Communicating Change

Article by George Robotham – www.ohschange.com.au

A quote I love from this article: “The world of safety is famous for well-meaning, ponderous, glossy publications that no one really knows about, cares about or uses. Safety communications are also famous for the use of “weasel-words”. “Weasel-words” promise a lot but deliver little. Corporate OHS people are experts at producing technically brilliant safety communications that the workers do not connect with”

Communicating change – Winning employee support for new business goals – T. J. Larkin, Sandar Larkin

Introduction

I worked with T.J. Larkin analysing communications in a major organisation, the things he says make a lot of sense to me.

There were 3 main messages to come out of this research-

  1. Use face-to-face communications,
  2. Use the supervisor to communicate and
  3. Frame messages relevant to the immediate work area.

Extracts from the text

After receiving communication employees should return to their job and perform better than before. This change should be observable and immediate. Communication should have one goal, improving performance. It should change the way employees do their job.

If communication is to change behaviour it must be grounded in the desires and interests of the receivers. To be noticed the communication must be something that interests the receiver, to change behaviour it must touch one of their values.

A lot of current communications is designed to please head office. The communication is not oriented towards the receivers and consequently does not change the way they act.

Communication often comes from senior management, it is a mortal sin to fail to use supervisors to introduce change to front line employees

There is some loyalty and admiration among middle and senior managers. This dissipates fast as you head toward the front line. On the front line loyalty and admiration are replaced by suspicion. Senior management should never go direct to the front line.

Working with a powerful supervisor is associated with-

1 Increased trust in the supervisor

2 Increased desire for communications with the supervisor

3 Increased belief in the accuracy of information coming from the supervisor

It is not the employees communication relationship with the C.E.O. or head office that matters, rather it is his or hers communication with his or her supervisor that matters. The supervisor must be the privileged receiver of information, never brief workers and supervisors together. Do not trickle communications down through middle management, it rarely works.

Australian front line employees like videos much less than their American counterparts.

Do not rely on the company newsletter for communicating change

Professor T.J. Larkin says “If it is not face-to-face it is not communication”.

General safety communications

With written communications I aim to be succinct, have an appropriate structure and utilise management summaries with major reports. I use photographs, diagrams, flow-charts etc. to illustrate main points. Important written communications must always be followed up by a face-to-face meeting. The BHP guideline for general correspondence is that if it takes more than 2 pages to write it is too much for busy people to write and read. The world of safety is famous for well-meaning, ponderous, glossy publications that no one really knows about, cares about or uses. Safety communications are also famous for the use of “weasel-words”. “Weasel-words” promise a lot but deliver little. Corporate OHS people are experts at producing technically brilliant safety communications that the workers do not connect with.

Action and Experiential learning models must be used for communicating learning as opposed to lecture style presentations.

Conclusion

There were 3 main messages to come out of this research-

  1. Use face-to-face communications,
  2. Use the supervisor to communicate and
  3. Frame messages relevant to the immediate work area.

These are very simple yet powerful messages that are often ignored in practice, much safety communications should be examined for its effectiveness.

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