Change is never easy. The significance of that statement, simplistic as it seems, became very real for me recently when a long-time acquaintance was involved in a preventable intersection crash.

The crash occurred when the acquaintance (I'll call him Joe) made an error in judgment and pulled out from an intersection into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Unable to avoid him, the vehicle collided with Joe's car, crushing the right-side passenger compartment.

While no one was with Joe at the time of the crash, someone very near and dear to me could have easily been sitting in the crushed area of the vehicle.

As you might guess, Joe was cited for failing to yield the right-of-way and the incident has been judged as a preventable crash.

Since then, I've had several conversations with Joe's acquaintances and discovered that he has been exhibiting risky driver behaviors for quite some time. Despite recurring feedback from friends, Joe has resisted making any changes to his driving behavior. I am hopeful that this “close call” might be the impetus to effect such a change.

The incident offers an opportunity to examine the complexities of change and, more importantly, look at how they can impede or facilitate safety management efforts. Loveland, CO-based Prosci, a leading change management research firm, has developed a model called ADKAR that is based on a five-step process:

  1. Awareness of the need to change.
  2. Desire to participate in the change.
  3. Knowledge about the change.
  4. Ability to implement new skills and behaviors.
  5. Reinforcement to keep the change in place.

Let's look at Joe's situation through the ADKAR framework. To change his risky driving behavior, Joe must complete the entire five-step process. First, he must be aware of the need to change. Hopefully, the intersection crash will take care of that. Then he has to develop the desire to change. Only then will Joe be ready to acquire the knowledge he needs to become a safer driver. The next step is to apply that knowledge in the form of new driving skills. Finally, he must receive reinforcement and feedback to sustain the safe driving techniques.

Prosci researchers explain that special tactics are essential in helping people progress from step to step. For example, assuming this incident made Joe aware of the need to change, his friends and family may have to take action that will get him to the next step: wanting to change. They might counter Joe's resistance by helping him understand that the consequences of continued risky driving behavior are real and severe — he could lose his license or, even worse, someone could be killed or seriously injured.

Why is the topic of change management important to safety professionals? Researchers have determined that many projects — safe driving campaigns, for example — fail because those in charge either are not aware of change management techniques or don't know how to implement them. Safety professionals often see knowledge as the first step, and try to implement change by setting up a training program. But if people are unaware of the need to change or lack the desire to change, efforts like these won't make a difference.

I urge you to learn more about change management practices. For more information about the Prosci research, go to www.change-management.com.


Jim York is the ass't. vice president of technical services for Zurich Services Corp. Risk Engineering in Schaumburg, IL.