Coaching Potentially High Safety Performers - the Steady Eddie: Taking Average Safety Performance and Creating Safety Stars
Think about the total number of staff whose safety performance you manage: there are likely 15% poor safety performers, 15% performing at an excellent or above average rate and a large majority of 70% performing at an average safety rate. Often when managing performance, a bulk of your available time is spent coaching staff that are below average performers. With which group, however, can you potentially make the most gains when it comes to bettering your safety performance? By focusing on the group of poor performers you can make change in the right direction lowering risk for injury; by focusing on your safety champions you can further encourage excellence; but by managing the safety performance of your average performers, the Steady Eddies, you can challenge this large group of staff to become excellent safety performers, instilling in them attitudes of continual safety improvement and as a result, your facility or department can make significant performance gains.
The coaching strategy to maximize mid-performers’ performance focuses on addressing each of these concerns by understanding your mid-performers more deeply, recognizing their contributions in ways that are meaningful to them and encouraging them to be the best they can be.
Getting Started: Change your Approach
Average performers aren’t a defined group that can be lumped into a single category and uniformly addressed. Since these employees generally receive less attention and aren’t differentiated by safety performance above or below the average, you might find that you know less about what motivates them and who they really are.
Just like any employee, your mid-performers enjoy your interest in them, and with a little prompting, will probably tell you exactly what you need to know. Through your interactions with these employees, you should be able to identify the patterns and environmental characteristics that motivate (or demotivate) them to work at their peak, performing tasks safely and remaining aware of the importance of safety. If you can’t, it’s time to get out there and learn more about them. The following two steps — easily integrated into your regular coaching or goal-setting conversations — will help you to learn more about your average performers.
Get to know their preferences and work requirements
With all mid-level-safety-performers you should be gauging to see whether or
not they can attain safety excellence. To do so, get to know them. What makes them tick? How do they perceive their own safety performance? Why are they mid-level-safety performers? Refer to the suggested questions you can use to guide the conversation. The goal of this understanding, which is built over time, is to determine if their middle-of-the-road safety performance is the maximum they’re capable of, or if they can be spurred on to higher levels.
Categorize them to customize performance management
Use the following mid-performer sub-categories to identify areas in which you may be able to affect performance.
Maxed-out effort. These employees (usually about 10% to 15% of mid-performers) are actually working at their maximum capability. They should be recognized and rewarded for their effort. Since their job challenges them, they are the most likely of this group to be satisfied. When it comes to safety, find out if these employees have attitudes of continuous improvement.
If they have positive safety attitudes and they can recognize the importance safety plays in their daily duties, it is up to their supervisor/manager to gauge if
their positive safety attitude balances their capabilities and to modify any necessary duties they may not be able to perform safely due to incapacity.
Lack confidence. These employees are most comfortable flying under the radar because they don’t feel confident in their own abilities, including safety performance. You can help build their confidence through praise and recognition, assigning them safety responsibilities that allow them to be successful, as well as sharing your belief in their abilities and their capability to grow into a safety superstar.
Perceive the costs of high-performance as too high, or the benefits too low. If you’re a manager or supervisor, chances are you, at some point, were recognized for your contributions (your “Superstar-ness”) and valued the opportunity to earn rewards (e.g., pay, recognition, promotion). This cycle — effort, performance and reward — drives many high-performers. Average performers, however, can look at the costs of additional effort as too high to justify the effort. For instance, if a frontline staffer sees that his high-safety-performing co-workers are asked to sit on the facility OHS Committee and complete additional duties alongside their own daily responsibilities, he may not be motivated to stand out in hopes of being asked to join the committee. The cost of high safety performance may be too high for some average-performing staff. Also, some mid-safety-performers believe the benefit of excellent safety performance is too low. Some staff do not hold the view that going home safely at the end of a shift is a benefit. These staff members need to understand all the rewards of working safely and it is the responsibility of the supervisor and manager to explain the significance of safety performance throughout the organization. If the rewards allotted to high-safety-performers don’t resonate with me, an average-safety-performing staff member, then I might be unlikely to work at 110%. By getting to know your middle safety performers, you can start to identify if the rewards available to high performers are enough to incentivize your middle performers, too.
How to Coach Steady Eddies
The primary strategy for addressing the performance management challenge of mid-level safety performers is learning more about them and customizing your approach. Follow these additional guidelines to define the appropriate, differentiated approach for these employees:
- Know their values and motivations. Part of getting to know your employees, beyond categorizing them, is understanding who they are as professionals and as people — their future hopes, how they feel valued and how they perceive their safety contributions. An employee raising a young family might value the fitness level he receives from the workplace. This individual may see merit in going home and being mobile enough to toss the ball around with his kids. Another employee might enjoy being asked to mentor staff members in the area of safety or taking on additional safety duties as it makes her feel valued and appreciated. Regardless of what you learn, use it to deepen your understanding of the employee and help him to realize his short and long-term safety potential.
- Take the time to set concrete goals. Goal setting for high and low safety performers is easy. Stretch goals for your high performers and set improvement goals for your low performers. Middle performers? A combination of both! Help them set concrete goals that will increase both their contribution to the team’s safety goals and their satisfaction with the work that they do. Ensure they see the benefit of working safely and striving for safety excellence. Explain how their future safety effort can potentially impact their careers and personal lives.
- Focus on recognizing their safety contributions and bettering their safety contributions. Think about coaching middle performers as a two-pronged strategy. First, you want to maintain the steady, solid safety performance that you have. Second, you want to help them become even better. This requires a combination of praise for their valued efforts and participation in the safety program and honest conversations about areas where they should be focusing their improvement efforts. Ensure their goals are aligned with the department, facility and organizational safety improvement strategies. Skimp on one or the other of these two prongs and you’ll see either an employee who feels like his safety contributions are ignored, or an employee who becomes complacent and cynical from the lack of attention.
- Move the safety performance bar. If you’re providing a positive, motivational work environment, individualized goal-setting, safety performance mentoring and support, you should see safety performance improvements within your average performers. When that happens, raise the performance bar as safety performance improves and the bell curve shifts. You may find it necessary to refine your safe-work performance standards and evaluation criteria to reflect this new reality of higher overall safety performance. This isn’t a bad thing, as it raises the bar for everyone, including your high and low performers.
- Don’t treat everyone the same. While it’s important to be fair, equitable and operate within legal boundaries, that doesn’t mean that you have to treat everyone exactly the same. Actually, you shouldn’t! Performance management that shifts the safety performance bar requires more than a one-size- fits-all strategy that treats every employee the exact same way. While all employees are focused on organizational, facility and department safety goals, the individual goals you set for them, the rewards and recognition you offer them, the tone of the conversations you have with them, all should reflect who they are as individuals, what makes them tick and what motivates them. You are much more likely to see safety performance that shines when you show that you know and value an employee.
Source: Gibson, Rebecca. 2012. Employee Performance: Maximizing Average Performers. One size does not fit all when it comes to managing employee performance. Guidelines for developing your middle performers. Retrieved from
Safety Performance Management
Sample Coaching Worksheet for the Potentially High Safety Performer – the Steady Eddie
This worksheet is intended to act as a sample identifying the type of information executives, middle managers and frontline supervisors would prepare prior to conducting coaching discussions and during coaching discussions with the aim of both maintaining the good safety performance currently exhibited by the staffer and improving staff safety performance providing new safety challenges to become a high-safety-performer. Organizations can use this sample as is, or make necessary changes depending on organizational preferences.
Describe current safety performance/contributions. What has motivated this employee to reach his/her current level of safety performance?
If your employee is a middle safety performer, can you categorize him/her into any of the following?
Maxed-out effort Lack confidence Perceive the costs of high-performance as too high, or the benefits too low Other
Discuss with staff any possible barriers to attaining safety excellence.
How could these barriers be overcome?
There is opportunity for safety performance improvement in this/these area(s). Ensure goals are aligned with strategic safety objectives of the department, facility and organization.
Action Plan towards maintenance of current safety outcomes as well as improvement plans to strive for safety excellence. Mutually discuss all actionable ideas for plan.
On Floor Follow Up: to ensure staff member is following through with the actions he or she has committed to for safety improvement, note the date(s) of follow up.Follow Up Date: / Follow Up Date:
Follow Up Conducted By: / Follow Up Conducted By:
Observations or Comments: / Observations or Comments:
Follow Up Meeting: In order to conclude this safety performance improvement plan, conduct a follow up meeting with the employee to discuss whether safety improvement has been noted as per the coaching plan. If improvement has been noted, use positive reinforcement and encourage continued improvement.
2013 Driving Safety Accountability Tool: Coaching Potentially High Performers – the Steady Eddie