Originally posted on Caterpillar Safety Service’s Safety Culture WORLD blog 10.8.2012 http://safetycultureworld.blogspot.com/and reposted here with Caterpillar’s permission.

Recognition for doing things correctly seems to be a lost art.  Over the years, I have assessed perception surveys for hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of employees.  As I tally the results, recognition for performance of doing things right is the lowest scoring safety management process. Interestingly, discipline (i.e., correcting people when they do something wrong) scores as the sixth lowest of the 21 safety management processes measured by the Caterpillar Safety Services statistically validated survey.  So whether employees do the job right or wrong, they are pretty much left alone to figure out what they ought to do. 

Posted on the Safety Culture World blog on January 14, 2013


Indeed, improving recognition skills is one of the best methods for an organization to improve the way its employees communicate the important safety messages which help prevent injuries.  During the development of the safety perception survey, there was an extensive effort to find a few questions that would audit the reality of a safety recognition culture in the workplace.  The questions that were developed as the benchmarks are:

· Is promotion to higher level jobs dependent on good safety performance?

· Is safe work behavior recognized by supervisors?

· Are safe workers picked to train new employees?

· Can first-line supervisors reward employees for good safety performance?

· Is safe work behavior recognized by your company?

Armed with data from hourly, supervision and management employees who take the survey, a continuous improvement team made up of people from the front line and management meets to develop a process solution.  Their charge is to develop their own recognition system based on safety accountabilities that are practiced every day across the organization. 

A common thread is that we have not trained our people well in the basics of human interaction.  The symptom here is that we are not very effective in giving and receiving feedback on job performance, whether it is in safety, quality or production.  A typical part of the team solution, then, is to train all the personnel in giving and receiving feedback and how to be effective in providing one-on-one recognition for doing a job well.  The associated training and role play goes a long way to beginning a new culture of asking for permission to have the safety conversation, getting a commitment to live safe behaviors and following up in an adult manner.

In turn, this launches a coaching culture where hourly and salaried personnel try to catch people doing the right things.  All too often, safety pros, supervision and management concentrate on what is wrong with little or no positive feedback for the overwhelming number of times all is well with safety.  The end result is our people know more about what we don’t want than what we do want. 

The example we often use is that of a coach. Think back to your coaching experiences either as a player or as a coach. The effective coach watches what is going on and then intercedes where improvement is needed.  This interaction is not punitive, but adult in nature. The player is shown what is correct and then demonstrates this back to the coach until both are satisfied the basic skills are in place. The coach then continues to observe and give positive feedback as the player demonstrates the correct skill. This approach has many pieces to it:

· A one-on-one event focused on what is correct

· A commitment from the student to do the task correctly

· A continual one-on-one follow up on the skill in question

· An adult approach to improving performance

· A simple model that is used throughout the industry to teach new skills:

o Define what needs to be done correctly

o Train what to do correctly

o Measure how well the skill is performed

o Give feedback on trainee performance

This approach is effective human interaction 101, but is seldom practiced in most safety cultures. Once the organization realizes the what, the how, the when and the who, they almost always launch a successful initiative which significantly improves not only their overall safety culture, but the other cultures (i.e. cost, quality, customer service, etc.) as well.  

This may seem to be a very detailed approach to move your current culture to one of frequent, positive recognition for jobs done well.  In fact, this is true.  If you want something different, you will have to do something different. Organizations which have implemented such a system have truly made positive recognition a part of their safety culture and involved all employees in the new process.  In so doing, they have helped transform their safety culture to a healthier level well beyond their previous reality.