Positive Influence:

Cutting Edge Ideas on Behavior-Based Safety, Quality and Leadership

Supervisory Development: How to Have a Productive, Positive Conversation with Employees

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In the previous post, I attempted to draw a distinction between positive supervisory statements about employee actions and statements about the person. Sticking to action statements is safe territory if you want to avoid the long list of negative employee feelings attached to comments they think are aimed at their personality, character, value, attitude, and so on. Safety Observation Conversations (SOC) and Performance Observation Conversations (POC) correctly managed build Supervisor/Employee relations, increase employee engagement, increase general performance, and improve product quality.

There is a long history of evidence-based data to support the value of “talking with” frontline employees. Frontline employees expect supervisors to approach them if there is a problem. They do not expect a general discussion that begins with statements about what the supervisor has seen the employee has “done” that is of value to the product quality, or safety.

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Positive Action Comment not Positive Person Comments

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I’m certain this is throwing most readers for a loop. You have been told to use “positive comments” when employees achieve, perform, or improve their job behavior. Sounds harmless doesn’t it?  Sounds right as well. The answer is, it is not as harmless or as easy as it sounds. If you want to use positive management or supervisor tactics that enhance and increase employee engagement, there are things you can and cannot say.

To simplify this discussion, let’s take a look at the words often used to describe a positive comment that attempts to increase employee engagement, job satisfaction, and performance in general. For instance:

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Avoiding the Risks of Distraction

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You have a narrative in your head; everyone has one. It is the “things” you think about. Most of the time, the narrative wanders. When you must complete a task, your brain (physical mind resource) usually focuses on the sequence of events that the task requires. Other than that, the narrative is in its natural state - wandering without intent – jumping unfettered from one thought, one problem, and one image to another. Sometimes, you don’t have any sequence of grammatically connected words (a narrative) – you have images – you intentionally picture some person or event in your past or possibility in the future.

Cerebral activity can be experienced while you are sitting or moving. It is possible to control the direction, subject, and imagery purposefully. When the narrative and its associated images are purposeful, we call this thinking. Thinking can be associated with well-known tasks or activities or thinking may be the systematic application of logic and reasoning to an unknown – consciously trying to solve a problem that you want to solve.

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Behavior-Based Safety Measurement

Behavior-Based Safety Measurement

As Behavior-Based Safety processes begin to demonstrate disinterest from both management and frontline employees, the individuals assigned to reenergize the organization’s behavior-based safety process search for causes to direct them toward solutions. Behavior based safety conferences are heavily populated with behavior based safety administrators asking other participants questions like “how do we reenergize our process?”

A common belief is that the cause is employee motivation has waned. The common solution is to “do something to motivate” employees and reactivate their enthusiasm for behavior-based safety observations and activities. Old school motivational strategies still exist in many organizations. Subsequently, the solution would be “we need to exhort everyone with words that motivate renewed employee energy - somehow.”

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Senior Executives Establish the Value of Employee Safety

Senior Executives Establish the Value of Employee Safety

You may doubt the following observation only if you have not, as I have, been in almost every possible business and industry in hundreds of organizations all over the world. My observation is as predictable as the accuracy of a Swiss watch. A safety management system’s injury-prevention performance is directly related to the value (or absence of value) senior management place on safety. An important question addressed here is how should senior management demonstrate their support for safety as a value?

Senior management perceives usually perceives they are demonstrating involvement and support for safety when they are “looking at the organization’s data.” Unfortunately, as impressive as data analysis and presentation technology has become, providing senior managers with a method for reviewing safety data in a few seconds undermines the creation of safety as an organizational value and promotes the misperception that management supports employee safety. 

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The Best Way to Encourage People’s Performance

The Best Way to Encourage People’s Performance

In the early seventies, I worked as a performance improvement consultant in many manufacturing facilities across America. One thing I heard repeatedly from frontline employees was stories about company founders that visited the plant every day. The founder would stop and talk with everyone. Employees would say, “He knew the names of everyone who worked here. He knew the names of employees’ wives and children. He knew the histories of their lives.”

Employees talked about this person fondly; his behavior encouraged them to do their best – not because of production goals or financial encouragements, but because they were performing in the context of friendship and mutual respect. Talking and listening to employees communicates and encourages a bond; the bond is one surrounding the accomplishment of performance objectives important to the success of the company.

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