Management Matters: Driving Behavior

What type of consequence is the most powerful and most likely to trigger action and maintain a behavior?


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.

Negative consequences

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.

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