059: 8 Critical Tips for Effective Safety Coaching

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Get the book referenced here: The Coaching Habit: Say less, ask more & change the way you lead forever

Does your company help develop employees through coaching?

Not to be confused with training, or even consulting, coaching is a much more collaborative process that helps to bring out someone’s best work. In fact, two-thirds of employees cite that coaching improved their performance within their company and also improved their satisfaction (1).

Coaching sessions can include open-ended questions and discussion on personal and professional goals and objectives. If coaching happens consistently, it can strengthen relationships between managers/employees and between peers. It can reinforce the right kind of behaviors you want to see in your business to promote safety and health. Last, it also helps workers have more support as they work through challenges or problems, both personally and professionally (2, 3, 4).

Here are top tips you can utilize for effective safety coaching:

1. Don’t assume leaders know how to coach

Make sure leaders are equipped to start coaching before you ask them to do so. For example, a common misconception is that coaching is where specific performance feedback can be given. While coaching can influence an employee’s performance, a coaching session is not the same as a review session, even if your current reviews are informal.

First, help leaders recognize that coaching is an open-ended conversation that is aimed at helping someone improve…and that is in all areas of their life. On the other hand, an evaluation is going to give specific feedback to someone regarding their performance. If coaching is what you’re after, make sure your leaders know that difference (2).

Second, teach leaders how to use open-ended questions during their coaching sessions. Instead of asking a question that can be answered with a simply “yes” or a “no,” open ended inquiries can be used to help lead someone into potential solutions. It also helps them to better reflect and to become more self-aware. These kind of questions can also give the coach more context about a challenge someone is facing. Last, they also keep the focus on the person who is receiving the coaching.

For example, if someone is having uncertainty with how to resolve a safety-related issue on their team, avoid immediately giving them potential solutions. Instead, ask them questions by using words such as “what and “how.”

That could sound like: “How do you envision this process changing?” or, “What have you considered doing to change the way things are done?”

By giving them the opportunity to reflect and talk out the solution, leaders can remain focused on listening. After hearing more from the person, then a coach can help the individual learn how to come up with solutions. This will build confidence, empower the individual and help them break out of three vicious circles that author Michael Bungay Stonier describes in the book “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever”:

  1. Creating over dependance – by you always having the answer, and others not being able to solve problems on their own. I have often said that the EHS expert’s job is NOT to be the only one that understand the basic safety requirements and hazard mitigation techniques of someone else’s job. It is to ensure that those doing the work, facing potential hazards are able to so. This requires a coach!
  2. Getting overwhelmed – you will become bombarded with everyone else’s problems. This creates a classic bottle-neck! You want to avoid this because hazards/issues will persist in the work environment as a result of YOU not being able to deal with them. Folks will learn it takes too long to get anything addressed and just stop saying anything!
  3. Becoming disconnected – You will get disconnected from the work that matters – which is creating a sustainable culture of accountability, empowerment and productivity. You need to free yourself up from the first two circles in order to focus on the work that will make the most impact on the organization (6).

Getting “good” at coaching takes practice, but at least try to teach your people some of the subtle shifts in their behavior that can help the dialogue be productive and authentic (1, 5). This is the difference between consulting and coaching! Consulting is telling someone what to do – coaching is about helping others develop the ability to sense something needs to be changed, problem-solve, draw upon the needed resources the organization has to affect change and make good decisions.

2. Make sure it’s a two-way conversation

Since a coach is often going to be in a position where they are helping to drive some kind of change, make sure you are having a two-way conversation that allows for that to happen. Avoid the temptation to make it all about yourself.  The key is to actually talk less and listen more (6).

In addition, if you are the one doing the coaching, avoid the tendency to share all your stories that are similar to the person being coached; after all, the focus is on them, not you. Again, this is where leading or empowering questions can be a very effective tool to use. Remember, telling someone what they should do is consulting. It also creates dependency. It can be tricky to get into here, but go grab The Coaching Habit book I mentioned and start some of the habits the author described.

The bottom line is that things need to be addressed, but you as a coach need to develop other leaders’ ability to coach as well. Each problem they bring to you is an opportunity to further develop their ability to coach others as well. So open up the lines of communications and ask good questions and listen!

3. Provide ‘just enough’ structure

Coaching—even if it’s peer to peer coaching—won’t necessarily happen on its own. Like anything with your culture, be as intentional as possible about how your coaching sessions are going to be implemented. Companies with effective safety coaching take the time to develop strategies and internal processes that support a culture of coaching (4, 5).

Especially when a company is first introducing coaching, structure is going to help. Give guidance on responsibilities related to coaching, coaching duration, the type of coaching you are looking for, and any desired outcomes or measurement of feedback that you want captured (4, 5).

4. Avoid punishment

Coaching should be focused on empowering people to succeed. This means you want to avoid the perception that there will be negative consequences from anything discussed in your session. We want to see this activity as a way to learn and grow, not discover deficiencies and hold someone accountable for them.

Look to avoid any kind of punishment or discipline when coaching. That doesn’t mean there can’t be any accountability, but these interactions are not a place where there should be any kind of fear.

5. Capture the progress

Companies that are successful at safety coaching are able to capture and celebrate all the progress someone has made. Depending on the level of formality your coaching has, at the very least, celebrate small wins and successes. Then, when you can, be sure to capture contributions and share that with your team, when appropriate.

6. Encourage peer-to-peer coaching

Many of us think of a manager coaching a direct report, and in many cases, that’s going to be the kind of coaching relationship that is most effective. But also know that peer to peer coaching is extremely valuable and can also help to deepen relationships and improve morale in your company.

7. Customize your coaching to the learning curve of the employee being coached

Safety training typically requires everyone to meet minimum standards at a certain point in time. In contrast, your coaching sessions are going to have their own pace that is going to be different for everyone.

Embrace how these interactions are going to be mostly based on the learning curve of the employee who is being coached (4). In other words, with much less structure than a training session, coaching sessions are going to follow an employee’s progress—and that progress is going to ebb and flow at times (2, 3, 4).

8. Always come from a place of compassion

Coaching interactions are all about improving an employee and helping them develop in specific areas they care about. For that to happen, there has to be a deep sense of caring and mutual trust in any session. As a coach, you can help that happen by always coming from a place of compassion as you hear about someone’s personal challenges, issues, and perceptions.

That is what makes safety a great place to start in any organization that wants to develop a coaching culture. Safety starts with the basic assumption that all workers just want to do a good job and be able to return again. Even the most average worker punching the clock – that’s what they want to keep doing, their job. Preventing injuries and illnesses that ultimately prevent that is compassionate. That’s what I love about this industry; we may have discussions about how to get there, but not getting hurt is something that almost all of us can agree with.

Let me know what you think. Send an email to info@thesafetypropodcast.com and share with me your thoughts about safety coaching.

“Be sure to leave a rank and review on Apple Podcast, it helps others find the podcast and assists me in making improvements.”

Blaine J. Hoffmann, MS OSHM – The SafetyPro Podcast

If you are not on Apple Podcast you can find me on LinkedIn! Post a LinkedIn update letting me know what you think of the podcast. Be sure to @ mention Blaine J. Hoffmann or The SafetyPro Podcast LinkedIn page. You can also find the podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter!

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  1. https://inside.6q.io/coaching-employees-in-the-workplace/
  2. http://www.journalgazette.net/blog/lead-on/Evaluation–coaching–appreciation-are-critical-leadership-skills-9570119
  3. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/key-success-factors-executive-coaching-nancy-zentis-ph-d-/
  4. http://www.csp.com/know-the-differences-between-employee-training-and-coaching/#.W6jPkRNKigz
  5. https://hbr.org/2015/03/how-to-get-your-team-to-coach-each-other.html

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