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Creating a Culture of Consequences


Culture is the atmosphere created by those beliefs, attitudes, etc., which shape our behavior.

According to OSHA, safety cultures consist of shared beliefs, practices, and attitudes that exist at an establishment. Culture is the atmosphere created by those beliefs, attitudes, etc., which shape our behavior. Examples of the benefits of a strong safety culture include:

  • Developing a strong safety culture has the single greatest impact on accident reduction of any process.
  • A company with a strong safety culture experiences few at-risk behaviors, low accident rates, low turnover, low absenteeism, and high productivity.
  • While creating a stronger safety culture improves safety, it also benefits productivity, staff retention, and the overall organizational culture.

It's important to understand that successful world-class safety cultures must include effective consequences for behaviors and performance.

1. To be effective, what must a world-class safety culture include?

a. Systematic behaviors
b. Behavioral controls
c. Multiple antecedents
d. Effective consequences

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This module discusses the characteristics of effective consequences and how supervisors can use them to lead their employees from mere compliance with rules to excellence in safety performance. All it takes is sound management (an organizational skill) and leadership (a relationship skill) applied daily. So, let's look at the various kinds of consequences supervisors can use to affect behaviors.

Consequence Categories

There are two basic types of consequences: reinforcers and punishers.

  • Reinforcers are consequences that increase the frequency of a behavior.
  • Punishers are consequences that decrease the frequency of a behavior.

There are four basic categories of consequence strategies that motivate behaviors:

  • Positive reinforcement - The supervisor reinforces desired behavior by giving employees positive recognition such as an expression of thanks, a hand shake, or a day off work. When employees do something good, they are recognized.
  • Negative reinforcement - The supervisor reinforces desired behavior by withholding negative recognition such as criticism, harsh words, or a reprimand. As long as employees comply, nothing perceived as negative occurs.
  • Positive punishment - The supervisor punishes undesired behaviors by doing something perceived as unpleasant such as a poor performance appraisal, verbal warning, or an increased workload.
  • Negative punishment - The supervisor punishes undesired behaviors by withholding recognition that is perceived as pleasant or positive such as withholding a bonus, a day off, or a promotion.

Caveat: We need to be very careful in designing consequences. What we believe to be punishment may not be perceived as such by the receiver. On the other hand, what we believe to be a positive consequence may be considered punishment by the receiver.

2. What are the two basic types of consequences?

a. Statutory and administrative
b. Mandatory and voluntary
c. Reinforcers and punishers
d. Active and latent

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Positive Reinforcement

This category basically means, "If we do something well, we get rewarded." To be defined as effective, the consequence must increase the frequency of the desired behavior. Positive reinforcement can be very effective in increasing both mandatory behaviors (complying and reporting) and voluntary behaviors (suggesting and involvement). Ultimately, positive reinforcement can be very effective in producing a world-class success-driven safety culture. Here's why:

Positive Reinforcement = Reinforcing compliance and more with positive consequences.

Positive reinforcement motivates employees to perform to receive a perceived positive consequence. If you are asking employees to just comply with safety rules, either positive or negative reinforcement may work. But, if you are promoting performance beyond mere compliance, positive reinforcement is the only strategy that's going to work. Why does positive reinforcement work so well? It's success-based, not fear-based.

Some examples of safety-related behaviors and the resulting positive consequences include:

  • reporting injuries to supervisors result in being thanked;
  • reporting serious hazards results in a monetary reward; and
  • suggesting improvements results in a better performance review.

Each example above represents an excellent opportunity for supervisors to demonstrate win-win management and leadership.

For more information on using positive reinforcement, we encourage you to read Aubrey Daniel's book, Performance Management: Improving Quality and Productivity Through Positive Reinforcement.

3. Which statement is TRUE regarding positive reinforcement?

a. It only works to increase compliance behaviors in the workplace
b. It can be effective in increasing mandatory and voluntary behaviors
c. If the employee does something, they might somehow get recognized
d. It will increase mandatory behaviors, but nothing more

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Negative Reinforcement

As with positive reinforcement, the purpose of negative reinforcement is to increase desired behaviors. Unfortunately, the not-so-effective strategy is to motivate compliance by withholding negative consequences. Employees will comply with mandatory rules, but not much more. However, if the supervisor would like to increase discretionary behaviors (making suggestions, involvement in safety), negative reinforcement will not be an effective strategy.

Negative Reinforcement = Reinforcing compliance by withholding negative consequences.

The best example of the use of negative reinforcement in safety is the OSHA inspection process. OSHA is mandated to enforce compliance with their safety standards and uses negative reinforcement as a motivation. If, during an inspection, employers meet compliance standards, OSHA does not issue citations and penalties. In other words, OSHA withholds punishment. Consequently, employers primarily do safety to achieve compliance, but they are not as interested in going beyond compliance to achieve safety excellence.

Other examples of compliant employee behaviors that occur when negative reinforcement is the primary result include:

  • Employees complying with safety rules so they won't be yelled at;
  • Employees working faster so they won't have to work overtime; and
  • Employees taking short cuts to avoid being in trouble for not meeting work schedules.

4. Which of the following is an example of negative reinforcement?

a. If employees violate safety rules, they are ignored
b. If employees comply with safety rules, they are not punished
c. If employees comply with safety rules, they get rewarded
d. If the employees violate safety rules, they get punished

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This motivation strategy decreases undesired behaviors through the use of negative consequences.

If the punishment cannot decrease undesired behaviors, it is not effective punishment. While some employees might "repent" after a verbal warning, others may not change their behavior until they receive a suspension from work. To be effective, punishment must be perceived by the receiver as significant.

According to Aubrey Daniels, punishment only stops undesired behaviors: it does nothing to increase behaviors beyond mere compliance, which adds real value to the business. Punishment does not help employees clearly understand desired behaviors. Punishment is only a reaction to undesired behaviors. To be effective, supervisors should not punish employees unless they tell employees precisely why they are being punished. To do that best, punishment should occur as soon as the undesired behaviors occur.

W. Edwards Deming, in his text, The New Economics, states that we must first remove fear in the workplace in our effort to transform corporate culture. Organizations will most likely fail in their attempt to employ total quality management strategies unless they first remove the fear-driven factors intentionally or unintentionally designed into the culture.

Punishment = Reducing noncompliance by using negative consequences.

Some examples punishment might occur in the workplace include:

  • Employees who create a hazard receive a written reprimand;
  • Employees who work on a roof without proper fall protection are suspended; and
  • Employees who communicate with OSHA are fired.

Punishment can be useful when administered appropriately and effectively to reduce noncompliant performance. However, if positive reinforcement is used effectively, you'll rarely, if ever, have to punish.

5. If punishment fails to decrease undesired behavior, what is the problem?

a. The punishment needs to be repeated
b. The punishment was applied too soon
c. The punishment should have been verbal
d. The punishment is not perceived as significant

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When was the last time you were personally recognized by your supervisor? Do you feel fully appreciated at work? When did you last personally recognize one of your employees? Do you believe you are doing a good job of recognizing your employees?

According to Aubrey Daniels, the extinction or cessation of desired behaviors occurs when positive reinforcement is withheld. For example, employees may eventually stop using fall protection if doing so is always ignored it by their supervisors. Ignoring desired behaviors is the most common consequence employees receive in the workplace. In fact, Daniels states that extinction is an epidemic! We're just too busy, right? Or are we working under the oppression of a fear-driven workplace culture that does not support positive reinforcement?

If people are not told they are appreciated, they will assume they are not.

Examples of consequences that extinguish desired behaviors include:

  • Employees comply with all safety rules, but there is no recognition;
  • Employees report workplace hazards, but there is no recognition or reward; and
  • Employees are ignored when they make suggestions for improvement.

Remember, if first-line supervisors and managers would just thank employees more often for doing a good job, the benefits could literally transform the workplace culture.

6. Which of the following is an example of a consequence that extinguishes desired behaviors?

a. Employees exceed expectations and receive a pay raise
b. Employees who report hazards are considered trouble makers
c. Employees are ignored when they make a suggestion
d. Employees report injuries and their supervisor thanks them

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There Are Thanks.... And Then There Are Thanks

Designing strategies for using positive and negative reinforcement and punishment, and in reducing extinction in the workplace is a very important activity. Remember, every system is designed perfectly to produce what it produces. We want to design a system of effective consequences - consequences that change behaviors. We can recognize others in a way that we consider appropriate and effective, yet wonder why the result is little or no change in behaviors. On the other hand, we can recognize others in such a way that results in dramatic changes in behaviors. The secret is in the proper design and application of the consequences.

Effective recognition is more a factor of leadership than management.

You can read the "Rules for Radical Recognition" in Course 117 for a list of effective recognition principles that will help you, no matter what your role or position is in the company, effectively recognize others. Doing so, can have dramatically positive results in your relationship with everyone.

Employers can gather the information they need through jobsite studies, observations, test borings for soil type or conditions, and consultations with local officials and utility companies. This information will help employers determine the amount, kind, and cost of safety equipment they will need to perform the work safely.

Aubrey Daniels tells us, "The role of leaders in every organization is not to find fault or place blame, but to analyze why people are behaving as they are, and modify the consequences to promote the behavior they need." (Source: Daniels, E. James & Daniels, C. Aubrey. (2004) Changing Behavior that Drives Organizational Effectiveness. Pennsylvania University: Performance Management.)

7. What is the "secret" to effective recognition programs?

a. Adequate education and training of expectations
b. Realizing you must develop adequate antecedents
c. The proper design and application of the consequences
d. The use of recognition and punishment to control behaviors

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