Wouldn’t it be nice if we developed a reward system for our children and it worked giving the results we wanted? Wouldn’t it be great if we could get our teenagers and young people to respond to the rewards and incentives we provide so they might keep themselves out of harm, take less risks and keep out of trouble? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep people out of gaol with reward and punishment systems, if we could stop drink driving or domestic violence with some behaviourist reward system? Anyone with children, partners and families knows that raw behaviourist reward systems don’t work. Even when they seem to work or we attribute effectiveness to them it’s not because of the behaviourist reward but rather a host of other unseen motivational, social and psychological factors that are attached to the reward.
Why do some think that simplistic reward systems (inputs and outputs) will work with adults when it comes to risk and safety? Why do we think that simple inputs and outputs, punishments and rewards will get an outcome as if life and work were simple? What happens when we attach KPIs and rewards to safety outcomes and worse still injury rates?
I wrote a bit about this a while ago (https://safetyrisk.net/its-not-in-the-kpi-or-lti-but-the-mri/) and am surprised that here I am again discussing the bleeding obvious. It’s 101 in psychology that any goal has an equal and opposite incentive hidden in its design. Even if one accepts the naïve assumptions of behaviourism one should know that rewarding one thing eg. low injury rates, must provide other incentives (by-products and trade-offs) to under report injuries. Why do people still undertake such ideas as KPIs for injury rates when we know that injury rates are not indicator of safety?
Unfortunately, cultural mythology is so powerful in the industry and fundamental attribution error so strong that most organisations still believe that low injury rates are a demonstration of safety. Then when injury rates vary they need linguistic gymnastics in attribution to explain why data moves about so much.
What is it about Safety that sets its mind on all this simplistic stuff and then get’s surprised at a coronial inquiry to find out that their culture rewarded everything that was wrong. You only have to look at the Banking Royal Commission (https://treasury.gov.au/publication/p2019-fsrc-final-report) to realize that all KPIs, goals and targets have cultural by-products that undermine naïve and simplistic behaviourist goals. But here we are once again, discussing the naivety and simplistic nonsense of rewarding executives for low injury rates. When will organisations stop encouraging the wrong thing?
Didn’t Safety learn anything from the Texas City Disaster (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_City_Refinery_explosion)? Of course the findings of enquiries that followed demonstrated after the explosion that ‘workers feared reprisals for reporting potentially risky conditions at the refinery’. This is because BP had developed an incentive and reward scheme via KPIs for low injury rates in their quest for zero. Several inquiries following the disaster (2007 and 2009) by the Federal Government Accountability Office found: that safety incentive programs for injury rates ‘provide disincentives for workers to report injuries and illnesses to their employers.’ (https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2012/05/10/247088.htm).
Surely, this is 101 in the psychology of goals??? Nevertheless, BP repeated exactly the same problem in the Deepwater Horizon One Disaster (https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/313807/000119312510216268/dex993.htm ). The day BP were handing out awards on the platform for 7 years with a zero TRIFR rate they killed 11 people and poured 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico killing millions of wildlife in the name of zero harm. Such is the power of cultural mythology, zero harm indeed.
Unfortunately, the psychosis of the industry’s fixation with behaviourism and the nonsense idea that you can only ‘measure what matters’, drives this persisting mythology associated with measuring performance against injury rates. There’s more evidence for Santa Clause than there is for the mythology that KPIs for injury rates actually works. Everything that counts can’t be counted.
The fundamentals of the psychology of goals (Deci, Higgins, Moskowitz and Grant) make clear that for every direct observable goal there are equal and subversive goals at work that cannot been seen. The dynamic (Figure 1. The Subversion of Goals) looks like this:
Figure 1. The Subversion of Goals
Goal setting is not neutral, neither are reward systems, KPI programs or incentive/motivation programs. Indeed, all these programs and schemes hide a host of values, psychological factors and anthropological beliefs that often drive the opposite of what they claim to achieve. All goals compete (Cameron and Quinn 1999) and are not just about numbers and targets. Goals and targets are psychological constructs tied to motivational factors, many of which are not known at the time goals are set. Indeed, few people in the safety industry have undertaken enough research and study to understand the complexities of what their organisations are doing. A host of invisible and unseen factors associated with how people respond to goals emerge from sub-cultures in organisations, hidden cultural values and societal norms that often don’t emerge for several years. The way this occurs is illustrated at Figure 2. Competing Goals, By-Products and Trajectories.
Figure 2. Competing Goals, By-Products and Trajectories.
Goal setting is complex and operates on six levels as illustrated in Figure 3. Layers of Goals.
Figure 3. Layers of Goals.
When considering the function of competing goals within a defined area or in risk and safety reward systems there emerges a range of critical competing factors that must be considered, these are:
· Approach vs Avoidance motivation
· Goal setting vs Goal Pursuit
· Goal priming, framing, pitch and anchoring
· Regulatory focus vs self-regulation
· Affect vs Expectancies
· Explicit action vs Implicit cognition
· External vs internal focus
· Maintenance and Integration vs positioning and differentiation
· Mechanistic dynamics vs organic/ecological factors
· Flexibility/adaptability vs Control and stability
· Autocratic vs Adhocratic vs Democratic vs Bureaucratic politics
When considering the fundamentals of the psychology of motivation and goals, there is much that happens unconsciously and much that cannot be measured. For those who naively approach goal setting and reward for performance from a behaviourist perspective most of the above are simply not known. Nice to have a naïve plan then wonder why you don’t achieve your goals.
Setting goals based on naïve behaviourist assumptions about humans as the sum of inputs and outputs is a recipe for disaster. When someone ties financial reward to overt goals, all of the hidden covert beliefs and values running on silent in subversive goals only emerge later, perhaps in a court case or coronial enquiry show that paying KPIs for injury rates and TRIFR drives sub-cultures dynamics of denial, trade-off and by-products such as BP discovered on several costly occasions.
Custers (2009, p.184 in The Psychology of Goals, eds Moskowitz, G.B, & Grant. New York. The Guilford Press.) links a number of key ‘goal- based’ elements which provide clarity when analysing and discussing safety incentive schemes from a psychological, cognitive and motivational construct. He states:
‘Affective information plays a role in instigating motivational elements that propel the execution of instrumental actions and maintain the accessibility of the goal representation in the service of the primed goal which makes persistent flexible action possible’.
Unfortunately, naive publications like those by Safework Australia on Measuring and Reporting on Work Health and Safety (2017) (https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/system/files/documents/1802/measuring-and-reporting-on-work-health-and-safety.pdf) simply confirm the behaviourist mindset complete with matrices and pyramids with no mention of the psychology of goals or the complexities of motivation. You will find even less help from the AIHS Body of Knowledge not least of all from the latest Chapter on Ethics that doesn’t even tackle the unethical issues associated with KPIs for safety performance, nor any discussion about how the ideology of zero drives all this measurement delusion and its toxic by-products.
Similarly, don’t get too excited if you think the remedy is to report and pay KPIs for lead indicators. Greg Smith demonstrates conclusively that this doesn’t work either (https://mysafetythoughts.com/2017/02/03/everything-is-green-the-delusion-of-health-and-safety-reporting/). The problem is not the issue of reward but rather the behaviourist zero ideology that drives the system of reward and what one thinks is of reward value.
The only way to use rewards in organisations, particularly financial rewards is through careful, intelligent and research-based processes that take into account as much of the cultural complexity of the organization as possible.
I am working with tier one construction company at the moment who are running an incentive scheme pilot on one of their sites and even after extensive training the people involved still don’t get the complexities of what is going on. Most people think incentives are just inputs and outputs and then when problems, complaints and perceptions arise wonder why their framing of the system has backfired. One cannot separate the method from the methodology (incentive philosophy and psychology).
Incentive systems and rewards can work and can be effective if structured, strategized and delivered properly. Even then, none of this should be tied to injury rates but must be anchored to higher order goals rather than lower order goals.
If you want more information about reward systems and the psychology of goals or an assessment of your KPI process contact: rob@human dymensions.com