Much has been written and taught about leadership. I read somewhere once that on Amazon, there are in excess of 480,000 books today that have to do with leadership, and/ or changing human behavior. If you ask 30 leadership development experts how to best achieve desired behaviors and results, you get 31 different answers. Not only are we confused, but despite our exhaustive efforts to drive organizational culture and employee behavior to desired result, we many times fall short of our goal.
Many of us as leaders desire to change the organization’s culture for the better. We define our organization’s mission/vision statements, and we are able to visualize clearly in our mind’s eye what the outcome of these mission/vision statements should be. But when it comes to identifying a road map to take us there, our internal GPS loses satellite connection!
Without a map to get us to the destination, we might end up anywhere. We know we wish to change undesired behaviors to desired behaviors, resulting in a cultural shift. This of course, as we all know, is a process and not an event, and certainly one that can seem so overwhelming and daunting, we paralyze our efforts just thinking about it. My focus then is to present you some simple down and dirty basic concepts for leading others into desired behavioral changes that work.
Learn by example
Let’s learn by example. Identify the behavior of your employees that you wish to change. For our purposes here we will identify our goal as enhancing our safety culture, and more specifically, changing our employee’s behavior so they will wear PPE (personal protective equipment) while performing maintenance tasks and while on the ramp, as defined by company policy.
It is imperative for us to understand two basic concepts: The current culture, whether safe or unsafe, has been established by employee patterns of behavior, in other words, what we say and what we do. These patterns of behavior, whether they occur by intent or by accident, and whether they occur by people or by systems, create our culture over time. The list of stimuli that trigger action or behavior is virtually unending, but consider some of the more common: deadlines and time pressure, regulations, training or lack thereof, “norms” or accepted practices whether safe or unsafe, complacency, feedback, “that’s the way we have always done it,” rumors …. the list goes on and on.
The second critical understanding is that consequences for current or past behavior have the strongest influence on future behavior. This is so important to grasp and where we will focus. A basic analysis of consequences supports that the consequence may be positive or negative, immediate or future, and certain or uncertain.
Positive, immediate, and certain
So let’s ask ourselves what type of consequence is the most powerful and most likely to trigger action and best maintain a behavior? Without a doubt it is those consequences which are positive, immediate, and certain. The least powerful consequences and least likely to trigger action and maintain a behavior obviously are those at the opposite end of the spectrum, those being negative, in the future, and uncertain. OK, you say, great concepts, but what do I do with them?
Let’s add some practicality and apply them to aviation operations in the maintenance shop, on the FBO ramp, or within corporate flight departments. We determined earlier our goal of enhancing our safety culture, and more specifically, changing our employee’s behavior so they will wear PPE while performing maintenance tasks and while on the ramp, as defined by company policy. Begin by asking the question, why would anyone work unsafely by not wearing PPE?
Wearing or not wearing PPE
Let’s consider the likely stimuli or factors that trigger the behavior of wearing or not wearing safety equipment as being: time demands, company policy, the boss desiring higher output levels, and feedback. Ask, and define, what are the consequences of not wearing PPE? A likely consequence is that the employee may get hurt. The questions then follow: is the consequence of getting hurt positive or negative? Is the consequence immediate or in the future? Is the consequence certain or uncertain?
Benefits of not wearing
Knowing that positive, immediate, and certain consequences drive and maintain a behavior as we stated earlier, are there any positive, immediate, and certain consequences to not wearing PPE? Of course, there are.
1. If the employee chooses not to wear PPE he eliminates extra time it takes to find PPE and put it on. He stays on schedule, a positive, immediate, and certain consequence.
2. If he does not wear the PPE he will not be mocked by others (he has experienced being mocked wearing PPE in the past) and he experiences a positive, immediate, and certain consequence for not wearing PPE.
3. When not wearing the PPE he does tasks faster, the boss praises him for productivity with positive feedback, and he experiences positive, immediate, and certain consequences for not wearing PPE.
4. When not wearing PPE he is more comfortable, a positive, immediate, and certain consequence.
The only negative consequence the employee sees to not wearing the PPE is getting hurt, and it is uncertain. The obvious behavior, do not wear PPE.
The analysis for the employee’s behavioral choice is further supported and maintained when he considers that wearing PPE supports negative, immediate, and certain consequences, with the exception of getting hurt, and the accumulation of those negative consequences support the positive consequences of not wearing PPE, and re-confirm the choice.
1. The sign says “Wear PPE.” By taking the extra time it takes to find it and put it on, he falls behind schedule and he will take flack from the boss, a negative, immediate, and certain consequence.
2. Wearing the PPE he will be mocked by others as has happened in the past, a negative, immediate, and certain consequence.
3. He is less comfortable when wearing PPE, a negative, immediate, and certain consequence.
4. If the employee wears the PPE he avoids getting hurt, a positive, immediate, and certain consequence.
The employee’s behavior has been guided by the past experience and the certainty of the negative consequences of wearing PPE.
What if the consequences of wearing PPE were different? What if the consequence was to avoid being hurt and the PPE was within reach, and additional time to find the PPE was not a factor? What if the PPE were of a quality that made it comfortable to wear and not uncomfortable, changing the consequence to positive? What if the employee were praised for wearing the PPE in lieu of taking flack for being behind, resulting in a positive consequence? What if that praise included a bonus for complying with company policy?
What we have essentially done here is move the consequences to the positive end of the spectrum where they are most powerful and most likely to have the strongest influence on behavior. Voila! The employee chooses to wear PPE and you have successfully changed the behavior. Over time this will result in an enhanced safety culture just as you desired the outcome to be.
One more example
Let’s apply one more example specific to aviation operations. Our employee is driving the tug too fast across the ramp. What triggers this behavior? Remember, consequences positive or negative are critical in the choice or the action taken. We determine the stimuli and factors that will influence the behavior to be time pressure demands of high customer traffic, others are waiting, the boss wants you to stay on schedule, feedback, and getting hurt.
So what do our consequences look like? If we drive faster we can get to more customers, avoid keeping others waiting, be more productive by finishing more jobs, and be praised for getting it all done … all of which are positive, immediate, and certain consequences, that far outweigh the only uncertain negative of maybe getting hurt. What an eye-opener!
In conclusion, what can we take from this to become a more effective leader? It is simpler than you may think. As leaders we are positioned within our organizations to create positive, immediate, and certain consequences to drive, direct, and change human behaviors. Examine your policies, processes, procedures, resources, and attitudes. Where they lead to negative consequences make the necessary changes to turn them to positive.
DeborahAnn Cavalcante earned her Master of Aeronautical Science, with a specialization in Safety Management from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, FL, and her Bachelor of Science from VA Tech in Business and Risk Management.