How to drive change in your workforce’s behaviour

Nik Moore - Success This Way

Home » How to drive change in your workforce’s behaviour

Published: 20th February 2021

This Article was Written by: Nik Moore - Success This Way


OK, so the title was a bit of a red-herring.

As we know, people aren’t puppets:

…and thank goodness we aren’t. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had Einstein, Shakespeare, Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs… however have you ever worked for a company where you might have felt, even just slightly, treated like a puppet? Have you ever heard your bosses talk about “driving change” in the business? How did that make you feel?

Put simply, you cannot drive behaviour change (at least not effectively***).

You can, however, influence behavioural change to emerge.

Let’s, therefore, reword the title of this blog to read something like this:

“How to work with someone else’s outlook on life, talk their language, gain their trust and show them a better route to take – then see if they want to come along on the journey”

It’s a subtle but massive difference. In the re-worked sentence, you’re inviting people to come with you, to a better place.

As the world’s leading authority on Language and Behaviour Profiling Techniques, Shelle-Rose Charvet, says:

“If you want someone to come with you on a journey, you need to go to their bus stop and invite them to come on-board”.

I love this metaphor. It encapsulates the very essence of how behavioural change happens.

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Changing behaviour at work

There are so many areas of business where behavioural change is desired but let’s talk about one particular area of business where behavioural change is essential.

Not a nice-to-have, but essential. Let’s look at Health and Safety.

It’s a subject where people can potentially lose their life after all.

Not only has Health and Safety had some bad press over the years (with signs like the one below not helping) but, for many people, it just isn’t high enough up on their daily list of priorities for them to worry about it, especially if nothing bad has ever happened to them at work.

I do appreciate that H&S is indeed exceptionally important but we have to see it through the eyes of the average employee. If they don’t deem it important enough, then telling them they need to take it more seriously isn’t the best approach to take. We need to work with their outlook on life and not force ours onto them. We have to prove to them that the reason why we are trying to change their behaviour is because we have their best interests at heart.

Through constantly showing our employees that we care for them, and reminding them that this is why H&S is so important, people will start to listen to us more and feel less than we are “wagging our finger” at them. Only when we create a culture of looking after each other, does H&S start to have some true meaning?

What about the person who simply doesn’t listen?

Whether it’s someone not wearing a hard hat on-site or, in other contexts outside of H&S, someone consistently not being nice to customers when they phone in to complain (this is a real person I heard about last night at a dinner party), in both options rather than chastising the employee, find out why their behaviours aren’t changing.

Ask them what is it about the task they are being asked to do that doesn’t resonate with them. There might just be a simple fix.

Perhaps the person not wearing the hard hat overheats and feels uncomfortable…..great, now we have a clue leading to a solution for them.

What about the person in the office not being nice to the customer? Perhaps they have a bullish nature in the office and that causes them to feel ostracised by their colleagues and not listened to. Perhaps this then vents itself in frustration with customers. Perhaps, in this case, listening more to their opinion and asking for their advice more might soften them up.

Whatever it is, if you don’t go “upstream” and discover the source of the problem, whatever you say to them is either going to fall on deaf ears or the advice you give might not solve their actual issue that leads to their “wrong” behaviour.

Back to H&S: Also, don’t over-rely upon the H&S manual – it’s too much detail

(Close your ears Mr & Mrs Health and Safety Director) equally, don’t pin all your hopes on the Health and Safety Manual to do the job.

The chances of anyone knowing all this detail is pretty limited. It’s far better therefore to rely upon the gut reaction and natural instinct of people to do the right thing, at the right time in any given situation.

So let’s detach this subject from the head and instead move down to the heart and the gut which is where emotion and instinct are found.

Let’s talk instead of feeling instead of thinking. Let’s talk about how to get people to feel health and safety?

To achieve this, we have to make our messages relevant and meaningful to our audience and work with their “map of the world”.

What is someone’s Map of the World

In my work, pretty much everything we do originates back to The NLP Communication Model.

Mind Map

  • We experience the world through our 5 senses.
  • Everything we experience then gets processed internally through our “filters”. In other words, our memories, values, and beliefs, our life experiences, the emotional connection we have given to past situations, our upbringing, etc. all give meaning to the world we experience.
  • What then comes out in our language and in our behaviour is how we re-present the world, and this is unique to every single one of us.
  • This is why no 2 people behave in exactly the same way because each one of us has had a different journey in the past, and that journey has shaped how we see and interact with the world around us.

By embracing the communication model, it empowers us to work with the map of the world of other people. If we work with other people’s maps of the world, we are far more likely to get the results we want by connecting with them, showing we care and that we can be trusted, and influencing them to come with us on the bus.

So, we need to connect with our audience who don’t deem H&S important enough. That’s the first step.

Asking questions to elicit an emotion and a feeling

Asking great questions is one very powerful way of going to someone else’s bus stop. Asking the right questions gets people to have that all-important internal dialogue with themselves and to show that we care.

  • Find out from your audience what is it that would make health and safety high on their agenda?
  • What messages would truly resonate with them and make them stop and think?
  • What is it that prevents them from thinking about H&S every day?
  • What could we do better to help them connect with H&S?

For a lot of these questions above, the audience might not know how to answer, so instead, we can start to “plant seeds” and “thought-viruses”

  • What can be shown to them that might get them reflecting on the dangers involved? What can we show to raise awareness of the results of poor H&S? What stories can we tell to sharpen their minds?
  • For many of us, we will have had a close shave at some point in our life. Get people thinking about what life would have been like if they hadn’t had that close shave and had, in fact, been injured. (I know that I nearly skied off a cliff once…….each time I think about it, I feel sick. THAT is the reaction we want.)
  • If they have injured themselves in the past, how did it feel, what were the knock-on effects, who did it impact upon?
  • Who do they know who has been injured? Can they re-connect with how it felt when this other person told them about how it felt when they got injured?
  • Have they ever had a loved one in hospital? How did that feel? Can they imagine how their loved ones would feel if they were hospitalised through an accident at work?
  • What sensations would they be feeling if they were to be the cause of someone else being badly injured at work? How would that make them feel? Think about the future, how would it feel in 10 years, 20 years?

The power of self-reflection

You can see a thread running through most of the later questions. A thread of self-reflection. Only when we self-reflect do we give meaning to anything. Only when we self-reflect do we truly feel.

And not only do we remember feelings but feelings go to the gut and that’s where our instinct resides.

If we are clever and set up anchors* in the H&S training session, that feeling will be rekindled the next time that we are in that same situation again. And that might save our life.

(*We come across anchors all through life. You hear a song and it takes you back to a feeling in history. You see something and it reminds you of a great time in the past. These are anchors. They are moments in time when an emotion is felt and is simultaneously associated with an activity. When that activity is re-experienced, the anchor “fires” and the emotion is ‘re-felt’.)

So, the power of self-reflection in any given H&S training session is crucial. Get people to give meaning to the H&S policy by asking them to go into their memory banks and see if there is something in there which gives the training context and emotion.

2002 when a colleague of mine got hurt

As an example of this in action, I remember the emotions that I felt, and still feel to this day, when, back in 2001, someone badly hurt their knee on a job I was working on.

The person picked up a piece of aluminium trussing with me holding the other end. As we moved through a doorway I accidentally snagged one end of the truss on the doorframe. As the truss came to an abrupt halt, my colleague continued to walk forward. His right knee, which he had recently had an operation on, slammed right into his end of the truss.

I can’t begin to imagine the intense, piercing pain he must have experienced. I certainly remember the yelp as his knee whacked into the metal. He went straight down and started writhing in pain on the ground. The feelings, emotions, and memories of that moment have stayed with me for 15 years. (He was OK in the end, his recovery somewhat smoothed by me buying him a glass of 18-year-old scotch to say sorry).

And that is a classic example of how my behaviour has changed over the years all down to what happened that day. Every time since, I’ve taken my time carrying aluminium trussing.

The mind and the body are linked:

And this last example is a great way of showing that the mind and body are linked. I didn’t recall the incident in 2002 by thinking about it. I recalled the incident through the feelings I recalled in my gut and my heart. I recalled the guilt and the sadness. And that’s how we learn.

We don’t learn by thinking, we learn through doing. We learn through the emotions we generate when we put something into practice kinaesthetically. So by re-experiencing our emotions in a training room, and applying them to a particular H&S scenario, we are more likely to remember how to react out in the field.

The power of social-contagion:
And this is where the true magic lies. The human species is pre-programmed to connect with other people. When we see someone cry, there are parts of our brain that trigger in the blink of an eye to create hormones that make us feel empathy. So, long term, if we showcase more and more best practice showing people taking the initiative to stay safe at work, then social contagion sets in. People start to model the behaviour of others and then comes a tipping point. A point where so many people are modelling good behaviour that people not taking H&S seriously become the minority. And its a lonely place being in the minority. People soon want to “join the party” and come in from the cold.

Here is a powerful video to show what we are talking about. In this video, the “lone nut” dancing on his own starts a movement when the tipping point happens:

Constant reinforcement

Changing perceptions doesn’t happen overnight. Making best practice highly visible to everyone is how to get people to the “tipping point”.

Another tip is to humanise best practices. Instead of putting statistics up on the wall showing the last time an accident happened at work, put up posters of employees sitting having a pint after work or with their family. Under the photo put a strapline saying something like “John went home safely to his family today because he wore his hard hat at work”.

By constantly changing the posters and showing people in safe scenarios, (scenarios linked with the benefits of following H&S), then we plant anchor after anchor in the minds of our employees that good H&S leads to great benefits.

So by making best practice highly visual and highly-human, we can get people to sit up and take notice over time

The start of the journey

So, in conclusion, the purpose of this blog is to show that in order to influence people we need to communicate in such a way as to connect with them at their own bus stop.

There are many other elements involved in effective behaviour change such as:

Focussing on relationship building and trust
Getting people involved in the creation and roll-out of an H&S programme (as studies show that we absorb far more when we are commissioned to teach others information)
Show people where they fit into the overall picture
Etc. …but all of that is a subject for another day.

All I wanted to highlight in this blog is that to influence people, we need to go to their bus stop as Shelle-Rose Charvet says. We have to see the world through their lens.

When we do that, and when we give them time to process what we have said and run it through their filters, then, and only then, can we start the journey to true behavioural change…

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