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How do you get people ready for what MAY happen at work?
When I was a frontline manager in the service industry, I was required to run a safety seminar for my entire location twice per year - before the busy summer and holiday periods. Every employee was scheduled to attend the two-hour meeting on a Saturday morning.
I covered a checklist of workplace safety topics, including how to handle:
Active shooter situations
I was an experienced manager, but I certainly wasn’t an expert in these things. Still, I tried to make the session as practical and interactive as possible while sticking to the script. We’d walk through scenarios on how people in different roles should respond to different situations. I left plenty of time for Q&A, even if some of the Qs were a bit far-fetched. At the end of the required two hours, everyone lined up to sign a sheet to confirm they were present.
They attended the seminar. They heard the message. They were marked “complete.” But …
Did they feel prepared to handle a bad situation?
Would they remember what to do if/when sh*t got real?
Were they confident I was doing everything I could to keep them safe at work?
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It’s now 15 years later, but I still think about those safety seminars, especially when I read about bad things happening to frontline workers. Lately, it’s been the escalation in retail theft. According to research by Axonify …
50% of retail associates have witnessed a theft in the past 6 months.
33% have experienced a violent situation involving a customer.
21% don’t feel prepared to handle this kind of situation situation.
40% are scared to go to work.
We can’t stop every bad thing from happening. I wish we could, but common sense says otherwise. We can deter plenty, but we can’t prevent everything. What we can do is make sure everyone we support is prepared to take the right action if/when something does happen. A smart decision in the moment can prevent a bad situation from becoming a lot worse. But this kind of preparation requires a lot more than a two-hour, bi-annual, early morning safety seminar.
Expectations are set as soon as a person is hired. Safety is prioritized during onboarding, not buried amongst corporate trivia and product specs people will never remember anyway. The training is realistic, practical and designed in collaboration with experts. Readiness is verified by a manager before the person joins the operation.
We know people are going to forget most of what’s covered in new hire training because there’s so much going on during those first few days. That’s why safety is reinforced over and over and over again. Microlearning scenarios challenge an employee’s ability to make the right decision. Immediate feedback and follow-up coaching are provided on a 1:1 basis.
Management presence is an effective deterrent. That’s why managers are constantly walking the workplace, checking to make sure everything is going as planned. This includes observing employee behavior and spot checking to see how they’d handle a difficult situation if it were to occur. Employees know the manager has their back if/when needed.
There’s a reason Steph Curry is Steph Curry (basketball reference!). He doesn’t wait until the big game to hit a 40-foot jumper. He’s hit that shot over and over again in practice. By game time, it’s automatic. This same mentality is applied to workplace safety. Employees are drilled with immersive practice activities. They walk through the motions for real - not just on a computer - so they don’t have to convert theory to action for the first time in the moment of need.
Don’t leave people wondering, especially if bad things happen elsewhere. Communicate early and often so people know how you’re adapting to the changing environment. Provide employees with channels to ask questions, share ideas and voice concerns (including beyond the local team). Make workplace safety a constant conversation. Instead of designating a safety month, foster an always-on safety culture.
I faced my fair share of challenging situations as a frontline manager. Thankfully, they were pretty tame by comparison. Still, I wish I had employed a robust preparation strategy with my teams instead of just doing a better-than-average job checking the box.
How do you make sure people in your workplace are prepared to deal with bad things that may (but hopefully never) happen?
Until next time, be well. JD