3 steps to avoid workplace injuries, fines, and rework

Sometimes a simple reminder is all it takes for employees to change their behavior.

Two men in hardhats looking at a tablet device

You probably know who your best, most reliable team members are. Their work is fast and efficient. Both customers and colleagues see them as capable and consistent. You probably turn to them to help train new employees. They follow the rules, and you never worry about them doing something dangerous or illegal.

Unfortunately, not every employee is as reliable. There are those who cut corners or do things the “old way”. In many cases it’s not the employee’s fault. Poor training or process documentation can account for a lot of these behaviors. And sometimes it’s as easy as telling someone the One Best Way to do something to get them to change.

Below are three easy steps that you can take to start helping your team understand and follow your existing policies and procedures.

1. Identify your One Best Way as the norm

Behavioral psychologists have found that what motivates people isn’t what you’d think.1 Higher salaries, better titles, and flexible work schedules are typically seen as the major motivating factors for employees. But in reality, it’s social norms that are most effective in getting us to change all sorts of behaviors – from recycling, to exercising, to following a work procedure.

We are genetically programmed to both perceive behaviors that are acceptable to the group and are more inclined to follow them than striking our own path.

So, in many ways, simply making your policies clear to your employees will cause them to reflexively begin to follow them.

2. Show that you care, and you’re paying attention

One of the oldest and most examined studies of workforce productivity is the Hawthorne Effect.2,3,4,5 The study had two major takeaways. Employees who know they are being observed doing their work are more likely to perform their jobs efficiently. Similarly, employees who felt that the observation was a result of their employer showing concern for their well-being were more productive.

Whether they think about it this way or not, a vast majority of your policies and procedures are likely in place to help employees. Whether it’s keeping them safe from injury or helping them to adhere to regulatory requirements, we create policies to make it easier for employees to do their jobs the One Best Way.

Explain your policies and procedures to your team by describing how they will benefit6,7 – nobody wants to redo tasks or hurt themselves.

3. Combine social norms and observation to promote change

Share your policies and procedures with employees formally.  Make sure to note that they will be responsible for complying with it moving forward. Most importantly describe that the requirement isn’t just for the company’s benefit but will save them time or make them safer. Be clear about your expectation for reviewing the document. Then ask them to confirm they’ve read it. This can be done with email, on paper, or using software like Acadia.

Behavior Change in Action

Here are some examples of Acadia customers who have effectively used Acknowledgements to create positive behavior change within their organizations.

  • Manufacturing employees were provided policies and procedures to help them conform to state and federal safety requirements. By tracking the acknowledgement of these documents, the organization created an audit trail that lowered their risk of fines from regulatory non-compliance.
  • 350 of their 6,000 back office customer service reps were repeatedly failing to open new customer accounts correctly. Their manager sent them the procedure for doing it correctly and asked them to acknowledge that they read the procedure. After just three months, the company saw a 10% decrease in errors of this kind.
  • Highly customized shipping requirements in a distribution warehouse were often executed, riddled with errors. Outbound shipping team members who were identified as the lowest performers were required to acknowledge their work instructions. Afterward, returns and re-work dropped, reducing waste dramatically.

Read on:

The Van Halen M&Ms story is true!

A pile of colorful candies

And it’s all about Standard Work.


  1. Three Myths of Behavior Change – What You Think You Know That You Don’t: Jeni Cross at TEDxCSU
  2. The Hawthorne Effect
  3. Motivation at work: a key issue in remuneration
  4. The Hawthorne Effect: A precursor to employee productivity
  5. Handling the Hawthorne effect: The challenges surrounding a participant observer
  6. 7 Things Leaders Do to Help People Change
  7. 6 Effective Ways to Change Your Employees’ Behavior

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