Conversations With Managers Who Just Don’t “Get It”

There’s a dearth of good information out there on managing driver behaviour—which I’m trying to put right with this website. And there’s a fair bit of misinformation on the subject, much of it put out by the road-risk service industry.

So it’s hardly surprising that many managers, when presented with the logical arguments for managing driver behaviour, just don’t “get it.”

Of course, this is largely due to ignorance of the subject (hardly surprising, as I said). But sometimes it’s a manifestation of resistance.


Now, one might expect that any resistance to improving the management of driver behaviour within an organisation would most likely come from the drivers. After all, who wants to be told how to behave?

But, actually, it’s often the managers—who would have to do this managing of driver behaviour—who are more resistant. That’s right, resistance to managing behaviour can be stronger than resistance to changing behaviour.

Of course, this is actually a resistance to changing behaviour. But it’s management behaviour that has to be changed before driver behaviour can be changed.

The resistance usually comes in the form of an unwillingness to do things differently. But you know the old saying, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” Or its variant, “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”

Another form of resistance comes from favouring apparently easy and often external solutions over hands-on management, which comes from the assumption that effective management of driver behaviour is going to be a lot of work, that it will stretch human resources, or that it will get bogged down in obtaining authorisation and permission from all and sundry. None of which needs to be so.

To give a flavour of the sort of resistance one encounters from managers, here are some imaginary, but typical, conversations with managers who just don’t “get it.”

The “We don’t want to spend money on analysis” conversation

They: Look here, we have this budget earmarked for training within HR but you’re insisting that we do a needs analysis first. We don’t have a budget for that. We’d like you to draw up a training programme and we’re happy for you to build in some assessment of training needs at the front end. That’s basically the same thing, isn’t it?

Me: Three problems here…

Firstly, your HR budget has got the wrong label on it. Because it’s called “training” you automatically think about spending it on training. Might I suggest you change the label to “performance improvement”—that puts the focus on goals rather than means. It’s important to take an overall view of your situation and drop the assumption that improvement must come from training. Also, if done properly, these improvements will increase the profitability of the business. So why should the budget for the work only come from HR?

Secondly, I’m talking about an analysis of your whole situation, not just assessment of training needs. The “big picture” analysis allows us to make judgements about the most effective mix of methods to make improvements. Training may be in that mix but it might play a more minor role than you envisage. Most of your improvements may come from measures that are far cheaper to implement. Until we analyse the situation, we won’t know what’s best to do.

Thirdly, assessment of training needs has to be done before designing any training programme. You’re suggesting putting the cart before the horse, and it seems to be the nature of this HR budget that’s driving this illogical inversion. If I might be permitted a metaphor—the health service has a budget for surgery but surgeons don’t decide on what surgery they’re going to do after they’ve got the patient opened up on the table. Even with exploratory surgery they’ve decided in advance what they need to explore. Fortunately the health service also has a budget for the examination and diagnosis that take place prior to surgery.

They: That may be so, but what you’re proposing is more complicated than we anticipated. We’ve spoken to other companies who are happy to give us what we ask for and to fit in with our budget allocations. They’re not talking about the “big picture.”

Me: That tells you everything you need to know about them. They’re happy to gain your business by providing the commodity you ask for, no questions asked. To change from a medical to a financial metaphor—What is it you want: a book-keeper to provide a service you specify (a commodity), or an accountant to give you strategic advice?

The “But it’s discrimination” conversation

They: We can see that targeting interventions makes sense and will maximise benefits while minimising costs. But we can’t single out some drivers for attention. That’ll be seen as discrimination.

Me: If you find that some staff are lacking skills that are essential to performing their jobs well, don’t you give them the attention they need to bring their skills up to scratch? Or, if you have concerns about their attitude towards certain aspects of their work, is it not normal to bring this to their attention and do what you can to improve things?

They: Yes, but driving is different. People are very sensitive about anyone criticising their driving. They’ll get upset.

Me: Just because many people seem to think that they have some sort of divine right to drive how they like and to be beyond criticism it doesn’t mean that they should be beyond criticism. If driving is one of their professional duties, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect the same level of professionalism in driving as in anything else.

They: Yes, but people will get upset.

Me: I appreciate your concerns [polite code for: you’re stuck in a rut and we’re going nowhere with this]. As you don’t wish to “discriminate” I suggest you do what everyone else who thinks like that does: either do nothing and continue to suffer the same losses, or employ a “non-discriminatory,” blanket approach at vast expense. If you do the latter, many of your drivers will get attention they don’t need, and those who really need it will get too little to produce the improvements you hope for.

The “We’re okay; all our drivers have been on a course” conversation

They: We’ve discharged our responsibility towards our drivers’ well-being. Everyone has been on a safe driving course.

Me: There are two issues I’d like to bring to your attention:

Firstly, training courses don’t work for everyone. They’re only relevant for those who lack the skills to perform at an appropriate standard. They’re useless for those whose poor behaviour is derived from something other than skill deficiency. What have you done to manage the behaviour of those people?

Secondly, for those drivers who would benefit from training, attending the training is not what matters. Your behaviour doesn’t miraculously change just because you turned up! What matters is developing competency. What evidence do you have that all your drivers achieved an appropriate level of competency as a result of their training? And what do you do about the drivers who are still falling short?

They: Our training providers sold us a complete package which included a training audit trail. They assured us that if everyone did the training it would give us full legal compliance with health and safety legislation.

Me: Perhaps you should have looked at the “big picture” before believing that you had bought a complete solution. Jumping through the hoop of legal compliance is not the same as managing driver behaviour. You actually could have achieved compliance without sending everyone on a training course.

The question now is, What are you going to do to fill in all the massive gaps in your management of driver behaviour?

The “We have a programme that works” conversation

They: We’ve been running this programme for a few years now and it’s been very successful. We have a fleet safety record that’s better than the average fleet. Why should we mess with what’s working? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and all that.

Me: Yes, your results are better than average and I congratulate you on that. But why be content to stick at that level? Your results could perhaps be even better. And you could almost certainly maintain the same sort of results with a programme that costs less.

They: Look, it’s working. Why should we even think about changing anything?

Me: Okay, I’ll give you two good reasons to look very closely at what you’ve been doing up to now:

The first reason is illustrated by the old marketing conundrum, “Only half my advertising seems to be working. The problem is, I don’t know which half.” It’s quite likely that some of the interventions that are costing you money and effort are contributing little or nothing to the overall result; they’re redundant but you don’t know it. By identifying and eliminating those redundant elements you would improve the cost-effectiveness of your programme.

Secondly, you seem to be continuing to do the things that brought about your initial improvement. But the measures that are appropriate to produce improvement are not necessarily the most effective measures to maintain improvement. As behaviour changes you really need to change the management of that behaviour. If you keep on doing the same thing, you’re likely to see performance dropping off. That’s just what usually happens. It’s very important not to become complacent [polite code for: I can see that you’ve become complacent].

So what sort of conversations would we have in your organisation?

The arguments from the fictitious managers in these conversations are not far-fetched. On the contrary, they’re common, you may have heard them from managers in your or other organisations, and you may even have voiced them yourself.

There’s one common factor in all of these conversations: they’re with managers in organisations that are rendering themselves vulnerable to underperformance from their personnel and/or exploitation by suppliers.

I expect you’ve realised by now that my real purpose in drawing your attention to common forms of “not getting it” is to strengthen your own appreciation of the value of managing driver behaviour.

To see how you can make sure your own organisation “gets it,” check out other articles on this site. And for a general overview of managing driver behaviour download the free report How to Manage Driver Behaviour Without Being Taken for a Ride: Costs, Causes, Dead Ends and What Works.

Back to the Articles Page

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.