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Feedback and Reinforcement for 100% Behavior Change

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by John Austin in Behavior change, Feedback, Leadership, Safety

I saw a news article describing a road work crew that had a horrible injury in which a dump truck driver ran over a coworker who was digging in the same area.

The company was reported to have disabled the proximity warning alarms on the vehicles…because they were alarming too often. The primary corrective action specified was to retrain the driver for spotting hazards in the work area.

This was infuriating to me because we know this won’t work and that we will probably see more road workers killed from just trying to do their jobs.  And yet, we also know that the most common corrective action for injuries and incidents is to re-train, and one of the most common root causes identified is “lack of awareness”.

This often leads to great debate in the world of workplace safety regarding exactly how to ensure that people follow standards and work safely.

The thing is, we don’t have to debate it very much, because the primary solutions being used today are highly ineffective…training and awareness. We know this from the research that has been published in the field.

I’ll summarize some findings below to make my point:

Awareness: We have long known that awareness building does not change behavior.  It doesn’t hurt, but it generally results in 2-3% behavior change. Writing a policy, hanging a sign, posting a notice…these are generally ineffective strategies when taken alone.

Task Clarification:
If you add a clarification of the behaviors required to avoid injury in specific situations, we can raise this to 10-15% behavior change. Most safety training only results in about 20% behavior change.

Supervisor Endorsement: If your supervisor speaks to you directly, and explains that he or she really wants you to do those actions, then you can get 40-50% behavior change.

Feedback & Reinforcement: If we add feedback and reinforcement to the mix, then you can get 70-100% behavior change or more.

We’ve known this all since the early 1970’s. However, just like in the data described above, just knowing something does not make us act on it.
We have to create the right environment for those leadership behaviors to come out of people, in order to get them to happen regularly.

If you want to learn more about this topic and how to use behavioral science to help you create a positive work environment email me or comment below.

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