Recently I had lunch with friend who spent more than 20 years as a health and safety executive for a Fortune 100 company. As part of his former role, he oversaw the fleet drivers for the company, ensuring their compliance with things like driver certifications and training and, more importantly, their adherence to safe driving policies.
As we talked, he shared stories about the tremendous effort it took to change the corporate culture as it related to safety, to change it into a culture that made safety a priority and took it seriously.
And that makes sense. We’ve all breezed past the warnings that come with instructions for anything that requires assembly. We’ve all crossed in the middle of the street when we knew we could make it. And I would venture to guess that most of us have checked email or sent a quick text when we were driving — despite recommendations, policies and even laws that tell us we shouldn’t.
But, why is that? Why aren’t policies enough to change culture and put safety front and center?
According to Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, we can attribute it to “the invisible fears and insecurities that keep us locked into behaviors even when we know rationally that they don’t serve us well.” Add to that, he says, “the anxiety that nearly all human beings experience in the face of change,” and it’s a bit easier to see the hurdles that organizations face when trying to change culture.
Those are the same hurdles that my friend faced when he tried to create a culture more focused on safety. He had the logistics worked out — the policies were written, reviewed and approved, the managers had all been informed of the new guidelines, the drivers were made aware of what was expected, including what the punishments were for non-adherence to the policy. Yet their behaviors, and the culture, remained the same. There was a disconnect. There were policies and rules, yet they were largely disregarded. Again, why weren’t the policies enough?
“We changed the policies, but we didn’t change their hearts and minds,” my friend told me. And that’s why it didn’t work.
And Schwartz would agree. “What most organizations typically overlook is the internal shift — what people think and feel — which has to occur in order to bring the strategy to life. This is where resistance tends to arise — cognitively in the form of fixed beliefs, deeply held assumptions and blind spots; and emotionally, in the form of the fear and insecurity that change engenders. All of this rolls up into our mindset, which reflects how we see the world, what we believe and how that makes us feel.”
So, with the framework and policies in place, my friend set to work on changing hearts and minds. While the policy prohibited the use of a phone while driving, it wasn’t changing behavior and drivers were often sneaking in a call or a quick text. So my friend asked them each to bring in a photo of their family or a loved one and he asked them to put that photo inside the vehicle they were driving. He then pointed out that the policies were designed to keep them (and others on the road) safe and that those photos represented who they needed to say safe for. And suddenly there was a change in behavior. Calls went to voicemail and text messages were returned later. My friend had broken through the fixed belief that a quick text doesn’t pose much harm and the fear of change that this would be too intrusive with a reminder of the things and people that his employees held dear. He changed their thinking and their beliefs — and, ultimately, he did change that company’s culture.
Change is hard. Technology can help accelerate change. Using software to enforce the safe driving policies of a company is another approach that would delivered immediate positive impact for my friend’s company. Start with the company policy, influence drivers with the softer approach and use technology to stop distracted driving behavior altogether. That is the most comprehensive approach to creating a safe driving culture.