Breaking the Barriers to Better Safety Performance

Breaking Barriers to Greater Safety Performance in Your Safety Coaching

Over the past several issues of Recordable Insights we’ve looked at some of the causes of what we’ve termed “coaching interference.” Remember, “coaching interference” can be anything that stands in the way of a person making strides toward improving safety performance and behaviors in a safety culture. Along with the causes of interference, we also looked at some ways to mitigate their negative impact on the performer. To round out that discussion, we’ll revisit a few coaching guidelines that should help eliminate any residual “coaching interference.”

Focus on the Positive

This point cannot be overemphasized. Coaching should be at least as much about what’s going well as it is about what needs to be improved. If our employees (or coaching recipients) view our coaching sessions in a negative way, then something’s wrong with the way we’re conducting these sessions. Start with what’s going well. Be clear and specific about what they are doing right. This will help break down the walls of defense they they may erect during these coaching sessions.

Avoid Making It Personal

Coaching should never be about the person’s character. It should instead be about that person’s performance and behaviors on the job. If we make it personal, they’ll take it as an attack and they’ll begin building their walls of defense, which in turn will result in greater “interference” to make improvements. Talk about performance and behaviors in a way that suggests it’s a “third party” to that conversation. Only then will they be able to hear, accept and act on suggestions for improvements.

Make Performance Expectations Clear

Be specific, concise and clear when communicating expectations. Avoid speaking in vague generalities: “John, I’d like you to become a better team player.” Instead, be specific, and outline specific behaviors that you want to see: “John, tomorrow during the meeting I’d like you to solicit input from two other team members on this idea you came up with, and I’d like you to suggest some ways you could incorporate that input into your idea.”

If we aren’t clear with our people about our performance and behavioral expectations, we’ll only set them up for failure and discouragement, which in turn will lead to lower levels of engagement.

Get a Commitment for Improvement

Don’t allow the improvements you’ve coached to fall by the wayside. This can happen when we aren’t clear about the outcomes of our coaching sessions, and when we communicate those outcomes in too open-ended a way: “We’ve talked about some options for improving. Why don’t you try some of these to see how they work for you?” That kind of communication will likely result in little or no effort expended on those improvements.

Instead, turn those outcomes into a specific plan of action, complete with time parameters for implementing those improvements and a followup date to check in to see how things are turning out. With a little persistence and tenacity you’ll find your employees making strides and taking initiative to improve the safety culture as well as their own safety behaviors that you never thought they would.

That’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Be sure to view the associated video below to learn more about these guidelines. 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.