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.

George Robotham

George Robotham

George was a Legend in the Safety World who passed away in Sept 2013 but left us with a great legacy
George Robotham
I have worked in OHS for most of my working life, many years in the mining industry including over 10 years in a corporate OHS role with BHP. Since leaving the mining industry I have worked in a variety of safety roles with a variety of employers, large & small, in a variety of industries. I was associated with my first workplace fatality at age 21, the girl involved was young, intelligent, vivacious and friendly. Such a waste! I was the first on the scene and tried to comfort her and tend to her injuries. She said to me “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton base hospital where she died the next day. I do not mind telling you that knocked me around for awhile. Since then I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 12 fatalities and 2 other life-altering events. The section "Why do Occupational Health & Safety" provides further detail but in summary, poor safety is simply very expensive and also has a massive humanitarian cost. My qualifications include a certificate I.V. in Workplace Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Frontline Management, a Diploma in Training & Assessment Systems, a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) , a Grad. Cert. in Management of Organisational Change and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management. I am currently studying towards a Masters in Business Leadership. Up until recently I had been a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia for 10 years and a member for about 30 years. My interest is in non-traditional methods of driving organisational change in OHS and I have what I believe is a healthy dis-respect for many common approaches to OHS Management and OHS Training. I hold what I believe is a well-founded perception that many of the things safety people and management do in safety are “displacement activities” (Displacement activities are things we do, things we put a lot of energy into, but which when we examine them closely there is no valid reason for doing them). My managerial and leadership roles in OHS have exposed me to a range of management techniques that are relevant to Business Improvement. In particular I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and quality management approaches to business. I believe leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most aspects of life. I hold the Australian Defence Medal and am a J.P.(Qualified). I have many fond memories of my time playing Rugby Union when I was a young bloke.

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