Giving better feedback for a Safer Workplace (Part 3)
By Madison Hanscom, PhD
As discussed in Part 1 of this blog series, feedback is a central component to safety. Conversations about safety are what motivate your people, fuel their growth, guide them in the right direction, inform future behavior, clarify expectations, and help them to attain goals. Although most of us know this from experiencing it in the field firsthand, researchers have shown that safety feedback can save lives. Delivering effective feedback can feel elusive, so check out the second blog in this series to revisit the foundation for providing great safety feedback to your people Part 2. Finally, below are some tips for giving better feedback for a safer workplace:
Some leaders find it challenging to remember to give frequent feedback to their people. In these situations, it is helpful to set reminders to have more informal feedback moments. These reminders will eventually get you in the habit to give (both positive and constructive) safety feedback on a regular basis. Many leaders find it helpful to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with employees that are short and only reserved for feedback.
Include safety in performance management.
If safety is not one of the criteria or part of the conversation in the performance management system at your company, that is a problem. The performance facets discussed in performance meetings and measured throughout the year signal to employees what is valued by the company.
Have a future focus.
Research shows that feedback is extremely effective when it is focused on the future and has an emphasis on strengths (1). When delivering safety feedback, focus on what has gone well and where to continue.
Pair it with goal setting.
Feedback is more likely to lead to desired behavior change when it is paired with goal setting (2). Be sure to set goals with your employees that are mutually constructed and agreed upon, specific, attainable, and challenging.
Integrate multiple sources.
Consider a multi-source feedback component within your performance management system. Feedback can be very powerful when it comes from several coworkers, subordinates, and supervisors. This also helps to get everyone comfortable with giving safety feedback in multiple directions.
Give them voice.
Many individuals struggle with feedback that only goes in one direction. Most prefer to have some voice in the feedback process. Not only will the opportunity for them to give voice get employees more excited and bought into the process, it will help you understand their perspective and potentially uncover safety issues you did not know were present. One way to give more voice is to ask them questions after delivering feedback (e.g., “Do you have any ideas for how we can adjust this procedure?” ).
Focus on the positive.
All too often we give and receive negative feedback without giving much attention to the positive. Although constructive feedback is important and opportunities for improvement must be addressed, it is just as significant to include positive reinforcement. Make sure this is specific. Don’t just tell someone they are “doing a good job.” Let them know how they did a good job (e.g., “You did a great job pointing out that incorrect tag, that could keep someone from getting hurt” or “Thanks for putting in that near miss, someone else might trip over that line” ).
Don’t dilute your message.
When giving someone feedback, avoid stacking several different messages in one delivery. Keep it brief, kind, and straightforward so there is not confusion. You might have heard the classic “feedback sandwich” strategy that involves delivering positive feedback before and after constructive feedback. This can dilute the safety message if you aren’t tactful at doing this, especially when something urgent needs to be addressed. Instead break up that feedback and let someone know good things they are doing on a more regular basis.
Have healthy expectations.
Don’t assume your feedback will immediately lead to results. Research has shown that feedback only will lead to positive changes in performance about a third of the time (3). This is because so many things matter when it comes to job performance. People need the coaching, they need training, they need to be motivated, and they need many other resources. Ensure people have everything they need in addition to great feedback to ensure you are acquiring high performance in your people.
Ask for feedback.
When leaders solicit feedback themselves, this signals that this is a valued practice within the culture of the organization. Leaders should also welcome safety coaching themselves. If someone needs to remind them to put on their PPE, they should celebrate that moment and thank the person. Leaders should uphold a climate of continual learning and improvement by asking their employees and other leaders for both positive reactions and constructive criticism. After all, there’s always something to work on!
At Propulo, we work with leaders to develop micro-habits associated with effective leadership behaviors. We can help your company make safety “who we are” instead of “something we do.” Partner with us to improve the world of work using the latest insights from research. Our team has the expertise to help your business build a safer and healthier culture.
(1) Kluger, A. N., & Nir, D. (2010). The feedforward interview. Human Resource Management Review, 20(3), 235-246.
(2) Murphy, K. R., Cleveland, J. N., & Hanscom, M. E. (2018). Performance Appraisal and Management. SAGE Publications.
(3) Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory. Psychological Bulletin, 119(2), 254.