Providing Coaching Feedback for Enhanced Performance

Driver safety programs start with what managers need to do to locate, recruit, screen and train/educate candidates to become qualified operators.  Most of these programs then skip to dealing with crashes and evaluating operator turnover.  The costs associated with letting crashes push the turnover cycle are huge; however, by adopting an assertive and fair coaching mechanism, “at-risk” behaviors can be detected early in the timeline.

Additionally, those drivers who repeatedly appear in front of supervisors for coaching feedback (positive directions on how to avoid repeating the negative performance) could be cycled back through refresher education — a far more beneficial outcome and less costly than having to replace an operator.

Driver Safety Cycles

An often overlooked, but critical management task is monitoring the performance of existing operators and providing timely, relevant feedback to help them eliminate bad habits and replace them with better habits.

Many driver safety experts place a great value on feedback mechanisms for two reasons — when done well they produce great results, and not all driver safety issues can be fixed by more traditional training programs (i.e. 42 minute, online course delivered in three modules, etc.)

Look at this quote from a recent FMCSA document (link):

Additionally, experiences from the insurance industry as reported in trade sources supplement the literature on driver behaviors, suggesting that risky drivers are more than simply those with a lack of skill or inadequate training. In an interview with Peter Van Dyne, technical director for Liberty Mutual, he explains that “many crashes are caused by drivers’ habits and practice, not by their lack of technical knowledge. For example, a driver may be careless about making lane changes, or the use of cruise control, even though he or she knows the proper procedures” (as cited in Leavitt, 2005). This reinforces the notion that safety cannot simply be improved with more training. Often drivers possess the skill and knowledge needed to drive safely, but a bad habit or outside factors, such as a weak safety climate or lack of communication within an organization, will intervene and result in unsafe driving behaviors.

In that same article, it was interesting to read about feedback delivered from technology versus a personal approach:

As in the focus groups, the survey results suggested that, even though drivers may find feedback from technology helpful, they would still like feedback from a real person in addition to the technology. The majority of drivers reported that when it comes to receiving feedback from a person, they would most like feedback from a safety director or their direct supervisor…

The problem facing managers is twofold:

  1. Figuring a time-efficient way to spot and document meaningful (urgently actionable) issues without being overwhelmed by “background noise” data.
  2. Developing coaching skills to deliver feedback in a way that avoids needless confrontation and focuses on improving results without spiraling into a blame-game.

First, multiple mechanisms exist to gather performance issue indicators –

  1. How’s My Driving actually works very well despite the myths and misconceptions about crank calls and wasted time.  Most safety managers who actually use the program have documented that 99 out of 100 call reports are valid and worth the time to investigate and use as a coaching tool.  This is a great statistic since most fleets only get two reports per 100 vehicles per month – that’s one “bad” report every three to five years for smaller fleets.  Best of all, the program is designed to provide helpful feedback to benefit the driver, not penalize them. (80% of the drivers NEVER get a report, but 10% get multiple calls despite having the same sticker as all of their peers in their fleet!)
  2. Periodic MVR review or profiling — pulling the history of police reported crashes and moving violations for each driver enables a fleet safety team to develop a baseline of expected performance and use that as an objective measuring stick.  If drivers are accruing violations for speeding, they should receive feedback before their license is suspended for too many infractions.  Additionally, by combining additional data points such as preventable crashes (reported internally), “automated enforcement violations” from red-light cameras and radar-speed-cameras, andBlended Risk Score how’s my driving events, et.al. the fleet can get a clearer picture of which drivers are taking excessive risks while behind the wheel.  In an article that appeared in Construction Executive driver safety expert Peter Van Dyne states “Annually monitor driver performance to compare each driver’s actual performance against established safe driving expectations. However, such monitoring provides limited insight if the company has not established the right expectations. The company should review the individual’s driving record, crashes and compliance with company fleet safety expectations using a combination of observation, technology and manager feedback.”
  3. Telematics or GPS systems provide alerts on harsh braking, excessive speed, heavy acceleration and excessive sway/swerve.  Some even provide speed limit alerts based on mapping of speed limits throughout the territory.  The issue is that the pile of alerts generated in a given day or week can become excessive, requiring a filter to separate the “urgently actionable” from the “background noise”.  Additionally, it can become tedious to keep repeating “Slow Down” to your drivers if they continue to speed.  Clearly, enhanced feedback strategies are needed to translate “DATA” into “Behavior Safety Results”
  4. Camera in Cabin systems capture video of crashes so that you can tell drivers what they did wrong and why they violated your safety policies.  Typically this leads to hurt feelings, animosity, bruised egos and fear among other drivers that their own mistakes might be documented for posterity (or court).  Still, these programs could be tailored to provide a more positive coaching experience and in those circumstances may be able to provide a long-term, sustainable solution via coaching programs instead of playing “gotcha!” games with drivers.

Other programs could include supervisory ride alongs, road trailing (following behind company vehicles to make discreet observations) or incorporating feedback from customers.

Secondly, once a data gathering program is in place, supervisors need to develop practical skills on how to provide feedback on a regular basis.  This is best characterized as delivering material coaching on critical performance issues (i.e. complacency, failure to adhere to policy, excessive risk taking, et.al.) to an operator with the intent of helping them enhance their performance before a truly negative outcome occurs (i.e. crash, injury, etc.)

CoachingWhen it’s time to talk to the driver, it’s important to have a strategy.  Many supervisors don’t know where to start and quickly end up putting the driver on the defensive – unwilling to consider whether they could change their own habits to prevent injuries or crashes.  Drivers who fear coaching sessions because they’re perceived to be unhelpful, masked punishment will push back through defensive arguing and negotiating over the details of the incident regardless of how the data was developed (i.e. how’s my driving versus telematics — the driver will argue that the system failed in some manner and that the driver is blameless).  The key is to avoid blame setting by either the supervisor or driver, and focus on getting both parties to agree on what the expected level of performance must be and how to establish a goal to keep performance within those boundaries.

Coaching Tips TitleSafetyFirst has produced an online, interactive training module, a stand alone video and numerous power points and word documents to help supervisors prepare for coaching sessions.  In addition to these proprietary resources, we often recommend articles on providing feedback such as the recent one featured in Forbes (click HERE for the full article).

In summary, the Forbes article, titled “Are You Making Any Of These Common Feedback Mistakes?” covers five key mistakes folks make when providing feedback.

  1. The Pillow Effect – sometimes we’re so concerned with the potential emotional response (or bruising) that could happen when delivering feedback about negative performance that we go overboard in placing “pillows” of false praise to cushion the blow of the actual feedback.  Sometimes referred to as the “Sandwich” of praise, criticism and more praise, this approach more often confuses the operator because we’re sending mixed signals.  The article states “Studies have shown that this type of feedback leads to confusion, and causes a distraction from the essential problem that needs to be fixed. Just as bad, the feedback can come across as insincere and condescending. If you’re the recipient of such feedback, you’re generally just waiting to get to the real point — and preferring to be treated like an adult who can handle the truth. In fact, the only person who feels better from this approach is the one giving the feedback.”  Instead of trying to cushion the blow, be direct and honest.  Explain why this coaching session was triggered (we don’t want anyone getting hurt and we take safety seriously, etc.) and outline the ideal outcome of the session.  Perhaps the start of the conversation might sound like this:  “I’d like us to talk about and agree on a plan to do things differently to reduce the chances of a crash – part of that plan will need to include no-fault training that offers a basic refresher on key topics – not because you’re at fault, but because we need to document actions taken and because it’s never a bad time to get a refresher on safety.”  This is clear and avoids the “good news, bad news, good news” sandwich that leaves operators confused as to what’s actually happening – did I do well or poorly?  Am I in trouble and don’t really know it yet?
  2. Lack of specificity – as supervisors and managers, the more precisely we define the issue, the more constructive the conversation can be.  Saying things like “you need to be more careful” don’t help most operators very much.  Explaining why most drivers don’t realize that they’re following too closely can get them into trouble with inadequate reaction time and stopping distance is more helpful when trying to help drivers curb their tailgating habits.
  3. Wrong type of feedback feedback is not a one-size-fits-all effort.  The article states it well “When people are new at a task they need more positive feedback. As they move to a higher level of experience, they crave constructive criticism to stay sharp and increase performance.”  So a rookie driver may need more details and examples of how to do it right, but a seasoned vet may need a blunt discussion about following the rules instead of taking liberties with policies that are in place to protect them from getting hurt.  The article references a skills versus will chart to help us diagnose whether the underlying issue is one of skills (don’t know what to do or how to do it correctly) versus will (knows how to do it correctly, but isn’t willing to follow the procedure due to complacency or other issue).  http://www.primarygoals.org/general/skill-will-matrix/
  4. Wrong setting – “Where you give feedback matters greatly. The adage to praise in public and punish in private exists for a reason. Giving feedback in a collective environment, like a weekly meeting, can cause embarrassment and stress. Even if you as a manager don’t think it’s particularly harsh, that doesn’t mean the recipient feels the same. A quick, critical comment about an employee’s performance can have a disproportionate impact.”  Giving your operator a head’s up about the need to have a coaching session gives them time to prepare, but it also gives you time to prepare yourself to focus on the benefits of improved performance, elimination of sloppy habits and the reduced chances of being hurt due to a crash – even if it’s another driver’s “fault”.
  5. Over-reliance on positive or negative feedback – “Depending on our personalities, some of us find it easier to provide one kind of feedback over the other. For example, some highly analytical people tend to lean on constructive feedback, and can find positive feedback to be fluff. It’s important to know what you gravitate towards, and to shore up your weakness so you provide a balance of feedback.”  Regarding safety issues, it’s important to avoid the blame game and instead focus on working as a team to set short-term, highly achievable goals that reduce risk, comply with policy and encourage the operator to leave the session empowered to do their job in an expert manner – for the benefit of both the operator’s well being and the company’s mission.

Training Matters

Many employers are sending their operators to online training modules as refreshers.  This is a good approach, unless the training is boring, tedious or feels like punishment.  The average online training session for driver safety issues runs about 42 minutes long!  The average adult attention span is under 15 minutes, and most television ads have been cut from 30 seconds to 15 seconds in recent years.

The selection of training content could undermine all of your coaching feedback efforts in an instant.  How?  If you ask a driver to submit to a mind-numbing series of modules on why they should be using their turn signals consistently it will surely feel like punishment after the fact.

SafetyFirst has pioneered a series of HD, broadcast quality videos that combine live action, talking heads, onscreen animations, and limited text presentations which engage drivers and give them the reminder in less than 5 minutes.

The programs have been praised by safety managers as comprehensive and by drivers who feel respected as professionals by the brevity of the presentation.

The ten-question quiz must be passed with a minimum score of 80% and is unique to each driver (pulling randomly from a pool of twenty questions, and presenting the answer choices in randomized order each time).

The program has been through an extensive beta-test to increase the “user friendliness” for drivers and their managers.  For those fleets who need i-pad support, our programs are NOT flash-based and will work on any hand-held device (for those “gather around” meetings at job sites where all can group around a laptop to watch the presentation and then take paper-based quiz sheets to document their understanding of the content).  We have twelve topics in English and the five most common driving issues available in Spanish, too.

Current Safety Hotline (blue sticker program) clients can pay the upgrade fee to turn on the system, or they can purchase DVDs of individual titles if they’re not set up for online training due to firewall/IT issues.

Summary

Feedback is critical to assuring success in any driver safety effort.  For fleets of company cars, supervisors may want to examine MVR data (provided and profiled by our E-DriverFile program) for coaching and refresher training.  Other fleets may use telematics or How’s My Driving hotlines (like our “Blue Sticker Program”) to target drivers who may be “at-risk” of becoming involved in a collision if their behaviors are ignored.

When you invest time to help supervisors improve their feedback skills, you’ll get a much larger dividend than from safety coaching alone – they’ll be better equipped to provide feedback on all sorts of performance issues (i.e. idling, customer service, etc.)

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2 thoughts on “Providing Coaching Feedback for Enhanced Performance

  1. Pingback: The Increasing Urgency of Driver Safety | Safety Is My Goal's Blog

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