What are the parts of a complete Observation? (Observations, Part 3 of 4)

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When looking for commonalities in all observation program, you can be sure that elements of these four process steps exist throughout programs. The following sections are an example of how I’ve trained leadership team personnel to perform observations, and to remind them of the different parts that go into a complete observation. There are three customers every time you perform an observation – the workers, the observer, and the company – make sure the feedback for what was learned comes across correctly to all customers – the observation is for you to learn what is going on, the feedback is for the worker, and the documentation for tracking and trending is for the department/company to track and trend for performance improvement and possible training needs assessment.


What issues should the observed employees be trying to improve? This could be related to the individual or to the entire department’s performance. Have you ever heard of the term, “Drive-by” as it relates to observations? Quick looks without a plan actually frustrate people you are observing. Keep in mind, observers expect workers to be planned and ready for the work; observees have expectations of them as well, so if you are observing, be prepared knowing what you are looking for when you show up and be friendly, interested, and appreciative.


This is the most obvious step where the observer physically gest out to the field (defined as “wherever work is happening” – not just within the power block). Many observation programs have a scorecard of observable behaviors to guide you into watching for the correct things. There is a case to be made for having a plan of what you are looking for in an observation, because if you didn’t know ahead of time, this step would be wide open. If you don’t know to look for something, you may not find it when performing the observation. The best advice I can give anyone on this step is to take good notes, being very specific when you saw something “noteworthy” – the procedure step (or when it happened), and where you physically were when you saw it – this way when you give feedback, it comes across as very factual (which leads to less defensiveness). When you say, “On x procedure step when you were doing x at x location, I saw x and wanted to ask you if this is the way you normally do it, because it sets the new standard for how anyone else performing the task should be performing it.” This feedback can be very specific and helpful to the people being observed. Critical feedback should be delivered in a similar, fact-based way, and keeping notes really helps on the next phase.


“It’s not an observation, until there is a conversation.” Nothing can be more abrasive than an observation performed when the people who are being observed do not even know it. Observers need to make it professional, polite, and part of the program to leave the people observed with critical feedback that either coaches or reinforces their behaviors. Observers be warned – this is the most important step, and it is up to them to reinforce desired behaviors. If more than one observer is watching a task, give feedback together if possible.


Capturing what you have seen and learned so it can be retrieved, tracked and trended has benefits for the organization. The initial coaching or reinforcing was beneficial to the individuals, but tracking the observables is beneficial to the organization.

Coming soon: Part 4 of 4 in this Observation series, “What do I need to start an effective Observation program?”


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