Overcoming complacency – It’s all about helping others

Overcoming complacency – It’s all about helping others

Complacency is a mental process which occurs in the automatic part of the brain. It originates from many repetitions of an action, which build neural connections in an area  in the back of your brain called the cerebellum. Importantly, actions stemming from our automatic processes require little to no conscious thought. Resulting in very low awareness of this action occurring.

The fact this mental process is automatic thinking, creates a new problem for us.  We are NOT very good at monitoring automatic thinking. Daniel Kahneman explains our automatic thinking (System 1), occurs without full engagement of our conscious thinking (System 2). System 2 really only takes notice of major divergences, like trying to kill someone, and lets most of the decisions and actions in System 1 occur without intervention.

From a thinking systems perspective, this means is we need a very high level of self-awareness or have developed some habit to recognise we are in or about to enter automatic thinking! This is not impossible but not very probable given our cultural constraints.

A more effective way, is the second mechanism I wish to propose. Looking for complacency in others.

A better way – help from others

It appears we have a highly developed ability to identify when others have a reduced awareness of hazards and feeling comfortable with what they are doing. How many times do you spot other drivers texting or on their mobile phones. I can’t seem to travel more than 50 metres without seeing someone!

Why this occurs is not immediately obvious, however it appears our mental processes see it in others. It may originate as an evolutionary survival strategy, when we relied on others in our group for hunting food or protecting against foes. Being able to see this behaviour would’ve been useful. Whatever the purpose, it is beyond doubt we are better at observing complacent behaviours in others, than in ourselves.

How can we use this ability?

The big question is, how can we use this? Working in teams or groups of people we know, on some level, is important. Although, helping a complete stranger sitting in the car next to you on their mobile phone, is also possible.

It’s all about engagement. How we go about communicating with the other person. And what is most important is how you make them feel. Their perceptions and feelings from what you are saying.

Open and friendly, gets the best response. Telling and aggressive is worst. No-one wants to engage with the teller.

So seeing complacency in others is easier than in ourselves. It’s an automatic response. Sharing those observations positively is the key to breaking complacency.

To overcome complacency, ask others to look for it in you.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog.

Safety Innovation – What can we learn from Henry Ford?

Innovation – Model T or faster horses?

What safety innovation are you working on? I read the following quote from Henry Ford the other night….“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.

I pondered this for a while. It struck a cord with what was going on in my workplace.

When I ask our managers what they want, they tell me “A workforce which complies with the safety rules”.

So, all we need to do is to tell them what we want and put consequences in place. If we aren’t getting the performance we need, just make the rules clearer and consequences stronger. Does that sound like “faster horses” to you?

I suppose this is where the quote resonated. For people not to get injured, they need to display certain actions (behaviours) at specific times (when surrounded by hazards). At the most fundamental level, they need to stay out of the line of fire. Don’t contact the thing which will hurt you.

Agreement on staying out of the line of fire seems universal but how to do this appears to be issue. Today’s horse method seems to be “rules and compliance” to get the behaviour we want. But how would Henry Ford think about this? What safety innovation in behavioural change would he come up with? A more effective way to get from A to B. Just like the Model T.

Do you see safety professionals exploring innovations in safety?

What innovation will lead to safety’s Model T equivalent? What does this look like? Are we actually looking?

Full of questions I know! My search is pretty broad. I’m looking in the areas of behavioural economics, leadership, marketing and neuroscience in terms of the latest studies but we know the ancients knew a thing or two about how humans work.

Written works from the likes of Seneca and Aurelius are full of deep thinking and accurate observations of self and others. There is a richness in this knowledge. I believe the answers lie somewhere amongst the new and old scholarly works.

Are we driving safety innovations for our teams to be safe or looking for faster horses?

Safety inductions – why they are important and how to use them

Since November last year, I’ve been running site and project inductions for the project I am working on. We had a learning and development department which was closed down as main operation of the facility also closed.

Many use the induction to cover hazards on site and the site rules, meeting regulatory requirements. But in reality the majority of incidents and injuries are less about knowing hazards and rules and more about human behaviour. So understanding why people do what they is critical and the induction is the first chance to see this. Personally, I love the inductions……

The first time someone comes on site is an important time. Normally, they are in a heighten state of awareness, because things are new, and therefore more accepting of new information and influencing. Good trainers are aware of this state, using it to maximise their effectiveness. It still relies on engaging content and delivery but mostly this is a good place for a trainer/HSE person.

And for most, this is enough. A willing and open audience, who listen and soak up all the information and knowledge you can pass on. Game over. But for me, leaving it there is missing a trick or two.

I think of my role as one of those assessing who is most likely to get hurt before they do. To do this I need to understand them. Why they do what they do. How they deal with stress, frustration, rushing. To understand people in this situation you need to build rapport, and quickly. The first couple of hours are critical. For me, build a relationship with everyone in the room or fail. Failing to connect at the induction, seriously diminishes my ability to affect and influence peoples behaviours in the field.

As a safety manager of a contractor workforce, I don’t have any line or organisation authority, although having your boss tell you to be safe isn’t that effective! Influence is all I have and that comes from relationships. I work hard to build them, then maintain key relationships. Leaders in the group.

Over the years I ‘ve learned a trick or two about building relationships and how to do it with a group of brand new inductees. Caldini’s work and book helped me here immensely. The first one is, start by remembering everyone’s name. Initially, I wasn’t good at remembering names so I use inductions to improve my skill. More importantly though, when you are able to address a person by their name, very early in the relationship, you immediately convey to the other person they are important. Giving them the feeling of significance. Automatic rapport builder.

The other little trick I learned is to hand out small gifts (reciprocity). The Chuppa Chups is perfect for this, although I am conscientious I am dealing in white death, sugar! however I have found everyone seems to like a small sugar hit every now and then and it is very hard to be angry sucking on a Chuppa Chup! Try handing some out.

So, inductions are important. They are the first glimpse you have of these new people and your first opportunity to assess. Can you work out why these people do what they do? Who is likely to be affected by emotive responses and not use logic or rational thinking to guide their behaviour? Who can you influence. Again, Caldini shows us how.

Use those two little secrets. Give it a try and see how you go.

Improving safety performance through sports science

I was at my daughters first rowing team meeting at high school tonight. She was really excited about what lay ahead this year and the challenges she will face with being part of the rowing team. I must say, based on the aspiration and success of the team that has gone before, as a parent, my advice is to get your daughter into rowing! The discipline, motivation and how to overcome hard work, really stood out.

But I digress. What’s this got to do with improving safety? Well this team of year 8 girls, nearly 50 in total, had a team of 10 coaches! 1 coach per 5 girls or one per quad team and a single skull. Great to see my money being used on the kids.

They introduced each coach one by one. A mixture of semi-professionals and old girls from the school. As I said, all very impressive people. But what came next really surprised but also made me reflect. They introduced the performance coach! yes a performance coach. Their key guy who collects and analyses the data, feeds back the observations and develops individual programs for each rower to optimise performance and maximise chance of success. Wow. We need one of those at work!

That made me think. Hell yeah, we do need a performance coach at work. One who can collect and analyse individual safety performance, feed it back and develop an individual program. Hmmmm…..why don’t we have one of those and what would that look like if we did?

What information would we collect to improve safety performance. We see it in elite sports where it seems they are measuring every little thing. Looking for tiny improvements which give competitive advantage. Team players wear tracking and monitoring devices whilst on the field of play. They are analysed by the second. Often a time sync’d video is watched by the entire team, so you (and your team mates) can see your mistakes in full HD, frame by frame. This is a time tested approach and critical to improvement. Analysis, review and feedback. The breakfast of champions.

But what are we doing in safety, to improve performance? What are we measuring in terms of how we can be safer? Do we even know what to measure? Then reviewing and feedback in the workplace. Is this even possible? I can see a work force deeply suspicious of any video being taken, let alone playing it back for all to share lessons learned!

I feel we are a long way from this. We still haven’t progressed from safety is a compliance issue and any review of performance, especially if it is failure is normally met with penalty. Little wonder workforces are suspicious.

So the question in my head is how would we design a safety performance improvement plan based on the sports science/performance methods? Who would that performance coach be and what would be measured? My high school teenage daughter has one for rowing. Why don’t we?

The safety bulls eye – putting people first

I want to share an interesting discussion that I had recently. It was with a young original thinking engineer about the “bulls eye approach”. Bulls eye approach I thought? WTF?

“Dude, whats the bulls eye approach.” He looked at me and said, “its what Di Bella Coffee do. Putting the most important person (the customer) at the middle of your business and building your organisation around it.” My mind went immediately to Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk about leadership and his book “Start with the Why”. Here is the Ted talk…..http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en

Of course put your main focus in the middle and build your supporting organisation around it rather than the typical organogram with the most important person on the top and the least on the bottom (where is the customer again?).

So who does this relate to safety. Well I love frameworks that simplify and help explain. So I sketched this. Put the frontline person in the middle and layered the support around them. Wow…..It struck me how obvious it was and how much we don’t do it!

I shared it with my colleagues and it hit them equally as hard! Lets do it. We didn’t spend much time debating the positives and negatives we just made the change. The next safety presentation we made included our new model with the frontline person in the middle. What a reaction! They all got it and said how it was about time you guys worked out where to focus your energy! From that point onwards we got no resistance at all.

Give it a try. Put your frontline workers, the ones that are exposed to hazards and get hurt by them in the middle of your organisation and build the support around them. You will get new insights into how much support is present and if it is sufficient.

Safety Leadership – The Power of OPEN Questions

Effective leadership involves engaging with people. Great leaders connect with those that follow them and open questions play an important and pivotal role in that connection. So much so, I would venture to suggest that without the skilled use of the open question, you will be less effective as a leader.

I have deconstructed the process and created a mnemonic to help you remember the important elements of the open question. The mnemonics is OPEN and it stands for:

Observe – What is going on with you and with others?

Purpose – Your intent and what impact you want to have?

Empower – Understanding and removing the road blocks for people to be successful

Nuture – Developing leadership capability in others

The main premise you must understand is how you, as a leader, affect the other person. How do you inspire and motivate rather than just tell. Every time you interact with the people you lead, you affect them in some way. Open questions give you the power to leave them inspired and motivated.

People learn to be leaders.  The way to learn to be a extraordinary leader is to practice the leadership skills every day, look for feedback on your performance of the skills and adjust your performance to improve.  The more you practice and learn from each practice, the faster you will improve.Do this until is becomes habitual. 





Safety people – Getting the best

What does the best safety person look like? For too long our organisations have thought safety advisors are highly knowledgeable about safety laws, procedures and rules. The expert on hazards and mitigations. Proficient incident investigator with ready made solutions. Walk about pointing out where the organisation does and doesn’t comply. People make good or bad decisions and it is all about knowledge, training and understanding consequences of your actions. Typically the person feels 100% responsible to keep everyone safe. The comply or die safety cop.

Today is a different story. The best looks more like a highly skilled coach with behavioural economics understanding of human decisions and touch applied neuroscience. As we have become more efficient at tackling hazards, safety advisors need to move from the hazard towards the people side of the equation (check out this blog) and know more then ever before about people. Understanding social thinking and developing the safety leaders in the group.

  • Look for the following in a safety advisor as the best will appear armed with this knowledge:
  • They will talk to you about Tony Robbins and the six human needs, linking these elements into any safety program they are involved with.
  • Seek out opportunities to prime the group and know what cognitive dissonance is.
  • Discuss data and be wary of the heuristics and confirmation bias.
  • Know what Daniel Kahneman won and the 4 parts to the habit cycle.
  • Look forlorn and shake their head when performance management for a safety breach being planned
  • Above all they understand people and why they do what they do, using it to keep people safe.

So where are these safety avators….the future of safety? Well they are not part of the last stop before retirement gig or the stickler for detail and rules! Firstly, they are likely to be young. Without the biases and collective experiences of poor science and wrong judgements. They are from a field of learning and knowledge that seeks to understand people not hazards. First hand interaction with people, applying techniques which adjust or leverage what is known about peoples behaviour. Where do such people exist you ask? Marketing. Yep Marketing. Think about it for a second. Marketing specifically build programs around why people do what they do. They know we are not rational, logical beings, considering all the information and then making a decision. Too be blunt most of us don’t make decisions, we just think we do. The future safety advisor will tell you which system you are operating in most of the time.

And if you are in need of a safety advisor then go to marketing and get someone preferably young, leading a group of people and excited about what how they can help people. Pick one that has knowledge of Facebook, twitter, Instagram et al and understands the power of social connections.

Good luck in your journey and be ready for what the not too distant future holds. Less about the hazards and more about the people.

Safety Leadership – How to help deliver personal commitment

Research shows if you want to make your commitment a reality, socialise the commitment widely, link it to a consequence where you loss something and have someone regularly check.


Check out www.stickk.com, a website created by two economists. This website allows you to select your commitment or goal, socialise it and link it to an organisation that you dislike (they call anti-charity). The lovely people at Stickk can check your progress or you can nominate your own. Using Stickk can increase your chance of success by up to x3.

Why does it work? Well behavioural science tells us we are loss-averse, social beings that make decisions in a time-inconsistent manner. In other words, we hate losing things and give into immediate gratification, sacrificing our long-term goals. The good news is incentives (especially negative ones) and accountability works.

So, think of one thing you wish to commit to for safety. Tell someone about that commitment and ask to check up on you every week. If you meet it, positively reinforce, if not, which organisation would you hate to support!

Safety Leadership – Learning from mistakes

Safety leaders learn from their mistakes. Actually, you will find quotes about learning and mistakes from all the leaders or successful people you can think of. A quote I particularly like is “I’ve learned so much from my mistakes, I’m thinking of making some more!”.

Well, mistakes are part of life. If you aren’t making mistakes you probably aren’t learning and if your not learning, you will not improve.

Mistakes are a product of a process that you have been through. They don’t just appear. You have to do something to get to a mistake. Note the “do”.

We all know this is right at some level. So why then are we so reluctant to admit to mistakes and hence learn from them? What is it that let’s these opportunities pass us by?

I think it relates to one of the 6 human needs: Significance. The work place provides an environment to meet significance and for a lot of people it is a priority. Being recognised, having status, respect, all that stuff with the people around you. People get their self worth from the status they have with the group they work in. This seems true regardless of your title or position.

What a mistake does is diminish significance very quickly. A mistake is often seen as a weakness or lack of something (knowledge, skill, ability). This affects significance directly. How can you have significance if you are seen as weak or lacking knowledge?

We also tend to treat people that have made a mistake in a negative way which affects our social thinking. What will people think of me? How many times have we heard this comment from people that have made mistakes. Making a mistake is a big deal and a negative one at that! It is little wonder we don’t want to focus the necessary attention and learn from our mistakes.

So, what do safety leaders do? In my experience they do two things. They reflect on their own mistakes looking for the learning opportunities and take action. They are able to reframe (cognitive reappraisal) the situation from a mistake to a life lesson. A useful way I’ve observed is to restate the mistake, acknowledging it and then add “but what can I learn from it?”. Stating the issue in this way can produce a powerful affect in the brain. When you use the word “but” you (the brain) negates the words preceding the “but” and highlight the words after the “but”. Think of a time when you felt you did something really well and someone said “that was really great but ……”. what part of the sentence did your brain focus on? So reframing the situation is a critical technique to be able to turn the mistake into a learning opportunity.

The other thing that safety leaders do is create environments where it is ok to talk about mistakes. They understand the important learning opportunity mistakes are and focus energies to realise these opportunities with the team.  Often they do this by sharing their own mistakes and what they have learned. They put discussions about mistake on the agenda and use positive reinforcement when the desired behaviours appear. They also show significance to a person that has made a mistake. Ensuring significance through reframing and focusing on what can be learned.

Safety leaders understand and recognise the power that can come from mistakes. They are self-aware, habitually acting on important learning opportunities from mistakes they make and energise the team to do the same.

Safety Leadership – Bringing it all together using the six human needs

Researching for the book I am writing about Safety Leadership, I stumbled across another gem from knowledge universe.  In this instance, it was the six human needs as defined by Tony Robbins. It started with Zoe Chances Ted Talk about additive behaviour and quickly linked to another Ted Talk by Tony himself. This discovery has transformed my thinking about how to bring together the elements of safety leadership. Actually, how to design any safety program so it will stick.


So according to world renowned performance coach, speaker,  Anthony Robbins, we are all driven by the requirement to fulfil 6 Core Human needs. These needs are not just desires or wants, but are hard wired into our brains serving as the basis of why we do what we do. They are always present, driving us and never go away. Therefore by understanding “why we do what we do” day by day we can begin to determine how to get to what we really want. In my field of interest its safe behaviours.

Interestingly, every person is influenced and motivated by the order of importance they place on each of these 6 needs. It seems we want to fulfil these needs in everything we do however it is not always in a positive way and not always in a resourceful or sustainable way. It is really how we meet these needs that can shape our lives and ultimately our success. Tony’s programs focus on which need we hold highest in our lives and uses them to change your thinking and hence your life.

So what exactly are the 6 core needs, you might ask?

Here they are: Significance, Certainty, Uncertainty, Connection, Growth and Contribution. According to Tony, the first 4 are the needs of the personality or our physical needs. The last 2, the needs of the spirit or the soul. They can be defined as:

SIGNIFICANCE: Also called: Status, Recognition, Validation & Uniqueness

Everyone needs to feel special and important. To satisfy this need people find ways to feel unique or special and prove their self-worth.

CERTAINTY: Security, Comfort, Safety, Control, Stability & Predictability

This need is simply about achieving order & control in life. Knowing we can be comfortable to have pleasure and avoid pain. Main function is to ensure an element of security, and it is manifested in safety and physical comfort

UNCERTAINTY:Adventure, Variety, Surprise, Novelty or Challenge

It is a physical & emotional need that encourages us to bring the new, the unknown and sometimes disorder into our lives. Everyone needs some variety in life. Our bodies, our minds and our emotional well-being all require uncertainty in some way. Just as a sense of security is reassuring, so the excitement that comes from variety is necessary.

CONNECTION: Social, Communication, Love

Connection is represented by the human desire to communicate with, relate to and receive love from those around us. Everyone needs connection with other human beings. We are all motivated to share and develop relationships with people to meet this need in our lives.

GROWTH – Through personal development, knowledge and learning we fulfil the need for growth in our lives. This core need is what drives us to mature and evolve as human beings.

CONTRIBUTION – Finally, we all share the need for Contribution. It is manifested in our desire to serve those around us and give something (typically love) rather than simply receiving. Contribution is about sharing what we have with others as we all desire to go beyond our own needs and give to others.In its positive aspect, significance leads us to raise our standards, but if we are overly focused on significance, we will have trouble truly connecting with others

Great leaders are aware of these six needs and which is their strongest, as well as those around them. They understand to motivate people they need to tap into those human needs. They are masters in reading which human needs are strongest amongst their team and tailor engagements to meet these needs. Being deliberate and considering how we are meeting these needs in others. Be sure to design programs that have all of these elements so it appeals to everyone.

Over the next couple of weeks I will share the safety leadership programs we are developing and how they meet these needs. It is a brave new way to design safety programs but for maximum effectiveness we must consider this criteria.