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Bus and Motor Coach Library

Managing Behavior, Not Regulatory Compliance            

Author Carmen Daecher, Daecher Consulting (2001)

To reapply a now famous phrase that was coined during the first Clinton Campaign, "It's behavior -stupid!"  Either we forget, or we just don't know, that behavior is the only thing that we manage in our businesses as it relates to our people. 

This is especially true in the motorcoach industry.  When a driver leaves the yard in your coach, they better be responsible enough and knowledgeable enough to do what has to be done and to do it very well.  Yes, training will help them acquire the knowledge and the skill.  Preparation will provide them with a trip plan.  But even with all that, the behaviors that they employ behind the wheel and with your customers often are largely left unmanaged or inconsistently managed.

Motorcoach companies generally have been fortunate to hire people who have the character and qualities that produce acceptable behavior. 

But, finding those types of people today is becoming increasingly difficult.  Societal changes, shortage of available manpower, and other factors are producing a new breed of motorcoach driver. 
The "new" driver not only presents challenges with respect to safe behaviors behind the wheel and with passengers, but also additional problems within the organization.  Contesting any negative response to certain behaviors is becoming common place. 

Rather than accepting responsibility for poor behavior, many drivers now think that certain behaviors should be overlooked.  It should be a "normal" every day aspect of business.

If your company does not respond to these challenges by a more focused management of behavior, you are putting your company at great risk in its ability to operate safely, and generate future business.

Managing behavior has everything to do with driving safely and treating passengers appropriately.  Training provides the knowledge and the skill necessary to do these things.  But managing behavior becomes the basis for consistent application of this knowledge by drivers and other employees of your organization. 

Without expanding a behavior mind-set that encompasses the goals of the organization and personal responsibility, you will end up managing the outcomes of behavior rather than the behavior itself.

Behavior is defined as the conduct of one's self; actions which produce consequences.  This is an important definition.  While action is fundamental, consequences are most critical.  This is because consequences, in combination with circumstances, define the magnitude of the action itself. 

Throwing a stone that falls idly to the ground does not seem like a big deal.  But throwing a stone that hits a person in the head, causing serious injury, suddenly becomes a big deal!  Yet these are the same actions, but each was performed with significantly different results.  The circumstances surrounding each of these two independent actions caused the differences in results.

So as an analogy we must manage the behavior in respect of throwing the stone, rather than reacting to the consequences of a stone that happens to strike somebody's head. 

This brings us to fundamentally important principles for managing behavior:

- People must understand the possible consequences of their actions in order to modify their behavior.

- A reasonable person usually wants to behave appropriately.  Conscious "appropriate" behavior is influenced by the perceived importance of the behavior itself.

- People may not always know how important a behavior is.  To have knowledge of behaviors and possible consequences helps a person understand and better judge the importance of certain behaviors.

- Expectations for behaviors and potential consequences for poor behaviors establish standards for employees within organizations that define importance of behaviors. 

- A person's attitude about themselves and their organization influence their motivation to consciously behave in a consistent, appropriate way.

- You can not manage outcomes; you can only manage actions.  To put it another way you can not manage severity; you must manage frequency, or recurring behavior. 

These are the fundamentals that form the foundation for behavior management.  So how do we do this?  Especially when we consider that most behaviors we want to manage occur away from our sight and our presence.

The first important element is to have reasonable people work for you.  In adults, you are not going to grow new attitudes; for the most part you are going to inherit them.  Thus it is vitally important to hire the right people. 

This is especially true when it comes to drivers.  You must be diligent in assessing a person's attitude and willingness to conform to important behaviors as a fundamental part of the hiring decision. 

Modifying and influencing behavior has no direct correlation to the driving task.  It has nothing to do with being "a driver".  It has everything to do with being a person.  Behavior management is fundamentally rooted in establishing expectations; living by those expectations in a consistent way; disciplining poor behavior and rewarding good behavior. 

Behavior management has to do with creating an environment that allows a person to feel that they are an important part of the organization.  Self esteem and the esteem of the organization is vitally important toward their attitude, and thus, their behavior.

When it comes to drivers, the specific behaviors associated with that job define the expectations for behaviors with important consequences.  Simply having accidents is not the only result of poor behavior.  Poor behavior can lead to a number of other results: 

- Moving violation convictions;

- Passenger complaints and general public complaints;

- Poor road observation reports;

- Indifference toward vehicle condition;

- Indifference toward personal appearance and timeliness.

These actions define safety behaviors that are important and have important consequences. For each of these important behaviors, expectations and the consequences of not meeting these expectations must be established.  It is called discipline.  Discipline can be a negative motivator, but it does not always have to be.  Part of behavior management is to recognize that we are human beings and are sometimes prone to error.  Anyone who makes an initial error in any of the above important behaviors should be dealt with in a positive way and retrained or reminded of the appropriate behavior.

            Poor behavior occurring for a second or third time should not be tolerated.  Once a pattern of poor behavior is established more stringent consequences must occur.  These will include retraining and retesting, but may also include suspension and termination. Your policy on driver management should incorporate all expectations for important behaviors and prescribed or defined consequences for poor behaviors.  Consequences must be quickly dealt with, if these behaviors are deemed to be important.

            Managing behavior is not only providing negative consequences for not meeting expectations.  Managing behavior also involves frequent, regular management and communication techniques to remind the driver of their importance to the organization and appreciation for their safe driving and customer service (safe behaviors). We must always remember two important motivating principals:

   - The deepest principal in human nature is the craving to be appreciated;

   - You can't take pride in yourself until someone takes pride in what you do.

              In other words, we must motivate our drivers to be an integral part of the organization and not only to behave safely but also to assist others to behave safely.  While setting expectations and negative consequences for failure to meet them is important, it is equally, if not more so, important to establish regular positive communication and interaction with drivers to reward good behavior and to encourage responsibility for their behavior and others toward achieving safety day in and day out.

            Incentive programs seem to be an obvious answer toward accomplishing this.  Indeed, this is one way to motivate drivers to perform consistently well.  However, incentive programs by themselves are only personal motivators.  Generally incentive programs, being individual rewards that honor only a few do not contribute to an overall sense of how appreciative your company is of all of its drivers who understand and demonstrate safe behavior.  Coupled with incentive programs, is the need for an organizational element that builds a culture of safe behavior; an on-going positive attitude of respect and safety that every employee can buy into.  

 So how do you go about doing this?  Here are some ideas:  

 - Daily safety messages - always positive and reminding drivers of the positive and important consequences of good behavior or simply reminding them of what a good behavior is.  

 - Sharing passenger and public compliments with everyone - don't hide a letter of commendation when it is received.  And don't simply tell the driver that it was received.  Make sure everyone knows that good behavior is noticed and appreciated.  

 - Get as personal as you can - do you know the names of drivers' wives/husbands? Children?  Do you know when their birthday is?  Send a birthday card to each driver or wish them happy birthday on a printed list posted on a bulletin board.  Make sure they know that they are not forgotten as individuals by the organization.  

 - Annual performance reviews - we too often only talk to a driver when there are poor behaviors and negative consequences.  It is not that often that we individually tell a driver how well he/she has performed and how much it is appreciated.  The same type of annual review that each of us look forward to in our organizations should be provided to each driver.  It is a way for managers, one on one, to talk to drivers; to tell them that they are appreciated; and to receive feedback from them.   

 - Use safety meetings as motivating events - get drivers involved in the process of finding solutions to problems.  Don't let safety meetings simply be sounding boards or "contests" between management and drivers.  An atmosphere where everyone is involved in creating solutions and where improvement becomes an important objective.  A safety meeting is a natural setting for this type of group communication.  

 - Have group events such as picnics or "a day at the park".  Show appreciation to drivers and their families.                                           

- Encourage spontaneous feedback and advice on improving safety behaviors with the assurance that no negative repercussions will result.            

            When employing any of these positive communication techniques, show the person that you care and that you genuinely appreciate their good behaviors and efforts.  As they offer suggestions for improvements make sure you listen.  If suggestions can be used, implement them.  If they can not be used, make sure that you explain why.  This will help all employees to know that you listen to them and that you take seriously their suggestions.  Even if they can't be used, they will know that you heard them.  This is important if you want communication to continue to flow between drivers and management. 

            If you establish policies and programs aimed at managing behavior, in most cases, you will be changing the safety culture of your organization.  And you will most certainly change the basic structure of your safety programs, which are usually built from the top down in most organizations.  By managing behavior, and incorporating all individuals into the daily management of safety, you will be able to work smarter - you are probably already working harder!  And, each individual, the organization, and you have better control of safety because it is based on managing behavior, and not on the consequences of poor behavior.

            All of this has to do with changing attitudes and feelings.  Attitudes are influenced by behavior.  If safe and good behaviors are defined and established, it can help people change their attitudes toward risk behavior.  Just as important, each individual's feelings about the organization will be positive.  The maintenance of this positive feeling both because of self esteem as well as recognition of good behavior by the organization is important in maintaining good feelings about the organization by each individual.  Feelings and attitudes go together.  If I feel good about myself and about the organization I work for, then I am more motivated to perform safely and well.

            The expectations that are established provide a common denominator and foundation from which everyone can understand behaviors, which are important.  This eliminates allowing everyone to assess for themselves what is important and what is not.  Organizational standards become the more important standard. Of course it usually falls to an individual manager within the organization to be accountable for carrying out your safety program. 

            But it is important that every employee feels personally responsible and contributes to safe behavior. This is the only way that you will have drivers behaving consistently well on their own as representatives of your organization.  Their motivation, self-esteem, and sense of responsibility will principally influence their attitudes, which will result in their personal behaviors.  Simply making them accountable is not enough; they must feel responsible as well. Managing behavior and the change in the safety culture of your organization should also result in safety becoming an intrinsic value rather than a priority.  No longer will safety take a back seat when profits are down; when demand is high; or at any other time.  Safety will be an implicit part of how we respond under any and all circumstances.

            Managing behavior means defining expectations of important behaviors and possible negative consequences, but then focusing on the use of rewards, positive feedback, and interpersonal recognition to motivate and support safe behavior. This encourages you to get involved in a safety improvement process because you want to, not because you believe that it is a legislated issue and therefore you to have to!  If behavior is managed properly, peoples' attitudes will change because of good behavior.  They will feel more responsible for their actions and the actions of others in a caring and positive way.

            And keep in mind that employees feel more connected to a company when there are more commonly shared behavioral patterns and higher esteem values.  As an additional benefit, this usually translates to better driver retention, and less employee turnover.  Most importantly, by managing behavior we should more clearly focus on a common vision of an injury free and accident free workplace.  We will more clearly maintain sight of our ultimate purpose - safety!