Ok Then, I’ll NOT Wreck My Car


    The consulting group I work for is a subsidiary of a very large company, with a large fleet of company vehicles. Driver safety is a major focus, both because it's the right thing to do (help keep employees safe) and it helps insurance rates, I'm sure.

    We have a metric: “Accidents per million miles” (APMM).

    Today, I get an email that shouts (I'll spare you the 42 point red font the email came in):

    This is your 2006 Goal!

    You have 23 days to be accident free!

    2006 YTD Ranking (APMM) is 2.72 Great Job!

    Stay Focused & Hit Your Number,…

    Not Your Car.

    (especially in parking lots)

    A few points I think we can learn from:

    I wasn't PLANNING on getting in an accident before that email arrived: I don't want to get hurt. I don't want to hurt others. I don't want to fill out company paperwork and deal with the aftermath of an acciddent. I would assume that NOBODY wants to get into an accident.

    Does having a GOAL and communicating it help? Does this goal and metric motivate me to avoid accidents? I already wanted to avoid accidents. If someone turns in front of me will I slam the brakes harder or avoid the accident more deftly because I'm thinking, “Oh crap, our goal!!!” ??? This kind of email seems like a waste of time — for the manager who wrote it and for everyone who had to delete it from their inbox.

    If not having accidents is good, why isn't our goal “zero”?? I've seen factories set goals of injuring X number of employees per year. That's crazy. A good practice is to set a goal of ZERO. A hospital I recently worked with set “absolute” goals like this — for patient safety, for not having to shut down the ER because patient flow was backed up, etc. I was happy to see that. Nobody wants to hurt an employee or a patient. Setting goals doesn't influence this behavior. If setting goals worked, our fleet goal would be ZERO accidents and we'd all work harder to meet that goal, right?

    Imagine if there was a bonus tied to this metric? I'm surprised there isn't. Would I be more likely to avoid accidents if we all got a $500 bonus for being below our goal? What bad behavior and dysfunction might this drive?

    Setting “expected” goals might be reasonable for planning purposes (based on previous years how many accidents might we expect?) but it's NOT the right goal for motivation purposes. When setting a goal, you always have to think about the behavior that is being driven by the goal. Don't count on a goal itself being motivating.

    Rather than communicating about the the goal and metric, the only useful thing in that email is the tip to be careful in parking lots, as many accidents occur there and we're all likely to be at the mall and in a lot of parking lots this year. That's a good example of coaching to manage behavior (that will impact the metric) rather than managing to the metric.

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. Or Deming (well, maybe someone else) used to say, if “all accidents are preventable”, then maybe you can volunteer to have an accident early in the year so they can have a declining trend.


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