As a chief behavioural scientist, senior MBA lecturer, a Superstar of STEM nominee and a homeward bound Antarctica explorer that has a PhD in experimental psychology at Cambridge University, Dr Juliette Tobias-Webb is not your usual bus and coach conference speaker.
Yet at this year’s BIC National Conference at Adelaide in late October and early November, Tobias-Webb will present at the Scania Big Breakfast to the annual collective of bus and coach industry leaders.
“The presentation will explore the magic of human decision-making and behaviour where the audience can learn why people do what they do and how to shift the environment to positively influence people in a way that is impactful and empowering,” Tobias-Webb told ABC.
“Through fun and interactive examples, I plan to show the audience how we are all biased and show examples of how bias is embedded in our everyday thoughts, actions and our society.
“For instance, people will learn how even office air-conditioning can create a lack of inclusion and how behavioural scientists have redesigned roads to encourage safer driving behaviour.”
Tobias-Webb’s background experience that she’ll bring to the BIC Conference is vast. Coming from a diverse family, she has always been passionate about helping people live better lives. This developed into her PhD, where she then went on to be a senior manager in behavioural science at Commonwealth Bank, the behaviour change lead for Ogilvy Australia and a research fellow for the Behavioural Insights Team.
She’s recently become a professor of practice in behavioural science at the Artificial Intelligence & Cyber Futures Institute while continuing to teach. What she brings as a headline speaker at the conference is an outsider’s perspective. In an industry where worker retention and recruiting is so vital, her knowledge of understanding people has never been timelier for the bus and coach sector.
“I offer a fresh perspective by shifting the focus from changing human minds to workplace redesign,” Tobias-Webb says.
“I’ll focus on how small environmental shifts can catalyse choices and behaviour and transform change – closing what we call the intention-action gap.”
A key part of Tobias-Webb’s talk at the Scania Big Breakfast will also be on bias in the workplace. She says that everyone is more like Homer Simpson in our decision-making and behaviour, having ‘doh’ moments without thinking.
“I’ll encourage people to rethink the processes in place and our natural responses,” she says.
“Once we understand how we make decisions and how we look for cues in the environment to determine decisions, we can then understand how we can plan to better recruit, retain and promote individuals at an organisational level.”
Tobias-Webb says there are clear examples of where behaviour science has helped improve attraction and retention outcomes for companies that she’s keen to share with the bus and coach industry.
These include removing gender-based language from job advertisements and blind recruitment-based recruitment methods that have been proven to attract a broader range of diverse candidates and equal-turn taking methods to help people feel valued in high-performance teams, increasing retention levels.
“These are only a few examples that scratch the surface of what I’ll look to discuss,” Tobias-Webb says.
“There are studies that have also looked at behavioural nudges for safety compliance, which can help retain employees whereby bus driver cabins and the buses themselves can be redesigned to include subtle cues that encourage adherence to safety protocols.”
Tobias-Webb says a main reason behind these workplace challenges for the bus and coach industry includes a lack of shared experiences due to increased distractions and societal divides. It means that learning to handle difficult and challenging situations has become a more critical skill than ever before.
As a sneak peak of what she’ll look to pass onto attendees, Tobias-Webb says encouraging small shifts in environments will be key to improving connection and transforming behaviour change.
“Shift the focus from changing individuals – it can be difficult to do at scale but it can change the environment and entice people to follow,” she says.
“There’s a psychological concept called social norms. As an individual, we often follow the herd. Signs on public transport saying ‘aggression will not be tolerated’ can be counterproductive because it sets the norm that aggression happens a lot.
“We want to shift the communication to thanking people for their consideration and kindness, changing the social norm to recognise the desired behaviour.”
The presentation will also consider individual communication strategies to achieve better outcomes. Tobias-Webb says this generally starts with considering the other person and their motives.
“When we move into challenging conversations, we often think about ourselves, our motives and our evidence,” she says.
“We forget to stop and think about the other person. Yet, when we do, we can get dramatic changes in outcomes. I’ll show examples of this in the presentation.”
Following her presentation on bias in the workplace and how to counteract it in the Ian McLachlan Room on October 31, Tobias-Webb will also join in on the driver safety and antisocial behaviour session later in the day to discuss how to deal with difficult people in relation to human behavioural change.
Although she has plenty of experience and knowledge to pass onto the industry, her message for now is simple – everyone is human and more similar than we know, so behavioural change is key to making workplaces safer and more enticing. Her presentation is set to reveal how subtle changes hold the key to reinvigorating bus and coach industry challenges.
“Once we understand what is under the human hood, so to speak, we can dramatically change behaviour in a way that optimises outcomes for everyone,” Tobias-Webb says.
“I encourage everyone to start by being curious about what they could do differently to consider others and what they could shift in their environment to catalyse change when there are recurring people problems.
“I look forward to meeting the bus and coach industry later this year and presenting to them.”