A Tale of Two Telematics

With the improvements in occupational safety over the past two decades, incidents within the workplace have been greatly reduced. Those organizations for which driving is a requirement have found motor vehicle incidents to be one of the remaining greatest risks, sometimes accounting for a significant proportion of incidents. Telematics is a term used to refer to technology that enables the tracking of driving behaviors, through analysis of speed, hard stops, hard turns, etc.  Data are fed back to managers or in some cases, directly to drivers so they can adjust their driving behaviors. This technology has been a game changer: improving driving and thus reducing motor vehicle incidents. But adoption hasn’t been easy. The early introduction of this technology was met with strong resistance. For drivers, it can feel like Big Brother. Today, telematics has become common in organizations with fleets. Most of our clients, for whom driving is a significant part of their business, use telematics. 

Recently I conducted safety culture assessments at two different organizations. Both use telematics but the on-going response to it is very different. When I asked drivers in Company A about telematics, they rolled their eyes and proceeded to complain about it. They begrudgingly admitted that it did change their driving habits. It was clearly a point of contention between drivers and management and has had a negative impact on the safety culture. In Company B, when asked about telematics, the response was neutral. They agreed that it improved their driving but there were no complaints, no negative impact on employee-management relationships, and no negative impact on company culture. 

What’s the difference? Consequences. In Company A, employees are called in when they have a negative “event” (an episode of speeding, hard braking, etc.). They are called in, not to their supervisor’s office, but to the district manager’s office to have a conversation about their poor driving. Employees complained that frequently these driving events were either technical glitches or explainable. But being called in clearly had a negative impact regardless. In Company B, driving events lead to brief conversations with supervisors, starting with questions that allow drivers to explain the circumstances. Company B also recognizes employees with good driving records, acknowledging those that go for weeks and months without events. In Company A, employees experience only negative consequences around telematics. The best thing that happens to them is they stay out of trouble. In Company B, employees know that leaders attend to and appreciate safe driving. 

As with all safety-related behaviors, when leaders default to attending only to at-risk behaviors and using largely negative consequences, there are lasting negative effects on relationships, trust, openness and safety culture in general. Telematics provide a wonderful opportunity to positively reinforce safe driving, so be sure to use the data to recognize good performance or improve performance. Doing so will both increase safe driving and build the trust and respect that are key to high-performing safety cultures.

Posted by Judy Agnew, Ph.D.

As senior vice president of safety solutions, Judy spends her time helping clients create sustainable safety cultures. She also helps clients with strategy execution beyond safety, and general management and leadership improvement across cultural and generational differences.