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:
In this module, we'll look at how to ensure a successful world-class safety culture by including effective consequences for behaviors and performance.
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.
There are two basic types of consequences: reinforcers and punishers.
There are four basic categories of consequence strategies that motivate behaviors:
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.
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 direction. Positive reinforcement can be very effective in increasing both required 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 motivates employees to perform to receive a perceived positive consequence. If you are asking employees to comply, positive or negative reinforcement may work. But, if you are promoting achievement beyond 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 recognition include:
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
As with positive reinforcement, the purpose of negative reinforcement is to increase desired behaviors. The strategy is to motivate by withholding consequences perceived to be negative. 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 is not going to be an effective strategy.
The best example of the use of negative reinforcement in the context of 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. Consequently, employers attempt to achieve compliance, but it's much harder to get them interested in safety excellence.
Other examples of behavioral outcomes resulting from the use of negative reinforcement include:
The purpose of this motivation strategy is to decrease undesired behaviors by administering negative consequences.
If the punishment does not decrease undesired behaviors, it is not effective punishment. While some employees might "repent" after a verbal warning, others may require suspension from work before they stop undesired behaviors.
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 of employing total quality management strategies unless they first remove the fear-driven factors intentionally or unintentionally designed into the culture.
Examples of the ways punishment might occur in the workplace include the following:
Each example above is a missed opportunity. In a couple of examples above, punishment is actually decreasing behaviors that would be considered positive in a world-class safety culture. Can you spot them? Punishment, as a consequence, can be useful when administered appropriately and effectively. However, if positive reinforcement is used effectively, you'll rarely, if ever, have to punish.
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 recognizing your employees?
According to Daniels, extinction, or the withholding of positive reinforcement, is the most common consequence in response to desired behaviors in the workplace. In fact, he states that extinction is 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 extinction include the following:
This may be the most important idea in the entire module: 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.
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.
Read the Rules for Radical Recognition 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.
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.)
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