How to stop making the same mistakes

Lachy Gray, 5 min read

Many of our road transport customers find preventable mistakes to be one of the most common events that cause harm. These are mistakes that could be prevented, if the correct process is understood and followed. In other words, they're within our control. They can have significant physical, mental, reputation and financial costs, whether that's a tanker putting the wrong fuel into a service station tank or a driver using their mobile phone in the truck.

When a fuel tanker puts unleaded 91 into the unleaded 98 tank at a service station (known as a crossover), it can cost upwards of $130,000 in clean up costs. Often the first sign that something's wrong is when cars that have filled up from that bowser drive out of the service station and break down a few hundred metres up the road.

When a driver uses a mobile phone in their truck, at best they can be distracted momentarily with no consequence and at worst cause an accident and bring harm to themselves and the people around them.

So how do you overcome old habits? How do you make a process second nature? Here are a few of the elements that we incorporate when we partner with our customers.

Explain why

It's common for us to be told what we should be doing at work - what processes to follow, what to do in case of an emergency. This knowledge is usually covered in an induction and refreshed through toolbox talks, and signs and posters throughout the workplace.

But what is sometimes left out is why. Why are we asked to follow that particular process? Why is that important? In our experience working with our road transport customers, communicating the why behind an action or request provides much-needed context. It helps people to rationalise what they're asked to do to complete the picture.

For our road transport customers the why is usually safety-related. To ensure the driver gets back to their family safely at the end of the day. The why could also include the years of experimentation that have led to a particular process, filtering out what doesn't work and honing in on what does.


Us humans are reward focused. Our brains seek pleasure and avoid pain. We're motivated to do things that feel good and will repeat that behaviour until something changes. And we'll steer clear of things that cause discomfort or result in a punishment (sounds fair doesn't it?).

Motivation in the workplace is often reward focused, it's extrinsic in that it comes from an external source like an award or prize. It could be a bonus or a promotion. And while extrinsic motivation works, it can have unintended side effects. For example, let's say you introduce an annual recognition program for high achievers. You get an increase in performance (for some), while other people feel demotivated and resentful.

Being motivated to take on an activity for its own sake, for the enjoyment it provides or the learning and growth that it encourages is called intrinsic motivation. It's that sense of purpose and excitement you get when you feel motivated to take on something new. Intrinsic motivators can be more enduring yet more challenging to identify and tap into.

Ideally, we're motivated by a combination of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. I think understanding the why behind something and rationalising and internalising it can build intrinsic motivation. As can having the opportunity to master a process or technique.

Fostering an environment that positively motivates is key too. One where feedback is encouraged and viewed as a vital path to learning rather than an avenue for one person to bring another down. Where people help each other for the collective good rather than personal benefit, and where mistakes are tolerated and even encouraged if they're in pursuit of personal growth and improvement.

Deliberate practice

Practice is fundamental to building new knowledge and skills and to reinforcing steps and processes we need to follow to keep us safe. Yet many of us get to a "good enough" point and stop, especially if we've been doing the same steps and process for many years. Other times we hate being bad at something and we shy away from it. If our work environment isn't supportive of us making mistakes in the pursuit of learning, then we can quickly lose motivation.

Angela Duckworth, in her book Grit, talks to the value of deliberate practice, and the benefit of what she calls a practice loop:

  1. Do something you're not good at.
  2. Use deliberate practice with full effort and concentration.
  3. Find feedback from people you trust, such as a customer, mentor, coach, peer.
  4. Reflect on your performance and take on board feedback, both of which improve the quality of your deliberate practice.

While the practice loop sounds easy, it's not! Finding the tipping point is more art than science, I think. It's that point where something is challenging and rewarding when you eventually achieve it vs too challenging, you never achieve it, and you feel demotivated. In my experience, this is where a trusted mentor or peer can help. They can set the goal just out of reach, in the knowledge that it is achievable with a bit of practice.

Lowes Petroleum case study

Over the past 18 months, we've partnered with Lowes Petroleum and together have attempted to find ways to reduce preventable mistakes.

Lowes Petroleum is a leader in fuel and lubricant distribution in regional Australia. Founded in 1977, the business has grown significantly, partnering with BP in a joint-venture in 2015. Lowes engaged Yarno as part of their investment in and commitment to a safe workplace.

Identifying safety knowledge gaps before they happen

Real-time feedback on knowledge gaps and lead indicators gives the safety/HSEQ managers at Lowes Petroleum insight into what a driver does, or doesn't know, and whether a risk exists to the driver or immediate environment.

As drivers interact with the Yarno platform, a rich source of data is fed back to the team. They can then drill down on this data to understand if there are potential leading indicators around safety risks. For example, these insights can be used to pinpoint knowledge or procedural gaps in a newly inducted driver.  

Creating coaching conversations

Once safety data is in the hands of a driver trainer, they can use it to facilitate a coaching conversation with a driver, and ensure a correct procedure is further reinforced. Without Yarno, the driver trainers rely on visually seeing a driver performing a procedure incorrectly, and with a highly mobile workforce, often working in isolation, this is almost impossible. The driver trainer can identify particular areas for the driver to work on and practice, and to receive feedback over the coming months.

This is how Paul Potter, Group Operations Manager at Lowes Petroleum, explains it;

"Here at Lowes Petroleum, we have been on a Yarno journey. Yarno has provided us with the platform to engage with our extremely geographically diverse workforce in a timely manner. This has assisted us greatly into gaining a heightened insight into the knowledge and understanding of our frontline staff in relation to the way we do things at Lowes. Results from our recent campaigns clearly show that when we are engaging with our staff regularly, especially when using the Yarno platform/tools, we realise an improvement in our safety performance. We look forward to expanding the relationship with Yarno in the coming years."

Wrap up

In our experience, preventable mistakes are reduced by explaining why a process or procedure needs to be followed, finding the right balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and incorporating regular practice into work life.

Lachy Gray

Lachy Gray

Lachy's our Managing Director. He's our resident rationalist and ideas man. He also reads way too many books for our liking.

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