Why is personal change so hard? Consider the Endowment Effect

Humans are complicated.  While some of our base emotions and behaviors are easy to understand, there are times when we appear to make irrational decisions when faced with personal change.  For example, behavioral economists have identified a specific instance when we apparently place a very different value on something depending upon whether we own it or not.  Consider the following scenario.

Imagine a team performed an analysis on the layout of a work area.  The team concluded that a significant amount of waste of motion and waste of transportation would be removed if the work stations in the cell are re-arranged.  With a proposed new floor layout, each of the operators would walk shorter distances as they moved among the stations.  It would make it easier for them to accomplish their work each day. The location of the new work stations would be comparable in every way to the existing workstations – tools, space, lighting, climate, proximity to the work. This sounds like a positive outcome for everyone!

However, when the proposed plan is shared with the crew, it is met with surprising resistance by some of the operators.  This would seem to be an illogical decision.  These operators would rather walk further (and therefore work harder) than accept these minor personal changes to their work flow!  How can this be?

Continue Reading

Leverage opinion leaders to make change happen

Many people believe you must persuade the majority in order for change to occur. This is a myth. Instead, leaders should focus their efforts on a small but influential subgroup known as opinion leaders to get a new idea adopted.

[The post below is an excerpt from my book, Safety WALK Safety TALK ].

We accept change at different rates

opinion leaders

Everett Rogers originally published his theory on the Diffusion of Innovations in 1962. It is a theory that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures. The book (now in its fifth edition) says diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. The innovation or idea must be widely adopted in order to self-sustain.

In his book, Dr. Rogers tells a fascinating story of how he was prompted very early in his career to study how new ideas were adopted by the masses.

Immediately after graduating with a Ph.D. in sociology, Dr. Rogers accepted a job working with an agricultural extension service in Iowa. His primary responsibility was to work with the local farmers and encourage them to use newly developed varieties of corn which were proven in field tests to produce crops with higher yields, as well as being more disease-resistant. As a result, these strains of corn were more profitable than the current varieties.

Unfortunately, Dr. Rogers quickly learned he couldn’t connect with the farmers. He was a college-educated young man who had never plowed a field or planted corn. All his academic knowledge didn’t mean anything to the farmers. He lacked credibility.

He realized he needed to convince at least one farmer to try one of the new strains. That way, he reasoned, once this crop was proven to have higher yields, all the other farmers would follow suit and adopt the new innovation in corn seed.

Continue Reading

How Locus of Control Can Impact Injury Rate

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” – The Serenity Prayer (Reinhold Niebuhr)


Perhaps you know of someone who considers that most things that happen are caused by chance. Or they seem to accept that whatever significant events occur in their life, it was fate or luck that determined the outcome.

On the other hand, some people clearly believe that they control their own destiny. Their belief is that whatever happens to them is mostly due to the choices they make or the actions they take.

These disparate belief systems represent opposite ends of a continuum that social scientists refer to as Locus of Control. A person’s Locus of Control is where someone places the primary causation of events in his life. Those who believe their life is largely controlled by outside forces (externals) are on one end of the spectrum. Those who believe they control their own lives (internals) are on the other end of the spectrum.

Locus of Control is a psychological construct. This simply means that it is an instrument that can be used to describe a group of attitudes or behaviors.

Julian Rotter is credited with introducing the concept of Locus of Control. He based much of his research on the work of Albert Bandura, who developed social learning theory. In his seminal paper published in 1966, Rotter explains that people can interpret events as being either a result of one’s own actions or external factors. Rotter developed a scale to assess whether a person has a tendency to think that situations and events are under their own control (internal influences) or under the control of someone or something beyond their control (external influences).

Listed below are a few of the paired statements from the original Rotter Internal-External Locus of Control Scale:

1a. Becoming a success is a matter of hard work; luck has little or nothing to do with it.
1b. Getting a good job depends mainly on being in the right place at the right time.

2a. Many of the unhappy things in people’s lives are partly due to bad luck.
2b. People’s misfortunes result from the mistakes they make.

3a. One of the major reasons why we have wars is because people don’t take enough interest in politics.
3b. There will always be wars, no matter how hard people try to prevent them.

5a. Many times I feel that I have little influence over the things that happen to me.
5b. It is impossible for me to believe that chance or luck plays an important role in my life.

4a. In the long run, people get the respect they deserve in this world.
4b. An individual’s worth often passes unrecognized no matter how hard he tries.

Since Rotter’s original work, many other researchers have studied Locus of Control, often seeking to determine if it can be used to predict outcomes in more targeted domains. Here are a few examples of Locus of Control scales that were developed for specific purposes:

The Multidimensional Health Locus of Control Scale is used to assess an individual’s belief in what influences their health.
The Drinking Locus of Control Scale is focused on alcoholics and those who regularly consume alcohol to assess whether the person believes they can control their drinking.
The Headache Specific Locus of Control Scale targets chronic headache sufferers and whether they seek treatment or not.
The Parental Health Belief Scales are used to assess the extent to which a parent believes they have control over their child’s health.
The Economic Locus of Control Scale is used to assess an individual’s belief in how much control they have over the work and money-related aspects of their lives.
The Traffic Locus of Control Scale was developed to investigate possible links between driver Locus of Control and risky or unsafe driving behavior.

John Jones and Lisa Wuebker co-developed the Safety Locus of Control Scale. Let’s describe some of their research and summarize the important findings. Continue Reading

Humble Inquiry – How to build trust by asking instead of telling

inquiryAs a leader, do you spend more time asking or telling?

In the United States, we have a culture of “Do” and “Tell”.  We value task accomplishment more than relationship building.  It is a cultural bias that many of us have.  Many people in a supervisory or managerial role spend most of their time telling others what we think they need to know to get a job done, rather than asking for their input.

Status in most workplaces is gained by task accomplishment.  We are recognized and rewarded for getting things done.  Indeed, one of the most significant factors that determines whether someone is promoted or given more responsibility is the ability to complete work assignments.

In some cases, a mostly “tell” approach is all that is required to get a task accomplished.  Some examples include situations where the work is straightforward or where the employee is inexperienced.  These interactions are characterized by almost exclusively one-way communication.  While we can get work done using a telling approach, it does very little to build relationships.

There is a significant amount of interdependence in today’s workplace. We need effective communications and good relationships to be successful in completing complex tasks. To build these relationships, we need a different technique other than simply “telling.”

In this article, we compare the strategy of telling with one that is centered on a specific kind of asking known as humble inquiry.   We will learn that this attitude is critical for improving communications, developing relationships, and building trust.

The notion of humble inquiry was originally developed and explained by Edgar Schein.  He defines humble inquiry as:

“…asking questions to which you do not already know the answer; building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”

The strategy of asking by using humble inquiry is especially critical for facilitating an effective safety conversation. Many safety conversations that are initiated by people in authority are missing this key attribute. Unless you are willing to ask questions from a basis of genuine care for the employee, you will not build trust. Continue Reading

Which safety conversations have the most impact?

“The toolbox topic for today is chemical safety,” the supervisor said as he looked down at the information sheet he was holding.  “The first group of chemicals we will review are known as acids.  Strong acids have a pH that is significantly less than 7.  Some examples include…”

With this introduction, the warehouse crew in the room immediately tuned out. Some looked at the ceiling.  Some stared at their shoes. Some even took a quick peek at their cell phones.

Too often, we view safety conversations as simply something that has to be done.  We know these conversations are a responsibility of any leader.  However, when we talk with employees about safety, our conversations are often reactive and seldom well-planned.

If a safety meeting is conducted where the primary goal of the leader is to “check the box” for a required training, the response is predictable.  When employees realize the objective, there is no engagement.  Most attendees stare blankly or watch the clock.  Group meetings such as these should not even be considered as “conversations.”  They have almost no impact in terms of engagement, learning, or mindset.

In this article, we will discuss three essential attributes for proactive safety conversations to have a positive impact.  Think of these as the 3 P’s of an effective proactive conversation:

  1. Principled
  2. Prevalent
  3. Personalized

Continue Reading

To reduce risk-taking, encourage a future-looking mindset

Greg was running late.

He glanced at the clock on the dashboard of his truck.  His son, Travis, was the starting pitcher today for his high school team. Travis had traveled with the rest of his team to the field and he was currently completing the last of his warmup pitches. Greg’s wife was going to meet him at the game which was scheduled to start in five minutes.  Yet he was still fifteen minutes away from the ball field.

As Greg’s truck crested a small rise on the two-lane road, he spotted a tractor ahead pulling a cultivator.  Greg braked hard and slowed to 20 mph, slamming his hands on the steering wheel in frustration. Another hill loomed in the distance.  Greg eased the truck into the other lane numerous times, looking for an opportunity to pass the farm vehicle, which blocked his view.  Each time, he retreated behind the tractor as a car approached from the opposite direction and passed by.  Finally, Greg saw an opening.  Ignoring the double-yellow line, he steered his truck around the lumbering farm equipment and quickly accelerated.

Greg didn’t see the oncoming vehicle.  It was obscured by a small rise in the road.  The last thing Greg remembered on that fateful day was swerving to the left.  He watched in what seemed like slow-motion as fence posts were clipped by his front bumper, each one splintering like a matchstick before disappearing over the roof of the truck.  At the end of the fence line stood a large locust tree…

Meanwhile, Travis had pitched several innings and was doing well.  That’s why Travis was surprised when his coach came to the mound in the middle of the third inning.  The coach asked for the ball and told Travis to go see his mother who was sitting in the stands behind the dugout.  She was wiping tears from her cheeks while pressing a cell phone to her ear… Continue Reading