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 how a strong safety culture benefits an organization:
While creating a stronger safety culture improves safety, it also benefits productivity, staff retention, and the overall organizational culture. To ensure a successful world-class safety culture is, it must have effective consequences for behaviors and performance.
This module explains what effective consequences look like and how supervisors can use lead their employees from mere compliance 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:
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 the employee 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. However, the strategy is not to When employees are motivated to perform primarily through negative consequences they will do what they need to do to avoid punishment -- not much more. Consequently, if the supervisor is attempting to increase compliance behaviors only, (those required by safety rules, etc.) negative reinforcement may work. However, if the supervisor would like to increase discretionary behaviors (making suggestions, involvement in safety), negative reinforcement is not the most effective strategy.
The best example of the use of negative reinforcement in the context of safety is the OSHA inspection process. OSHA is interested in compliance with rules. If, during an inspection, employers meet compliance standards, OSHA does not issue citations and possible penalties. Consequently, employers attempt to achieve compliance, but it's much harder to get them interested in safety excellence.
Some other examples of the ways we might employ negative reinforcement include:
The purpose of this motivation strategy is to decrease undesired behaviors by administering negative consequences.
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.
If the punishment does not decrease the undesired behavior, is it really punishment? No, At least not to the employee receiving the punishment. While one employee might "repent" after a verbal warning, another may require suspension from work before he or she perceives the consequence as significant punishment and stops an undesired behavior.
As Aubrey Daniels emphasizes, punishment only stops undesired behaviors: it does nothing to add real value to the business. Punishment does not help the employee clearly understand desired behaviors. Punishment is only reaction to undesired behaviors. To be effective, the supervisor should not punish unless he or she pinpoints and communicates the desired behavior to the employee and recognizes the employee as soon as that behavior is demonstrated.
Some examples of the ways we might employ punishment include:
Once again, each example above is a missed opportunity. In some examples, the punishment is decreasing behaviors that would be considered positive in a world-class safety culture. Punishment, as a consequence, can be useful when administered appropriately and effectively. 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 people?
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, busy, busy...right? Or are we working under the oppression of a fear-driven workplace culture that does not support positive reinforcement?
Some examples of the ways extinction occurs include:
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.
Here's probably 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 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 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 in such a way that results in dramatic changes in behaviors. The secret is in the design and application of the consequences.
Effective recognition is more a factor of leadership than management.
Soon: it's important that recognition occurs as soon as possible after the desired behavior. How do we make that happen? I believe supervisors are best positioned to do this. I don't believe the safety committee is. The supervisor is right there, and can recognize on the spot. When this occurs, the "act" of recognizing is perceived as leadership by the employee receiving the attention. If the safety committee is the primary group recognizing safety behaviors, an inherent delay is built (designed) into the recognition process, thereby decreasing the effectiveness of consequences.
Certain: the employee knows that they will be recognized. They are also able to tie the recognition to a specific behavior. The sooner the employee is recognized after the behavior, the stronger the link between the behavior and the consequence. Safety, because we're talking about life and limb, is too important to play games with. Don't design recognition systems that award consequences based on chance, or luck. Be careful not to make tangible rewards so certain that they are perceived as "entitlements" as they may lose their value as rewards.
Significant: positive recognition is perceived as more than an entitlement. It is perceived as having substantial benefit. Both the nature (positive/negative) and the significance of a recognition or tangible reward are defined by the receiver, not the person giving the recognition. Recognition and rewards are a benefit the employee receives over and above any form contractual agreement such as wages or salary. Effective recognition is more than wages. You may have heard from someone say, "We don't have to recognize the... that's what they get paid to do!" Do you believe that attitude will result in increased desired behaviors? Perceived significance is not necessarily dependent on the size or amount of the recognition.
Sincere: recognition expresses genuine appreciation. The more sincere the recognition, the more significant it will appear. Whether you are recognizing or reprimanding, your motivation is driven by a sincere desire to help the employee be safe or improve in some way. Your motives are perceived as pure by the employee. You are probably familiar with the principle that recognition should be given in public and reprimand in private. Actually, research indicates that both recognition and reprimand in private is more effective. Motives may come under question when recognition is awarded in a formal public manner. It may be perceived that managers are patting themselves on the back, or that politics had something to do with the recognition when presented in public. For example, have you ever experienced an "employee of the quarter" program that was met with less than enthusiasm by employees? Sincere appreciation, expressed in private seems to be a more effective strategy. For an expanded list of criteria read Steve Geigle's Rules for Radical Recognition.
In conclusion, here is an excerpt from a popular book on safety:
"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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