A Tool for Culture Change

"Engagement-based safety" utilizes incentives as they should be used, rewarding employees for proactively doing the right things, says KL&P Motivation's Jon Kaufman.

Almost every company using KL&P Motivation's Culture Management Systems™ online platform had tried incentives previously without much success. Jon Kaufman, vice president of the San Carlos, Calif.-based company, said he knows why most of those previous efforts fizzled.

Jon Kaufman, vice president of KL&P MotivationKaufman has designed promotional and incentive programs for corporations for more than 30 years. He said when incentives are used incorrectly -- which is most of the time, in his opinion -- when you use them as "if/then" rewards, you run the risk of setting up an unhealthy competition, one where most people lose by chance. "That, you don't want. What we want is for you to win by being engaged," he said, adding that all of us who work for a living arrive at work deciding whether we'll be engaged or disengaged, and several large studies have shown most U.S. workers are either disengaged or not engaged.

Incentives should not become a zero-sum game where, if the site or unit hits a million man-hours, for example, everybody wins -- but everybody loses if the magic number is not achieved. Applying them this way has given the word "incentives" a black eye, Kaufman said.

He explained that the platform combines a learning management system, a safety platform, and a database structure. These three elements can be used for sales, quality, or productivity measuring, but in the safety arena the goal is engagement.

"Unless you have a system that gets your arms around engagement rates, group by group, you can't get started. How do you engage a workforce that is clearly distracted? I mean, we all are. We're being bombarded by a million messages a day," he said. "The basic underpinning is if you subscribe to the notion that sustainable safety improvement is handled in kind of the DNA of the company – in other words, in the culture of the company – then using a culture management system, using this platform, goes about engaging employees by rewarding and recognizing them based on their proactive involvement in that culture. As opposed to simply a milestone program that rewards people on what doesn't happen – no accidents, or whatever."

Employees at a site using the platform are members with personal accounts. They earn points in several ways:

  • By providing discretionary effort in 25 to 30 activities chosen by the facility's safety committee, such as submitting a near-miss report, performing a job safety analysis, having their hearing tested annually, or participating in a blood drive. Or they can be activities such as participating in a fun run or a company charitable activity, which aligns the workers' goals and values with the company's -- the definition of engagement.
  • By being caught in the act of doing something safely. In these cases, supervisors can award point coupons when they see proper behaviors demonstrated. "When you're using PPE properly or when you're using a ladder properly, or whatever, a supervisor can decide on the spot to recognize you," he said. This can be useful to increase participation in safety meetings; Kaufman said he suggests placing a coupon on the front of every chair in the front row, then telling the attendees, "If only you'd sat up front, you'd all have earned 100 points."
  • By making use of the integrated training center, where a library of 400 interactive courses is available. The company chooses a handful of courses customized to that facility (e.g., chemical safety). Courses can be set up to provide full OSHA 10-hour training, MSHA training, or required hospital/health care training.

Just installing the platform is beneficial. "It can take five to seven years to turn around a culture, and knowing that, it gets you off on the right track because it requires a lot of people to collaborate," said Kaufman. The company is encouraged to form a new safety committee or a new culture improvement committee, bringing in several people from all levels of the organization for periods of time to contribute. Committee members are given specific tasks that begin with creating the theme. They choose around 30 discretionary items for which points can be earned and then score them depending on how important they are to the culture. Then they decide on the incentive items and the value to be assigned to them, starting with about 300 choices among millions of possibilities.

"This requires a broad spectrum of representatives from different departments, from different hierarchies, to kind of build the system, but we guide them to do that," Kaufman said. "Just by doing that, a lot of improvement can be seen. It's kind of like the old Hawthorne effect: When the lights go up, productivity goes up, and when the lights go down, productivity goes up. A lot of the positive vibes can happen from the [fact] that 'Management is now interested, management is now paying attention, so let's build this together.' "

Setting the Incentives Budget
Asked whether the type of incentives or their value matters much with this approach, Kaufman said there is no ideal formula, although he said the incentives industry suggests a formula that is based on a percentage of the recipient's annual earnings. He said KL&P has concluded $25 a month as a maximum of what someone can earn is enough to get their attention; the employer should offer incentives with a wide range of point values. For budgeting purposes, the employer should put in $400 to $500 maximum per recipient per year, he advised.

"Our system doesn't give you $1,000 for completing a job safety analysis, it gives you 100 points, and 100 points in our system is worth $5. It's a start, it's an igniter," he said. "Incentives don't become this big, huge thing where if you don't do X . . . . The things you do to win points in our system contribute to a strong safety culture."

In January 2011, KL&P Motivation announced it was taking over an AT&T incentive program in which more than 15,000 property leasing agents participate. That account is the largest to date to use the platform. Kaufman said it can work with as few as 100 employees, but his company prefers to start with at least 250 workers. It uses a hierarchy-based database, allowing groups to be added without incurring extra fees. For example, one customer using the platform to improve its safety culture added several states to increase its participation to 2,300 workers, but the company has 23,000 employees in these groups who ultimately can be added, he said. Managers can see reports organized by group, district, plant, etc.

Endorsing OSHA's Position on Incentives
In speeches and webcasts, OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels has stated his agency's position on incentives. "We strongly disapprove of programs that discipline workers for reporting injuries, or that offer workers parties and prizes for not reporting injuries, or programs that award managers large bonuses for driving down their injury rates," he said in a Nov. 16, 2010, speech at the State Plan Safety and Health Symposium in Tumwater, Wash.

"Here's an example of a negative incentive -- the kind of program we don't want to see," Michaels said, according to the text posted by OSHA (www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=SPEECHES&p_id=2320). "A union official at a big petroleum company contacted OSHA a while ago when he saw a 'Safety Message' circulated to contract workers who were building an addition to a refinery. This 'Safety Message' from the general contractor and the refinery management said, in essence, 'If you get injured on the job, you're suspended, and if you don't report the injury, you're suspended.' Wait -- it gets better. The policy warned: 'If you're a supervisor and your workers get hurt on the job, you'll be suspended, too!' The union official who saw this letter had the good sense to contact OSHA -- for which I'm grateful. This allowed OSHA to intervene and make sure that this policy was not implemented. After a discussion with OSHA, the refinery manager rescinded this policy because it doesn't encourage safe work practices; it only makes workers afraid to report their injuries. That's the opposite of what we want."

"Not all safety incentive programs are bad," Michaels continued. "Some employers have programs that reward workers for demonstrating safe work practices, reporting hazards or near misses, or participating in health and safety training or on a health and safety committee. These employers have a better understanding of injury and illness prevention programs. They recognize that focusing on positive behavior will be more productive for a company than punishing workers who report injuries."

Kaufman said he and Michaels are thinking alike. "They don't want programs based on lagging indicators; I couldn't agree more," said Kaufman. He said I2P2, the Injury and Illness Prevention Programs rule that is a Michaels priority, is the right idea: a proactive, preventative approach because it would require employers to find and fix recognized hazards before they contribute to injuries, illness, or deaths.

No More 'Old-School' Thinking
The platform has been used successfully by mining companies, construction contractors, and oil & gas companies, among others. These sectors are considered high-hazard industries, and some make heavy use of contract workers and have unionized workforces. Asked whether these are difficult worker populations to motivate and industries where it is particularly challenging to accomplish significant, long-term safety improvements, Kaufman said that question is commonly asked early in conversations with potential clients and others. It starts with dysfunctional cultures – labor vs. management, management vs. union, a management command-and-control attitude that was the norm 30 years ago, in his words.

"As we get deeper and deeper into the new millennium, I think these ways of thinking are really being looked at as the old school," he said. "More and more companies are understanding that at least to have a healthy culture, you have to have one where the barriers are broken down between the we's and the they's, and everybody's got to play a part in the improvement of the culture." He said most foremen are elevated to foremen because they were the best technicians, but they are now managers who haven't had training to do that job. The platform provides leadership training, which is part of the concept of sustainable culture improvement. Top to bottom, it seeks to change the roles – foremen and supervisors change to become coaches, top-level managers change to become leaders.

A five- to seven-year process takes place in which all of this is utilized, he repeated. Kaufman said it doesn't have to be expensive, it just requires using the same toolbox and the same terms.

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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