I’m Confused…

I’m confused . . .

Recently I was greatly honored to be asked to do a keynote speech at the Behavioral Safety Now (BSN) conference (www.behavioralsafetynow.com).

“Who, me?” I asked.

Most of you know that the folks at BSN have pretty much set the gold standard in behavior based safety (BBS) thought leadership for some time. In fact, I learned when I got there, that I was the only non-PhD keynote speaker ever in 17 years!

So what could a guy like me bring to the party that hasn’t been discussed already?

Now, my usual morning routine is to push a 100-pound dumbbell up into the air (one per arm) while listening to Bon Jovi at a level which usually gets my wife pretty mad, although my dog Elvis seems to like it.

Lately, my wife’s been pretty happy, since I’ve decided to forego my favorite music in favor of listening to my collection of past presentations from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), the National Safety Council (NSC), BSN, and the like.

It’s taken a lot of self discipline to go from working out with Bon Jovi to pumping iron with BBS consultants, but I am glad I’ve done it.

And, having sifted through the absolute BEST and WORST speakers of these conferences, I have become . . .


Here’s why:

I heard a BBS consultant do a presentation on the role of steering committees in BBS. I was eager to learn more!

The gentleman started with a few introductory comments saying, “I have absolutely no research to back up what I’m about to say; it’s my opinion.”

(Immediately, red warning lights flashed through my brain! I almost dropped the 100-pound dumbbell on my head but caught it in the nick of time.)

So, ok, I’m about to hear some consultant give me an opinion without any research to back it up. This should be fun, I thought.

The consultant went on to offer his advice:

1) “I tell all my Steering Committees you should meet weekly to decide who to positively reinforce or in behaviorist lingo.”

Good, weekly is sure better than monthly recognition, I thought.

2) “You should go out and find a person who has done an observation and recognize them in front of their peers.”

Huh? I thought that public recognition can backfire, since some people are afraid that their peers will perceive them as the teacher’s pet. From what I’ve read, you never publicly praise a person in front of others without asking that person’s permission in advance.

3) “You should know your employees, and know what’s really reinforcing to them. So, you need to learn as a manager what each person likes and find something you can say that links to that. For example, if they like bonsai trees, you should find an article about bonsai trees and give it to them and tell them you thought they’d like it.”

Now, maybe you know a lot of guys who like to grow bonsai trees but I don’t. And if I ever do take up bonsai growing, I’d probably like a bonsai tree more than an article about one. Plus, while it’s important to know what people like and are interested in, it’s also important to let them choose what’s positively reinforcing to them.

4) “You should celebrate improvements in the process monthly, but never do the same kind of celebration twice in the same year . . . and oh yes, never, ever give people tangible award gifts. Mix up your celebrations; do pizza this month and watermelon the next. That’s the key.”

Hey, last time I checked, pizza and watermelon ARE TANGIBLE . . . unless someone has invented anti-matter pizza. While there is a place for company picnics and they have some value, one safety director lamented the fact that “We feed them for being safe and the next minute we tell them to lose some weight in our new wellness program.”

5) Celebrations should be linked to contingencies. Don’t throw a safety party, but be specific about what your team did, and why we’re celebrating.

Now I like this one! The whole idea of pinpointing a behavior or result and then celebrating as a team how we improved performance is a powerful concept.

6) It’s wrong to focus on gifts and awards; you lose the personal touch. You shouldn’t give the same gifts to people, but if you do, make sure they have a logo on them.

“Ahh, earth to consultant, the latest research of Fortune 100 managers puts logo gifts as the least effective motivator of all. Bill Sims research shows that over 90 percent of us have received a logo gift we didn’t want, need, or use. Conclusion: most logo gifts become throwaway items in a landfill.

7) 500 coffee mugs isn’t R+ for anyone.

I totally agree, but you have contradicted your earlier statement, where you suggest that giving everyone watermelon or pizza is a positive reinforcer. If we can’t make 500 people happy with a coffee mug then logic says we can’t do it with 500 pieces of pizza. Plus, I just started my new Dr. Atkins high-protein diet!

8) Make the recognition cost as little as you can. When you budget for recognition, less is better.

Hold on here a minute! If you do that, will you be giving people a pepperoni pizza minus the pepperoni and cheese? Now, that is positively punishing in my book. Instead I say walk softly and carry a big P.I.C. no pun intended Aubrey 🙂 National research shows $100 to $200 per employee for the year is the norm for recognition and the numbers are climbing steadily.

9) Assume everyone will be at 100 percent participation.

This is a classic beginner’s mistake. In this scenario, the beginner takes his or her tiny $25 budget and assumes a worst-case scenario that all employees will participate, and so they make the reinforcer an “itsy bitsy, teeny weeny” whatever. In fact, it’s hard to get 100 percent of people to do anything. Studies show that 40 percent of all employees do not cash in their Wal-Mart, Visa, and American Express gift cards. So, by planning that 100 percent of the people will participate, you actually shoot yourself in the foot. Instead, make the R+ bigger and you’ll get more people to engage.

10) You should reserve 10 percent of your budget for individual recognition and 90 percent for monthly group celebrations.

This one flies in the face of all logic and reason. First, of all, we know that the most powerful R+ is that which is linked to the behavior within 15 seconds. That means we need to reinforce INDIVIDUALS and NOT GROUPS. Group reinforcement, while creating powerful peer pressure, may be positive, but it certainly is NOT IMMEDIATE and, by George, it is UNCERTAIN. In Aubrey’s book and in mine PIC blows the doors off PIU’s hands down.

Maybe you are as confused now as I was. There sure seems to be a lot of confusion on the part of companies who have implemented BBS over the last 15 years. Some of it is absolutely hilarious. For example, a company was interviewing BBS consultants in their selection process. One PhD was asked, “How many failures have you had?”

He replied, “We don’t know. We don’t follow up with our clients after we train them in our process.”

To prepare for my BSN keynote I conducted a survey of companies to see how their BBS processes are going. You can get a copy of that survey along with a link to one of my presentations free of charge by going to this link:


In a future blog, I’ll give you my analysis of the BBS survey data. But the bottom line is this:

Lots of today’s mature BBS processes are STUCK. People go through the motions, collecting data, with the pencil whipping and negative or non-existent R+. We need to help these companies build a culture, as my good friend Bob Veazie says. We’ve done that for many companies, helping them fix broken BBS systems. In my next blog, I’ll share more thoughts on how to do it.

In the meantime, if you’re doing your workout, I suggest you join me and Elvis as we listen to Bon Jovi. At least you won’t be . . . confused.

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