Remember the popular TV commercials by brokerage firm E.F. Hutton? In one of the commercials, a girl is reciting the alphabet in grade school. “A, B, C, D, E, F,” (pause) “E, F,” (pause), and then emphatically, “E.F. Hutton,” at which point all of the students and the teacher crowd around the child’s seat. Then the famous tag line: “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.”

While the E.F. Hutton name has since left the financial world, the tag line is very appropriate to the safety professional: When you talk, do people listen?

Understand your audience

I recently attended a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) exam preparation class, and like in the Associate Safety Professional (ASP) prep class, theorists in behavior and human relations are a topic. One theorist, Abraham Maslow, was a psychology professor and researcher at Brandeis University and Brooklyn College. He investigated human behavior between 1937 and 1950, and suggested there are five goals or needs we all strive for:
  1. Physiological (hunger, thirst, sleep);
  2. Safety (protection against danger);
  3. Belonging (love, social, friendship);
  4. Self-esteem (recognition, appreciated); and
  5. Self-actualization (or self-fulfillment – “Be all you can be!”).
In general, people will work their way from No. 1 to No. 5 as each level of needs are at least partially satisfied, and it is the next level that will motivate and dominate the person’s behavior.

What we look for in a career fits in at the “belonging” level.

Money is a satisfier, not a motivator. It is, in part, why many incentive programs are moving away from monetary motivation. So, if you want to get someone to listen to you, concentrate at the “belonging” level and work your way to the “self-esteem” and “self-actualization” levels.

Cultivate “belonging” and recognition

Generally, people like to be asked their opinion, especially when it affects their workplace environment. If you look at the commonalities among all the forefathers of human relation theory, you will find a wonderful starting point:
  • Inclusion – Include people in decisions that affect them, especially if they need to implement the process or change.
  • Needs – Recognize where we are as a society. People want to belong, feel appreciated (valued), and have the opportunity to excel (growth and advancement).
  • Responsibility – Give people the opportunity to prove they are responsible.
  • Achievement – People generally like to achieve. Provide them the opportunity.
  • Recognition – A little praise can go a long way.
  • Interest in the job – Multiple responsibilities will keep them from getting bored.
  • Support – Give constructive feedback on performance. Don’t just chastise; offer suggestions.
  • Different strokes for different folks – Not everyone is the same. Be flexible in approach.
  • Treat people how you want them to act – If you want people to be non-communicative, shut them out! If you want them to be proactive, treat them like a peer.

Perception survey

I recently came upon the Gallup Organization’s Q12® survey tool (see sidebar above). Through research, Gallup has identified that 12 key areas consistently relate to five meaningful business outcomes: employee retention, productivity, profitability, customer loyalty and safety. These 12 areas have been addressed in the form of 12 statements that, on the basis of employee response, provide insight as to the health of a company. Of the five business outcomes, two scored as having a positive correlation and/or relationship with all 12 statements: productivity and safety.

When I reviewed the tool, though, I realized the output would be a one-sided position: what the employees perceive. In contrast, if you reword the questions from the manager’s standpoint, and then put the employee’s response next to the manager’s response, a more striking dissimilarity (in the case of a negative correlation) would be present.

For example, Statement 1 of the Q12® reads: “I know what is expected of me at work.” In this case, you could reword the statement for the manager’s survey to be: “I have communicated to my employees what is expected of them at work.”

Have your managers complete their perception survey prior to the employees. While I have only performed a few surveys to date, the majority of the managers respond with higher marks than their employees on the same statement. The goals would be to find out why there are differences in the results, and then strive to achieve higher marks across the board. Initially, I would recommend anonymous survey responses. As the perception becomes closer to the reality a manager is looking for, named responses can be used to delve deeper into individual concerns.

While the Gallup tool is one of many that are available to gauge your employees’ feelings, another option is a simple feedback form. The form would be used to encourage employees to provide suggestions and feedback on safety-related issues. The form could specifically ask for things like: safety improvement suggestions; safety improvement or policy feedback; and toolbox talk topic suggestions. Be prepared to create a response to the surveys — and act on at least one suggestion.

Listening is a good thing

In the long run, you can’t simply tell people to listen and expect them to really listen. You need to have them decide for themselves that listening is not only in their best interest, but is in the best interest of their fellow employees and the company for which they provide value. Achieving this will require just as much effort on the part of management, in both providing direction and in “practicing what you preach.”

Know what people need and expect. Know their feelings on the safety direction of the company (not to mention the overall health of the company). Genuinely ask for their help and initiate improvement based on their suggestions.

Before you know it, a level of trust and communication will be established. People will want to listen to what you have to say because you will have established a proven track record of care and understanding, of having effective answers, and of adding value. At that point, you become E.F. Hutton.

Sidebar: Put on a happy face

For some people, a smile just comes naturally. Others have to work at it. But if you’re a safety pro, it is well worth the effort. A warm greeting, an extended hand, and a “thanks for meeting with me today” will help overcome the fact you are holding a clipboard and requiring people to get in compliance. It will help break down the barriers facing every safety professional.

The Gallup Q12®

1 I know what is expected of me at work.

2 I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

3 At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

4 In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

5 My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

6 There is someone at work who encourages my development.

7 At work, my opinions seem to count.

8 The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

9 My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

10 I have a best friend at work.

11 In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

12 This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

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