Which safety conversations have the most impact?

“The toolbox topic for today is chemical safety,” the supervisor said as he looked down at the information sheet he was holding.  “The first group of chemicals we will review are known as acids.  Strong acids have a pH that is significantly less than 7.  Some examples include…”

With this introduction, the warehouse crew in the room immediately tuned out. Some looked at the ceiling.  Some stared at their shoes. Some even took a quick peek at their cell phones.

Too often, we view safety conversations as simply something that has to be done.  We know these conversations are a responsibility of any leader.  However, when we talk with employees about safety, our conversations are often reactive and seldom well-planned.

If a safety meeting is conducted where the primary goal of the leader is to “check the box” for a required training, the response is predictable.  When employees realize the objective, there is no engagement.  Most attendees stare blankly or watch the clock.  Group meetings such as these should not even be considered as “conversations.”  They have almost no impact in terms of engagement, learning, or mindset.

In this article, we will discuss three essential attributes for proactive safety conversations to have a positive impact.  Think of these as the 3 P’s of an effective proactive conversation:

  1. Principled
  2. Prevalent
  3. Personalized

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How confirmation bias contributes to a culture of compliance

License: Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0. Attribution: Nick Youngson

Confirmation bias is the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs1. This biased approach to decision-making is largely unintentional and often results in ignoring inconsistent information. Existing beliefs can include one’s expectations in a given situation and predictions about a particular outcome. People are especially likely to process information to support their own beliefs when the issue is highly important or self-relevant.

In a previous article, I outlined the differences between two distinct cultures – compliance and commitment.  This post describes how a confirmation bias can perpetuate a culture of compliance.  I will also discuss how the conversations that take place in a work place with a culture of commitment minimize the potential for confirmation bias.

Culture of Compliance

The model below explains how confirmation bias influences decision-making (and the actions taken by managers) when an organization is managed through compliance.

Confirmation bias - Compliance

It begins with a person’s existing beliefs.

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The power of acknowledging and the price of ignoring

acknowledgingMost people understand that providing positive reinforcement is a proven way to encourage a desired behavior. But perhaps we don’t fully appreciate how powerful the simple act of acknowledging someone’s effort impacts their willingness to work – and therefore their productivity.  A fascinating study sheds light on the connection between acknowledgment and intrinsic motivation.

Researchers conducted an experiment to determine if simply acknowledging a person’s effort could increase their motivation to perform more work1.  The results may cause you to reconsider how you interact with others for whom you provide leadership or direction.

The experiment was set up as follows:

A stack of papers was created where letters of the alphabet were placed in random order on each sheet of paper.  Participants were given a single sheet and instructed to find all the pairs of identical letters that were next to each other.

When the first paper was completed, they were paid 55 cents.  The participant was then asked if they wanted to complete the same assignment (finding adjacent pairs of letters) on another sheet of paper for 5 cents less.  This process continued until the participant declined to do any more work. There were three conditions set up in this experiment. Each is described below. Continue reading

Active Listening is Hard Work

active listeningHarry couldn’t believe what he was seeing.  It was shift change. Rob was leaving the locker room and headed toward the operating floor. His colorful athletic shoes were in stark contrast to the soiled and well-worn boots of the other guys around him.

Rob gave a slight nod of his head as he approached Harry, one of the shift supervisors.

“Hey, Harry.  Did the machine run well on first shift?  I sure hope I’m not walking into a mess in there.  After last week, I was hoping for a routine day at work.”

Harry wasn’t in the mood for small talk.  He just pointed down at Rob’s shoes and asked abruptly, “Speaking of walking, what are you thinking?  You know everyone is required to wear steel-toed shoes.  No exceptions!”

“Oh, those,” Rob countered, a little taken aback by Harry’s tone. “Let me explain…”

Harry interrupted him.  “No explanation needed.  It’s black and white.  Either you are wearing the right shoes or not.  And those are definitely NOT work shoes!”

“I know that,” Rob responded, the volume of his voice rising to match Harry’s. “I was just going to…”

Harry raised his hand and stopped Rob again.  “Look, you’re not going anywhere near the operating floor with those on your feet.  So either borrow a pair of shoes – or go home and get some proper foot protection – ‘cause you are not working today unless you have them.”

Rob crossed his arms and glared at Harry.  “Can you take one minute and listen?”

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Are you priming your employees to be safe or to take risks?

Priming with wordsImagine you are part of a team that has been assigned a particularly difficult maintenance job.  It will take three craftsmen at least eight hours to complete this task.  Your supervisor (Jeff) is coordinating a long list of planned jobs as part of a large shutdown.  Before you go to the work site, Jeff provides a pre-job brief:

“OK, guys – listen up.  We have to replace the large pump in the northwest corner of the basement.  As you know, it’s in a very tight space with no head room and there isn’t much ventilation or lighting down there – so make sure you hook up a fan and some temporary lighting.  This is a critical path job, so I need you guys to get started on it ASAP.  The guys on the production line will be waiting on this job before they can start back up.  We’re behind on shipping customer orders, so there’s some heat from upper management to get in, get out, and get running. Don’t take any more time than is necessary to get the pump changed out.  Keep any breaks to a minimum.  I know you guys always work at a good pace.  That’s why I teamed you up on this job – to get it done quickly.  I’ll be checking on the job every hour to see if we are on schedule.  If you need anything, get me on the radio and I will rush whatever you need to the work site.  If you run into any problems and aren’t sure what to do – use your judgment and do whatever takes the least amount of time.  I know I can count on you guys to get this job done right and on time. I gotta go … but don’t hesitate to yell if you need anything! 

Oh…. and be safe.” Continue reading

How can we increase creativity and engagement?

Many ideasHave you ever been a victim of this circumstance?

Senior leadership issues a clarion call for new ideas.  “We need to generate more revenue!”  Or more likely, “Our costs are too high and we want your input on how to cut our expenses!”  But this is not just any request to submit some ideas into a suggestion box or idea database.  Instead, there is a sense of urgency and perhaps even an expectation that every person contributes.  Groups across the organization are assembled for brainstorming sessions. Perhaps edicts are issued.  “No one can leave the room unless they submit at least 5 ideas.”

What’s the outcome of these sessions?  Often it is disappointing.  Sure, the quantity of ideas is impressive.  But what about the quality?  The same recycled ideas are offered, with nothing offered outside existing paradigms. Continue reading