Technology-Driven BEHAVIOUR CHANGE

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Q. You say that the future looks bright for mobile technology in health and safety. Why?

Larry Wilson: Currently, global revenue from apps is around $110B, with non-gaming revenue below 50%. However, it is projected to be $270B by 2025, with non-gaming revenue around 58%. And health, fitness, and productivity apps are projected to be approximately 4% or $10B.

So it’s growing more rapidly, which means more people will be using more apps – more often. In other words: the market (or people) are becoming more receptive. Which means that some of the fear, as to whether employees will use their own devices has lessened considerably.

Q. We know mobile technology can do many things. Why are you so optimistic about difficult things like behaviour change and sustainable performance improvement?

Larry Wilson: Well, to the first part of the question: yes, mobile technology can do many things: it can put an SOP in the palm of someone’s hand. It can alert you to PPE requirements for an area, it can make a hazard identification report – with a picture or video – so it can be done in seconds. The convenience is unbeatable. However, to the second part: many people and many safety professionals are skeptical about behaviour-change initiatives in the first place. So they will likely have even less optimism for something delivered online or on your phone. But mobile technology allows you to “prompt willing choices”. For example: you decide you should drink more water. If you wait until you’re thirsty you’ll probably stay the same, so you place reminders or notes where you will see them, to prompt you. But that only works in your house or office. The phone can prompt you with a ping and a push notification that says, “drink more water” or, “move your eyes first – before you move your hands, feet, body or vehicle”.

The key thing is that it’s a “willing choice” so if you give people a list of “basic habits” or “preventative habits” (see Fig. 1 – “Preventative Habits”) and you remind them or prompt them; then they have a much better chance of actually improving that habit.

The other reason that I’m optimistic about sustained improvement is the “story feeds”. People will be able to see stories and video clips from all over the world. So if they watch someone get run over by a front-end loader – and walk away from it! – and then we ask what states were involved: rushing, frustration, fatigue, or complacency? Then we ask which critical errors: eyes not on task, mind not on task, line of fire or balance, traction, grip? Even if they don’t click the answer boxes, they’re thinking: eyes and mind not on task leading to line of fire. So keeping people thinking about safety or helping them to keep safety in mind – instead of falling completely off their “radar screen” is going to be almost effortless with mobile technology and much more effective compared to the efforts some companies make to try to get their people to “think safety” (see Fig. 2 – Think Safety Pictures)
But perhaps the biggest reason I’m optimistic is the one mentioned at the start: convenience.

Classroom training is good for many things, provided you have a good instructor and relevant training materials, but it’s not easy pulling people off the floor to go to an hour or two hours of training. Many small to midsize companies don’t have classrooms, and when you move from industry to sports and athletics you find yourself doing training in changerooms. But everybody has a phone. And almost everybody has a smartphone. So even though the ability to prompt a willing choice is huge, I think, in the end, it will be the convenience factor that wins out.29

Q. Ok, so it’s more convenient and it can prompt willing choices, but what would you say to the skeptics who say that “self-help” has a very bad track record?

Larry Wilson: Yes, behaviour change is complicated, and sustaining the change is challenging, but what I’d really say to the skeptics is that “it’s too late!” The boat has left the port or the plane is already in the air. Even “classic” problems like weight loss and exercise programs have taken to apps to either support or drive the correct behaviour. It’s never going back. What’s important is that you keep what works: as mentioned before, you need a good instructor or leader with credibility. This is easy with mobile technology. You can even get the original guy or thought leader (or expert chef, basketball player, etc.) to host the modules. So now we have a very credible leader. Next, we don’t have to make the sessions work from the instructor or leader’s perspective. He or she will want to be paid by the day or for the presentation. But 10-20 minutes is much more like what the trainee can absorb at once efficiently. So we don’t have to deal with “supply-side economics” in terms of credible trainers or even motivational speakers. Everything can be geared towards the person being trained to maximize learning efficiency.

And finally, although this comes from an odd source, “bringing people into the classroom and dumping a bucket of water over their head once a month isn’t what you need for safety. Maybe once at the beginning to wake them up, but after that – it gets annoying. What you need to do is to make the phone their rain machine – so (to carry it further) they don’t dry out or have safety and risk fall completely off their radar screen.” This was advice from my father. That’s not the part that’s odd (he’s been giving me advice forever), what’s odd is that he’s 91 and doesn’t own a smartphone.

Q. So this was really your dad’s idea?

Larry Wilson: No, he just really understands the dynamics of safety, risk and error. Meaning we don’t need a big message once in a while, but rather we need very little – sometimes just a thought – but we need it often or daily, not once in a while or a big celebration once in a year. But the idea of making the Critical Error Reduction Techniques available on a phone or being able to learn them on a phone in 10 minute lessons with follow-up activities, like Anticipating ErrorTM, Rate Your StateTM, and Analyzing close calls (near-miss reporting), that can be tracked; that came from my partner Paul Michels (the other CEO) who was the owner of Coastal Training Technologies. And Paul knew people in Chennai (where his office in India used to be) who could build the engine. “All you have to do”, he said, “is make the modules so they work. We know the concepts work – you proved that with 4 million people. Now we have to take them to the world. And, that will never happen if it has to happen in a classroom…”

Q. So what is your vision? What will success look like and how long will it take?

Larry Wilson: Realistically, will have to start with the traditional industrial health and safety market, which is blue collar and white collar. But very quickly, I think it will migrate to more white collar workers in administration, sales and field service departments – within industry. That success will encourage service industries and hospitality industries to get involved.

But the real driver, in terms of the rapid expansion will be price and convenience. Fourteen modules that are 10 minutes long, done once a week could easily be accomplished during a 90-day probationary period (common for many companies). So the new employee would be ready to participate in the engagement activities with the rest of the work group once they’re done probation, for a fraction of the cost compared to what it would be if it was provided in a classroom with a good instructor.

So the first phase will be to prove to the existing market that it can be done (50% decrease in injuries and series performance errors) without a classroom and a good instructor. This part, I think will be easy. It’s not like these guys (industrial workers) liked the classroom to start with. But the second part: getting hospitality, schools and other “low risk of fatality industries”, to be interested will be a challenge or more of a challenge because they are even further behind their thinking. They still see safety as being mostly about rules and legal compliance vs. human factors like complacency causing critical errors like eyes not on task or mind not on task. But despite those obstacles or the compliance issue, the main problems we’ve had with schools, hospitality, medical professionals and athletes has been price and/or convenience. Price isn;t much of an issue for doctors and surgeons, but good luck getting them into a classroom. People who clean bedrooms at hotels don’t have a problem going to a classroom, but if the class costs what they make in a month, again – good luck with that! So, like Paul said, if we want to get these concepts and techniques to the world – not just the industrial world – we had to go back to the drawing board and start with the idea being: this needs to work on a phone, that way anybody can do it and every company can afford it.

Q. So what is your end goal, or when will you retire?

Larry Wilson: Not sure I’m ever going to retire, but for years and years I’ve said, “every country, every language, every child, every school… in our lifetime”. And, as you pointed out, it’s not like I’ve got all the time in the world. But mobile technology is – at least – going to give me a chance.
We wish you good luck sir. Thank you