Among my hobbies I can safely include central heating – an endlessly fascinating subject, especially where possible energy savings (i.e. cash savings) are concerned. And it was while replacing our 30 year old boiler with a new whizz-bang condensing one that I noticed the power of projections, comparison and targets on influencing behaviour.

I mourn the old Baxi boiler which only ever needed a replacement thermocouple every five years; the new one is a monster of complexity which will not match the reliability of the old one but is probably 30-50% more efficient. Less gas, less money to the UK energy cartel – yippee. Remember how privatisation was going to introduce competition to the energy market… how we laughed eh?
Hands using a tape measure on a graph on a blackboard
Incidentally the charming and fragrant Mrs Beswick has taken precisely no interest in the new appliance but what woman ever felt a radiator? What man doesn’t?

I now have an A-rated state of the art installation with spares support stretching into the foreseeable future. I anticipated massive gas savings. The problem is that we had a few extra radiators put in and what with one thing and another I am dismayed to see that my, ancient, high-ceilinged, badly insulated, draughty semi is still using 40% more gas than what EON laughingly call a similar property – Aaaargh! In addition the supplier website shows graphed consumption curves month by month against the curves for the similar property.

This induces near apoplexy in me.

Plainly the answer to this is to tell the wife to stop complaining and put another jumper on. This is a policy pursued by one of my colleagues who can often be seen on the JOMC video conference in his dining room dressed for an Everest assault. But no, I refuse to be cold and I will exercise my first world birthright to walk around the house in a thong in January if I feel like it (don’t ask). Meantime we now have a programmable wireless thermostat that I carry from room to room like a casket containing the sacred bones of a long dead saint.

Data as an incentive to improve

Isn’t it interesting how EON’s (ridiculous) gas usage comparison figures, in particular the graphs, prompted a behavioural response from me?

I now have some sort of self-imposed target to get the excess figure down to say 30% as a start but without incurring any personal thermal discomfort of course. I’m guessing that HM Government have forced EON to give these comparisons, after all what right thinking energy supplier would provide information that might prompt obsessives like me to use less energy?

So if we measure something and present the data to people with an incentive to improve then people may well respond to improve the situation and may even set themselves improvement targets. If we don’t measure and don’t give people feedback then people may not be motivated to change. Weightwatchers works in the same manner with the addition of peer pressure.

If you have a behavioural observation or discussion process in operation within your organisation do you measure the following?

  • Observer performance – are enough conversations taking place month by month?
  • Numbers of active trained observers – are some people carrying other active observers?
  • Senior manager performance – are the leaders carrying out their allocated number of discussions?
  • Safe and at risk behaviours – what safe behaviours are being followed? What at risk behaviours need attention.

The JOMC Engage learning tool fulfils these needs and more – impartiality rules require that I point out other measurement tools are available.
All of this brings us to another area. Should we set discussion targets for people? Shouldn’t they be motivated enough to carry out their discussions anyway? I wish that the latter was true but experience shows that you do have to set discussion targets for observers because ‘what gets measured gets done’.