Some basic (and up to date) knowledge about how motivation works is one of the crucial tools you need as a safety professional to get things done.
When trying to influence people to act (change their behaviour, implement changes to the system or organisation, invest, etc.) you need to understand what motivates them.
Using the argument, “If you think safety is expensive, try an accident” can only be used a very few times before you lose credibility. You have to identify other levers which move humans.
We have many outdated assumptions what moves people. The “stick and carrot” approach is one such assumption, it is scientifically shown to only work in a very narrow set of circumstances and is actually counter-productive for most modern human activities which require even rudimentary cognitive skill.
Yet many of the ways we try to influence behaviour in business today is based on this stick and carrot approach.
Just Culture has addressed the “stick” side of the argument and explained to organisations that using punishment is usually really counterproductive.
However it turns out that the “carrots” are equally problematic when misapplied.
This is eloquently explained in a TED talk by Daniel Pink, the author of “Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us”
Why is this important for safety management and specifically safety communication?
The 3 main things that influence intrinsic motivation; autonomy, purpose and mastery are often not addressed in the way we communicate about safety problems.
Very often, safety communication is very directive (reducing a sense of autonomy), does not explain why it matters (= no purpose) and leaves the receiver of the safety communication feeling incompetent by being told what not to do which reduces a sense of mastery of the task. (Think about the “be safe” type poster campaigns you see all too often.)
As a result we risk alienating staff and management with our safety communications about the (potentially very valid) safety solutions we try to promote.
This can lead to a decrease in motivation to solve safety issues rather than a sense of optimism that the organisation is addressing the issue which might present personal risk.
About the Author
Jan is an experienced Safety practitioner who is always on the lookout to improve SMS and the management of safety. He coaches organisations and individuals in Safety Management.
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