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How to Get People to Change

Posted by Jody Urquhart on Mon, Feb 09, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

motivational keynote speakerBest Selling Author and Keynote Speaker, Stephen Dubner, wrote the book, Freakonomics.

In his speech to the human resources professionals association, Stephen Dubner asked the audience the provocative question, "After using a public toilet, how many of you don't wash your hands? "

In an audience of 3500 people, nobody raised a hand. Dubner then suggested that at least 30 percent of the group were lying.

When asked, most people suggest their hand hygiene rate is 100 percent. However, certain restroom lingering ( spying on people after they use the toilet) suggests that 30 percent of people don't wash their hands.

The keynote speaker suggests that the circumstances under which data are gathered tend to confirm research preferences. Thus they are not organically collected facts but tend to confirm preferred preferences

It turns out that people are really bad at predicting their behaviours and we tend to use data to confirm what we want to be true.

Another example the keynote speaker used was the statistics that 100,000 people in US hospitals die a year by preventable bacteria spread.

One major reason for this is poor hand washing hygiene. Apparently doctors have the worst hand hygiene habits of any other group. One reason why is if doctors did wash their hands for the length and frequency suggested, they would spend 90 minutes a day simply washing their hands.

One interesting study at Cedars- Sinai hospital asked doctors how often they practice proper hand hygiene. They declared a 73 % hand hygiene rate.

Next, they got nurses to spy on the Doctors and found the actual rate was 9 percent.


The hospital leadership tried rewarding Doctors with Starbucks coffee cards when they washed up to gain compliance. Although popular with the doctors, the cards didn't improve overall hand washing behaviour.


Finally, the Chief of Staff took a photo of palm print of an unwashed, bacteria laced hand and made it a screen saver. This served as a powerful reminder to the doctors that bacteria belongs to us.

It changed hand hygiene overnight.

The motivational keynote speaker made the point,  look how hard it is to make someone do something they know they should be doing.

Ultimately getting people to change is tough because we aren't even honest with ourselves.

Dubner suggested that the human resources professionals be more realistic about how people actually behave. It helps to change the way you design work activity to support the change( ie- more, closer hand washing stations).

Also remember people are more motivated by loss, which is why the bacterial images worked.

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