Your Employees Want to Know What You’re Thinking
Your Employees Want to Know What You’re Thinking

Your Employees Want to Know What You’re Thinking

March 31, 2022
Feedback is vitally important, especially to younger workers, so a good safety leader should also be a good communicator.

Over the past two years, as a result of the pandemic, there is an increased level of trust between employers and employees that was built when everyone had to band together to adapt to different ways of working safely and doing business. Heightened communication was the tactic used to support the new structure.

It only makes sense to continue this level of success and cooperation and turn it toward feedback, which is something many companies only offer during performance reviews. But year-round feedback is a more effective way to both strengthen the employer-employee relationship and also to foster a safety culture that truly works for everyone.

Feedback is especially important to the younger generations. Over 65% of Generation Z (born 1997-2012) say they would like frequent feedback, according to a report for the Center for Generational Kinetics. How frequent? Sixty percent want multiple check-ins from the manager during the week, and of those 40% would like interactions with their boss to be daily or several times a day.

Tips for Offering Feedback

That’s a lot of talking. So how should a safety leader structure these conversations? Ken Vaughn, president of New Horizons Partners, has worked with many companies over the years offering leadership in coaching and employee development. He offers these tips that safety managers can adapt to their situation, aimed at helping leaders become more comfortable in giving feedback and doing it well:

Feedback is best served warm. In other words, provide feedback as soon as possible after (or even during) the activity, whether it be a near miss, improper use (or non-use) of personal protective equipment or another lapse in safety adherence that needs to be addressed right away. The longer the time gap between the action and the feedback, the harder it will be for the recipient to tie the two together. The impact or benefit is much reduced if the person has difficulty recalling all of the facts regarding the action due to lapsed time.

Use your words wisely. Feedback should be a respectful, professional discussion aimed at producing a positive outcome. Our language and behavior should be in line with this objective. It’s better to use the word “I” in demonstrating the impact and refrain from using the word “you,” which can sound judgmental of the person rather than the behavior.

Provide feedback in digestible doses. If you expect your feedback to have an impact on future performance, it is better for the recipient to walk away with one action item regarding one safety issue. Storing up several items for discussion results in a confusing mess for the recipient to sort out after the discussion.

Focus on performance, not personality. Always deliver feedback in reference to specific actions or behaviors, either by expressing appreciation for an action and the resulting benefit or discussing an action or behavior that you want to see improved. “You’re so smart” is not nearly as valuable as “I really appreciated the way that you helped the team come to that conclusion.” With the latter, the person understands the action and the benefit to the team.

Regarding corrective feedback, a statement such as, “That incident led to a shipment not being delivered on time, which resulted in a big cost penalty from our customer” can lead to a discussion of reasons and corrective action. On the other hand, “You really messed up, as usual” is likely to simply prompt a defensive reaction.

Balance negative or corrective feedback with affirmational or positive feedback. People respond more strongly to negative than positive statements. That’s why relationships are stronger when positive statements outweigh negative statements by a factor of 5:1 or even 8:1. Even when giving corrective feedback, a safety leader should find some positive things to say about the other person: the part of the task that was done correctly and safely, a belief in their ability to improve, etc. When a person only hears negative comments or criticism from a boss, they lose heart and look for the door.

Focus on the future. The goal of feedback is not to criticize a person or to gather a history. The goal is to help the recipient to grow and improve. The discussion of the situation or the past history is just to establish the need for an action plan. Therefore, all such discussions should be weighted in favor of the future, with positive expectations for improvement and growth.

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