Making a Change by Means of Effective Communication

In honor of Nelson Mandela’s death, this blog entry of communication will be related to his celebration of life.   

We all probably think we communicate effectively. Often times, we hear that communication is key in so many different areas but rarely are we given the “how-to’s” in communication. This blog entry is aimed at providing you with the tools, resources and means to make an impact with all levels of the organization through safety.

Reflecting from the previous blog, our role as safety professionals is to act as a change agent within the organization. Transforming and/or enhancing our organizational culture through safety remains a constant goal. How often are we communicating with all levels of the organization? Are we putting ourselves in the forefront of business discussions, meetings, or conference calls?  Most of the time, we just sit back and say, “That is just the way it is”. 

This is a major concern because we must relate safety to all levels of the organization. Safety is not given as much attention as it should because more than likely, the information is not presented in a way that speaks the language of that specific organizational level(s) or individual(s). 

The recent news of Nelson Mandela’s death calls for a moment of mourning and reflection, but also a time of learning. As cultures, religions, and individuals celebrate his death across the globe, a virtual vigil is hosted on news channels and social networking sites reflecting on his life and achievements. It is ultimately up to each person to take a piece of Madiba with him/her on their journey in life.  A famous quote that remained within me for many years and gaining more emphasis now is, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.  If you talk to him in HIS language, that goes to his heart.” (Nelson Mandela)

Take this quote with you to the workplace. All levels of the organization speak different languages. As a safety professional, it is our essential duty to better ourselves for the sake of our fellow colleagues.  We must speak the language of senior leadership down to the front-line employee. Although showing charts, graphs, and measurements is often the language of senior leadership, we need to get to their hearts. We gain insight to their hearts by speaking on managing the business, perceptions, and having fatal injuries.

This requires an important effort on our part to educate ourselves in learning their language. Top leaders speak the language of business; measurements, trends, and data with notable context that are leading indicators. These leading indicators can then be related to other organizational elements (such as insurance numbers, production, quality, and customer service).  You may be thinking, “What are effective leading indicators that speak the language of top senior leaders?” This can be behavioral observations, perceptions of safety culture, and risk assessments, just to name a few. Leading indicators ultimately provide you with the predictability where you can focus individual efforts to keeping safety in the forefront and improve the business. 

Provide context with notable trends over a period of time. More than likely, we distribute a chart/graph without any summary or detailed descriptions. This leaves the measurements up for misinterpretation.  Further analysis of charts/graphs is crucial when speaking the language of business. For example, “if a BBS initiative was recently implemented, we must take the time to generate a report and trend how many observations are completed, where are majority of safe behaviors, the unsafe behaviors, how do elements such as production and quality relate to the BBS process?” Anyone can give out a graph, but when you perform an in-depth analysis and generate notable trends, you have then reached their hearts.

Speaking the language of middle management and front-line employees takes a different approach. To get into their hearts, we need to engage middle management in the safety of their employees. This can be done by providing them with notable trends and context important to their specific business unit(s), location(s), or region(s). This may vary according to industry and company, but the universal fact is perceptions of employees and measurements of successes speak their language. Communication of these leading indicators to this specific group will be more effective with context and summaries.  Trending these location-specific measurements against claim numbers, workman’s compensation costs, and BBS successes will provide you with the trust and involvement that a safety change agent needs to make an impact.

There is a deep need for employees to feel just how important safety is.  Whether we are preaching to senior leadership, middle management, or front-line employees, it is up to us to make it personal.  It is our essential duty to become the inspiration an organization needs in pursuing the journey of achieving Safety Excellence. Just as Nelson Mandela was the humble symbol of motivation to the country of South Africa, we are the symbols of motivation within our organization.  In essence, our company is the country to which we serve and make a difference. 

Being patient and serving with humility is the ultimate way to lead a team.  Madiba did not ever take full credit for the struggles South Africa overcame.  He reflected all successes to the team and the individual effort each citizen of South Africa demonstrated in maintaining the end goal of unity and peace as one.

Let us take the traits of humility, responsibility, and modesty that Madiba has demonstrated and instill them as our morals when being the safety change agents our organization needs.

Bashir Zayid is a Safety Services Consultant for RCI-Safety based out of Chicago, IL.

Posted by Bashir Zayid on Dec 17, 2013