Engagement: The Key to Changing Your Safety Culture

Engagement is different from motivation. Phil La Duke of Rockford Greene examines why a motivated employee will work hard for a week to win a prize, but an engaged employee will work hard every week because it is good for the organization, and what’s good for the organization is good for them.

Engagement is different from motivation. Phil La Duke of Rockford Greene examines why a motivated employee will work hard for a week to win a prize, but an engaged employee will work hard every week because it is good for the organization, and what’s good for the organization is good for them.

The most important book on worker safety of the 21st century may already have been written, and it’s not about worker safety. I’ve been reading the recently released book, Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT™ by Dr. Paul Marciano, and it struck me that what he is talking about transcends organizational development in a general sense and hits a bulls-eye on some points that many of the purveyors of safety culture products miss completely.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that Dr. Marciano did have contact with me as he researched the book, and while my involvement fell far short of anything approaching a contribution, it is fair to say that I was a sympathetic audience to his message. The book itself is a great read and should be required reading in any curriculum that confers a degree or certificate in worker health and safety. Frankly, I recommend that it be a part of any leadership or supervisory skills training. It’s that good.

My intent is not to create a commercial for this book but, as I read it, I keep thinking about behavior-based safety (BBS) and employee recognition programs aimed at safety. So much has resonated within me that I thought I would take a moment and apply the book’s key points to worker safety and the elusive hunt for the Utopian safety culture.

According to Marciano, recognition and rewards don’t work chiefly because – and he gives 20 reasons why – the programs focus on changing behaviors and not on engaging employees. People who are motivated change their behaviors to achieve a short-term goal, but they don’t make the lifestyle changes necessary to sustain meaningful results.

In terms of changing the safety culture, recognition and reward system tend to change the organizational climate, but do little to change the culture. And since recognition and reward (along with discipline) form the foundation of most BBS systems, these types of systems appear to get results … but often the organizations that use them find that once the rewards become routine (or worse yet, entitlements) the organization must either “up the ante” by increasing the reward or risk falling back into old, bad habits. In other words, the initial gains can only be sustained by spending more and more time and money motivating employees to work safe.

Engagement is different from motivation. Whereas motivation seeks to manipulate behavior for a short time, engagement seeks to win over individuals such that they link their own personal success to that of the overall organization. A motivated employee will work hard for a week to win a sales prize, but an engaged employee will work hard every week because working hard is good for the organization, and what’s good for the organization is good for him or her.

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Phil La Duke

Phil La Duke is a partner in the Performance Assurance Practice at ERM: Environmental Resources Management, 3352 128th Avenue, Holland, MI 49424, 313-244-2525, www.erm.com. You can also follow Phil and reach him on his blogs at www.philladuke.wordpress.com.

1 Comment



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  • Hi Phil,
    I believe there is one thing we all have to appreciate here: the fact that Engagement is another power source of “Motivation.” I truly believe that from your statement … it sounds to me that the Motivation you are talking about is really more skewed toward the “Incentives,” which I believe focus on the short-term and are one of the riskiest methods for motivating employees.
    Joseph

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