we saw that by focusing on the ideas of the person you’re coaching instead of your ideas, there’s a much greater opportunity for that person to “own” and internalize those improvements. Here are some other sources of interference that you’ll need to overcome to give your safety coaching the best chance of succeeding.

Interference on the Coach’s Side

Here are some situations where you and your coaching style may stand in the way of improvements:

Making it Personal

When coaching, it’s critical that we focus on the person’s performance and behaviors and not the person per se. Statements like “John, let’s talk about ways to improve the way you’re performing this activity” are much better than, “John, you’re a poor performer.” The first statement separates the person from the behavior (allowing that person not to take things personally), whereas the second statement implies a flaw in the person. It’s very difficult to overcome what’s perceived as a personal flaw.

Lack of Positive Reinforcement

Coaching should be at least as much about what’s going well as what needs to be improved. Too often we focus on the negative, leading the “coachee” to dread our coaching sessions and to want to avoid them. Coaching should not be perceived negatively by the people we are coaching. If it is, then we’re not doing it right.

Failure to Transfer Ownership

In addition to what we’ve already covered about ownership in our last issue (“asking v. telling”), be aware that unless we take the time

to connect those improvement ideas to daily activities, it’s not likely they will

carve out the time and make the effort to implement them. We have to make improvements “actionable” by helping them develop a specific plan to make those improvements, and place some time parameters around when that will happen (more on this in a later article).

Interference on the Performer’s Side

Here are some situations where the condition or situation of the performer may stand in the way of improvements:

Lack of Knowledge

It may be that the person just doesn’t know how to make the improvements you’re asking him/her to make. Don’t set them up for a failure! Be sure to provide the necessary training and tools for them to make those improvements.

Lack of Understanding

So you’ve provided the training and tools they need, but they’re still not performing as expected. It could be that they still don’t understand what they learned in training (training is no guarantee of comprehension), or that they don’t understand the rationale behind the improvement. In this case you may have to take remedial action and re-train them–or give them some one-on-one time to ensure they get it.

Lack of Willingness

If they know how to do it and understand why they need to do it, but they’re still not doing it, it could be a case of sheer unwillingness to make the improvement. In that case, it becomes a disciplinary issue. If so, involve your HR partner to discuss best ways to proceed.

Coaching in an “Unsafe” Environment

Here we mean “emotionally” unsafe. Coaching must be done in private to be effective. When you call out someone in front of their peers, they will resent it and will build a wall against any improvements you want them to make.

Well there you have it. Common sources of interference and ways to minimize them. That’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Be sure to view the associated video below to learn more about this principle. Until next time.


About the Author

Eric Svendsen
Eric Svendsen, Ph.D., is Principal and lead change agent for safetyBUILT-IN, a safety-leadership learning and development organization. He has over 20 years experience in creating and executing outcomes-based leadership development and culture change initiatives aligned to organizational goals, and he personally led the safety-culture initiatives of a number of client organizations that resulted in “best ever safety performance” years for those companies.