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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Don’t Let Your Driver Safety Incentive Program Spell Trouble with OSHA

moneyThere’s been a surge of interest in fleet safety/driver safety incentive programs to capture the attention of drivers and influence a stronger focus on driving safely to avoid crashes, and resulting damages. 

We’ve seen many clients incorporate various reward programs into their efforts with impressive short-term results and questionable long-term sustainability.  Our recent article “Motivating Drivers to Make Safer Choices” (LINK) offers basic, foundational advice to bolster results before approaching incentives.

However you stack up your fleet safety incentive efforts, be certain that you are NOT digging a deeper hole on your Worker’s Compensation / Workplace Injury compliance efforts.

OSHA had put out a memorandum (LINK) on this issue in March of last year, and its relative importance has been recently re-surfaced among safety networks.

In part the memo states:

There are several types of workplace policies and practices that could discourage reporting and could constitute unlawful discrimination and a violation of section 11(c) and other whistleblower protection statutes. Some of these policies and practices may also violate OSHA’s recordkeeping regulations, particularly the requirement to ensure that employees have a way to report work-related injuries and illnesses. 29 C.F.R. 1904.35(b)(1). I list the most common potentially discriminatory policies below. OSHA has also observed that the potential for unlawful discrimination under all of these policies may increase when management or supervisory bonuses are linked to lower reported injury rates. While OSHA appreciates employers using safety as a key management metric, we cannot condone a program that encourages discrimination against workers who report injuries.[emphasis added]

It continues by citing several scenarios that would be considered problematic, and then delivers this message of mixed cautions and positive suggestions:

Finally, some employers establish programs that unintentionally or intentionally provide employees an incentive to not report injuries. For example, an employer might enter all employees who have not been injured in the previous year in a drawing to win a prize, or a team of employees might be awarded a bonus if no one from the team is injured over some period of time. Such programs might be well-intentioned efforts by employers to encourage their workers to use safe practices. However, there are better ways to encourage safe work practices, such as incentives that promote worker participation in safety-related activities, such as identifying hazards or participating in investigations of injuries, incidents or “near misses”. OSHA’s VPP Guidance materials refer to a number of positive incentives, including providing tee shirts to workers serving on safety and health committees; offering modest rewards for suggesting ways to strengthen safety and health; or throwing a recognition party at the successful completion of company-wide safety and health training. See Revised Policy Memo #5 – Further Improvements to VPP (June 29, 2011).

Incentive programs that discourage employees from reporting their injuries are problematic because, under section 11(c), an employer may not “in any manner discriminate” against an employee because the employee exercises a protected right, such as the right to report an injury. FRSA similarly prohibits a railroad carrier, contractor or subcontractor from discriminating against an employee who notifies, or attempts to notify, the railroad carrier or the Secretary of Transportation of a work-related personal injury. If an employee of a firm with a safety incentive program reports an injury, the employee, or the employee’s entire work group, will be disqualified from receiving the incentive, which could be considered unlawful discrimination.[emphais added] One important factor to consider is whether the incentive involved is of sufficient magnitude that failure to receive it “might have dissuaded reasonable workers from” reporting injuries. Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 68 (2006).

In addition, if the incentive is great enough that its loss dissuades reasonable workers from reporting injuries, the program would result in the employer’s failure to record injuries that it is required to record under Part 1904. In this case, the employer is violating that rule, and a referral for a recordkeeping investigation should be made. If the employer is a railroad carrier, contractor or subcontractor, a violation of FRA injury-reporting regulations may have occurred and a referral to the FRA may be appropriate. This may be more likely in cases where an entire workgroup is disqualified because of a reported injury to one member, because the injured worker in such a case may feel reluctant to disadvantage the other workgroup members.

So if you employ drivers and operate an incentive plan that rewards reductions in injuries (even if related to Motor Vehicle Crashes), you should consider whether your program could present issues with OSHA.

Another safety professional recently posted this suggestion (LINK) to help with incentive programs (and this is his own opinion, not necessarily reflective of SafetyFirst’s opinions):

An incentive program based on reporting of observations and near misses produces more and better results than zero accident/recordable programs, because it acknowledges the reality  that injuries or incidents will occur. When used correctly, leading indicators identify breakdowns or weaknesses before they become a problem.

Here are just two of many ideas for leading indicator incentive programs:

  • Establish goals for the number of observations reported: Be creative! This can be applied organization-wide, by department and at the employee level.
  • Near-Miss Committee: This is a function outside the traditional safety committee. Typically a near-miss investigation only involves management. This approach encompasses other personnel, including employees who can assist with root-cause analysis and prevention.

These types of programs still give the employee’s an incentive to be attentive to safety. 

To the extent that you may want to leverage observation reporting and near miss reporting, you may want to investigate our How’s My Driving Hotline program and MVR profiling programs.  Each is linked to robust online reporting, including 4-digit SIC benchmarking and easy telematics integration.  Neither program discourages reporting of actual injuries, but could be a surrogate / stand-in for incentive metrics.

Changing your reporting metrics from counting injuries to counting telematics alerts, camera-in-cabin events, how’s my driving reports and other factors may be helpful in reducing risk while avoiding the temptation for employees to suppress proper reports of actual workplace injuries.

Driving Too Fast for Conditions

Driving Too Fast PPTDrivers encounter all sorts of conditions from day-to-day. Heavy traffic, detours, construction zones, bad weather, breakdowns and accidents blocking multiple lanes….all of these situations can affect their attitude, energy and judgement.

Driving too fast for the conditions means going faster than reasonable based on the conditions around the vehicle. Most drivers think this is limited to bad weather, but it could be any of the issues mentioned above.

The FMCSA states;

“Driving too fast for conditions is defined as traveling at a speed that is greater than a reasonable standard for safe driving. Examples of conditions where drivers may find themselves driving too fast include: wet roadways (rain, snow, or ice), reduced visibility (fog), uneven roads, construction zones, curves, intersections, gravel roads, and heavy traffic.”

Driving too fast for conditions robs the operator of time needed to react, steer, brake and avoid problems. Speed increases stopping distance, and the raw energy stored in the vehicle — possibly translating what might have been a fender bender into a crash with ambulance and tow truck.

Learning self-discipline to slow down in response to challenging situations is one mark of a truly professional driver, or at least an operator who really cares about being safe and getting home to his/her family without incident.

Key Places to Slow Down

Several specific areas should be treated with extra caution regardless of the posted, legal speed limit:

  • streets near neighborhood playgrounds and/or schools
  • areas with heavy foot traffic or cycling lanes
  • construction zones
  • marked wildlife crossing areas
  • railroad grade crossings
  • curvy roads where sight lines are limited (can’t see around the bends)
  • approaching the crest of hills where stopped traffic may be waiting

Key Times to Slow Down

The most obvious time to slow down is during extreme weather conditions.  Additionally, driving at night may be a time to exercise appropriate caution.  Many crashes, especially fatal and serious injury crashes, occur because drivers failed to reduce their speed for one of these special conditions.

Practical Tips for Dealing with Adverse Conditions?

This month’s Ten-Minute Training Topic includes a list of practical tips for drivers to consider when planning their trips, tools that can be helpful and ways to stay calm despite the conditions they encounter.

Our Ten-Minute Training Topic program (Click HERE to see our topic calendar for 2013) features a monthly driver handout, manager’s supplemental report (with news items related to the topic, tips for reviewing safety policies, and more).  The program also includes a pair of slideshows — one for easy duplication, and one for showing in lounges or classroom settings with full graphics, photos and charts.

The program is part of our safety hotline system — to enable the 80% of drivers who NEVER get a complaint about their driving to benefit from safety awareness training while those who do get the occasional complaint have additional training resources available to help them change habits (of the 20% who get complaints only half get more than one complaint — it is this very small group of drivers who get report after report who need the most urgent attention from managers before they get a ticket or become involved in a collision.

Summary

The unfortunate, likely outcome of driving too fast for conditions is either a ticket or a collision.  Ultimately, adjusting your speed to cope with the conditions (however defined) is your responsibility.