Our recent webinar on sustaining the culture change process (now available on You Tube, much to my chagrin) prompts me to consider the importance of nurturing the observer/coaching team that underpins the whole system.

Closeup of hands holding seedling in a group

OK so you’ve set up a state of the art culture change process. You’ve got trained and skilled observers/coaches carrying out conversations in the workplace and these individuals are capturing data from the conversations on a user friendly database. The database has a social networking front end that’s directly prompting interaction and is capable of producing behavioural trend graphs. Outputs from the database are regularly considered by a steering group who take corrective action to head off injuries before they occur.

All OK so far then.

However, a decent database will also allow you monitor the performance of the observers too by measuring:

  • Contact rate.
  • Who is carrying out the conversations and who isn’t.
  • % of safe and unsafe discussions carried out by each observer.
  • Whether observers are leaving additional comments expanding on the detail of the conversation.

There are two fundamental problems that commonly arise among the observer team.

1. People don’t carry out their observations

Despite the high quality training at the outset of the programme which initially prompted the observers to carry out the discussions, after time their motivation has waned. Many observers are still active but others have evidently lost faith and stopped.

The solution may lie in how well the observers are nurtured in your organisation. Consider the following:

  • How often are the observers gathered in small groups, thanked for their efforts and asked what can be done to improve the system?
  • What direct feedback do the observers get that demonstrates that their efforts are making a difference? Clever people call this ‘extinction’, if my behaviour results in no perceived useful effect then I will eventually stop that behaviour.

If the answer to the questions above is none, never, little or rarely then this could be the root of the problem.

Outside the process issues some people may need personal encouragement. What you do is select an individual who hasn’t hit their conversation target drag them in front of the entire site strength to be denounced then send them to ‘People’s Prison No14’ for some ‘political realignment’. Sadly the regressive labour laws in this country mean that this is not an option so you have to resort to the ‘arm around the shoulder’ and personal coaching to re-motivate these individuals.

2. The quality of the discussions is poor

In the worst instance this could be individuals making up the detail of the conversation at their desk to give the impression that they have hit their conversation target. More common problems include:

  • People exclusively discussing safe activity or unsafe activity, in the latter case the process becomes viewed only as a snagging exercise.
  • Some elements of the conversation are lost. Commonly, people forget to use praise to reinforce safe behaviour and/or fail to establish the cause for unsafe behaviour.
  • The conversations become superficial. The observer doesn’t really engage the person they are talking to or carry out a really searching discussion to discover what’s really happening in the workplace. Bearing in mind that in these engagements it isn’t necessarily what you see that’s important but what the discussion reveals.

The only way to resolve these problems is via a process of mentoring the observers, this is linked to some extent to the ‘nurturing the observers’ points made earlier. Effectively the coaches (observers) need regular coaching by a coach.

In summary

For your culture change process to stand the test of time you have to look after your observers – they’re the people that make it work.