WHY EMPLOYEE RECOGNITION IS CRITICAL TO ACHIEVING A STRONG SAFETY CULTURE

 I was recently part of a group of Safety Professionals discussing various ideas on how we can recognize people who meet or exceed safety expectations. As we continued our conversations, I started thinking about how important it is to identify people who are committed to their safety and those around them. As I began thinking more and more about recognition, this thought came to my head. “You can’t build a strong, sustainable safety culture if you don’t know who exhibits safe behaviors.”

Another thing that hit my brain is that I realized that employee recognition is the cornerstone of effective leadership. I believe that as the competition for workers has escalated and the shortage of workers exists, one of the key ways to show that we value their commitment to safety is a critical path to maintaining a consistent workforce.

The most significant reason leaders fail to identify their top performers is thinking in ways similar to a phrase from President Harry Truman, “Just think of what our team can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit!” – President Harry Truman.

With all due respect to President Truman, this phrase is often misunderstood. The quote is intended to emphasize the value of humble leaders. But when misunderstood, it can deprive a vital piece of leadership information.

Some people believe the words, “it doesn’t matter who gets the credit,” indicate that you should not pay attention to, or even be aware of, those who are delivering outstanding safe behaviors or the leaders who are committed to the safety of their employees. After all, many companies seem to focus on the numbers. Numbers can identify a path forward. However, most leading indicator numbers may not be very actuated. The company I recently worked for only cared if the operations team met the monthly numbers, there was no accountability to determine accuracy. If we focus on the numbers, then numbers will not develop a strong safety culture. The only thing that determines your culture is the people.

If you have interpreted “it doesn’t matter who gets the credit” to mean that individual recognition is not a good thing, step back and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know who is generating the best ideas?
  • Do I know who is supporting initiatives?
  • Do I know who is performing the work or tasks safely?
  • Do I know who the most encouraging person on your team is?
  • Do I know who is going out of their way to support their teammates?

If you do, give them, then give them recognition! Otherwise, if you continue to misapply the “it doesn’t matter who gets the credit” sentiment and focus on production and leading indicator numbers, you will face an enormous leadership shortcoming and lose respect and trust.

So, what is employee recognition?

In general, it simply refers to all the ways an organization shows its appreciation for employees’ contributions to the company’s overall safety and business success. It can take on many forms. Companies recognize employees for things like:

  • Achievements
  • Exhibiting desired behaviors
  • Going above and beyond expectation

From the safety perspective, employee recognition focuses on the commitment workers make to ensure their safety and the safety of those around them. So here is the safety version of recognition:

  • Achieving risk reduction
  • Exhibiting Safe behaviors
  • Identifying unsafe behaviors performed by others 
  • Safety suggestions or ideas
  • Following company health, safety, and environmental protocol and procedures
  • Meeting or exceeding accurate and effective leading indicators (observations, inspections, training)

SO WHY DOES EMPLOYEE RECOGNITION DETERMINE THE SAFETY CULTURE

From a very early age, we crave recognition from parents, teachers, and friends. Unfortunately, our desire for a positive declaration is so strong that we can even perceive a neutral reaction as a negative one. If this occurs, employees and leaders lose the desire to achieve success and will focus on what they need to do to meet minimal requirements.

This continues to hold in most workplaces. However, if we can implement a successful employee recognition program, you will see an increase in the company safety culture and also achieve:

  • a higher level of retaining top talent
  • a significant increase in employee engagement in campaigns and programs
  • higher performance resulting in higher production
  • lower risk and safer behaviors

THE FUTURE

Recognition helps the workforce see that their company values them and their contributions to their safety and the success of their team and the company. This is particularly key when organizations are growing or looking for a change. It helps employees build stronger morale and confidence and motivates them to continue working safely and supporting the company’s goals. 

So, no matter how honorable the statement “it doesn’t matter who gets the credit” is considered, we all must embrace the recognition of employees who exhibit vital safety behaviors and fully achieve the leading indicators.

Denis is an Executive Director at the John Maxwell Group and is a certified leadership coach, trainer, keynote speaker, and DISC Behaviorial Consultant. Denis is a senior safety professional and is a strong passionate person of influence who is committed to teaching and communicating practical and relevant influencing techniques.  His unique, passionate, and emotionally driven style resonates with many, creating a desire to become an effective leader. 

You can contact Denis at dbaker@leaderinfluence.net for information on coaching, leadership, team and culture training, DISC Behavioral consulting, or to be an inspirational speaker at your next event.

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