Jon Abbott tells us how to deliver clear communication for a strong and robust health and safety programme during times of crisis.
The briefing by the Prime Minister on Sunday 10th May was an important lesson in clear communication. While his delivery was strong, the message appeared muddled.
Some of the criticism of the Prime Minister’s briefing so far has focused on unclear language surrounding the slogan ‘stay alert’, with many citizens unsure as to what that means.
Furthermore, the messaging appeared vague with rules uncertain. This has left the Prime Minister having to work harder to clarify measures.
The problem for the Prime Minister is that any ambiguity in the message may lead to the public not following the instructions in the way intended. If the Government are not driving the behavioural outcomes they’re looking for, they risk an increase in infection. The same is true of our workplaces as they begin to open.
Communication for Returning to Work
In discussions I’ve had with key customers and with my health and safety colleagues, the complexity of the return to work process is a major challenge. It presents leaders of health and safety with a large number of strategic and operational difficulties.
And king of them all is communication.
Communication is our greatest challenge. If the message is wrong it creates confusion. In this crisis that can lead to an increase in risk and the spread of infection.
What Makes a Good Message
Effective messaging delivers what you want to say in a way that’s easily understood. Your staff are bombarded with messages every day, from the Government, from advertisers, from colleagues and as part of internal communication programmes.
For those messages to stick they need to be delivered simply, in easily understood language that provides practical results.
Think about all the successful message you hear and immediately understand. What do they have in common? They use small words, short sentences, are clear and provoke action. Messages like “See it, Say it, Sorted”, or “Stop, Look and Listen”. They provoke action and are simple enough to understand.
Contrast that with “Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives”. It’s unclear and doesn’t provoke action.
The 7 Cs of Communication
A familiar business framework for clear communication is the 7 Cs. This framework is useful to anyone delivering messages of any type but is particularly useful for internal communicators such as those in health and safety.
In all the best communications you see they have a clear goal that is the key focus for the message. It is brief enough to attend only to the important points that really matter, and it uses simple, concrete language that gives the reader a clear picture.
How to Communicate Your Programme Effectively in Health and Safety
My colleague Hollie Smith previously put together this article on effective ergonomics programme communication, however, the core elements of it can be applied to all health and safety programme communication.
Important corporate-level communications should come from the top. Directors should also be seen to be doing what is asked as well, this will reinforce action and behaviour.
There are many different mediums available and ensuring the right content is on the right medium is vital. For example, posters and displays are brilliant at communicating simple messages, for something more complex choose e-learning or video-based learning.
Think about the message and the outcome you want. Compliance with rules ‘because you have to’ is a poor message to communicate to staff.
Instead, to achieve compliance your message should need to be more considered and focus on the real challenges of returning to work.
These techniques are vital to ensure that communications at this time are considered and carefully delivered. With so much at stake it’s important we get it right.
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