Safe Production Leadership Competency Series: Recognize and Foster Growth

By Kelly Hamilton, Madison Hanscom, & Josh Williams, Ph.D.

A critical skill all leaders must develop is the ability to provide high-quality feedback to their team members so they can perform their jobs well and grow and advance in their careers. When leaders do this well, it can fuel employee motivation and commitment, as well as positive safety outcomes.

Fostering growth contributes to an overall sense of organizational and supervisor support, which is important because employees want to feel they are valued by the organization. Employees who report feeling valued by their employer are 93% more likely to report they are motivated to do their very best for their employer (vs. 33%).

Leaders can recognize and foster growth in several ways:

• Provide positive feedback. Research suggests positive feedback is more effective than negative feedback: results of a recent Gallup poll indicated 67% of employees whose managers focused on their strengths were fully engaged in their work, as compared to only 31% of employees whose managers focused on their weaknesses.
• Ensure that feedback is timely and directed towards specific behaviors. The best way to foster growth is through providing feedback in everyday interactions, with the feedback focused on specific behaviors. Whereas annual performance reviews are important for summarizing an employees’ performance over the course of a year, every day, in-the-moment feedback is ideal for encouraging repeat behavior or changing behaviors.
• Recognize employees. Providing individual- and team-level recognition and rewards for specific behaviors encourages employees to continue those behaviors. It is also important to recognize employees for meeting safety-related goals and engaging in safety-related behaviors consistent with these goals. By rewarding specific safety-related behaviors through recognition, promotion, or job security, leaders signal to employees what is important and desirable behavior in the future and positively impact safety climate.
• Consider non-monetary rewards. Research indicates that monetary rewards can be effective, but the emphasis should be on valuing and recognizing employees and not necessarily on monetary rewards. Research indicates that non-monetary rewards (i.e., verbal praise, additional break time) can be helpful for improving safety compliance and safety climate.
• Invest in individual and team development. When leaders invest in employees’ development, it makes them feel valued. Employees who report feeling valued by their employer are 93% more likely to report they are motivated to do their very best for their employer (vs. 33%).

Examples from the field:

• Leaders within a company that built bearings for cars took money they had budgeted to purchase safety signs and gave it to employees through a poster design contest. Specifically, the site shut down all operations for two hours and brought in all employees to create their own safety posters. Prizes were given out for first ($100), second ($50) and third place ($25) as voted on by employees. Employees were given flip chart pages and markers/crayons to design their posters and were allowed to make as many posters as they wanted to for the contest. In the end, the winning employee was a maintenance worker who drew Forrest Gump running down the road wearing safety glasses (and other PPE) under the caption, “Safety IS as Safety DOES.” Completed posters were hung around the facility and were highly effective in getting employees’ attention. Although the monetary amounts were small, recognition goes a long way. The attention provided for employees’ creativity and safety efforts was greatly appreciated.

• Leaders in another organization developed safety champion stickers for employees. When leaders or fellow employees observed especially safe actions, they provided the employee a sticker which they put on their hard hats. This was designed to replicate the college football practice of putting team logo stickers on helmets following exceptional plays. A number of employees really appreciated these stickers and some had their hard hats full of stickers as a show of their own commitment to safety.

• However, traditional “incentives” implemented by leadership for safety can be problematic. In one company, a woman slipped on the ice outside of her building in front of a group of coworkers and was injured. In addition to her embarrassment and injury, some of her coworkers were angry with her for “screwing up” their incentive (they lost their $75 gift card) which they normally received each month as long as no one got hurt. The primary recognition for safety can be genuine verbal appreciation. Small thank you rewards for proactive safety efforts can also be appreciated. However, traditional, outcome based “incentives” should be avoided.

The great news is that managers can be trained in the art of providing feedback. Published interventions aimed at increasing quality and quantity of safety-related feedback have led to improvements in safety outcomes and safety climate perceptions.

This post is part of a blog series on Propulo Safe Production Leadership Competencies.

Read about the other competencies:

Actively Care
Walk the Talk
Build and Live the Vision
Drive Thinking and Speaking

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.


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