Don’t let key safety and compliance messages slip through the cracks

This post originally appeared in hrdaily.com.au.

Constant change is the new normal in business, so organisations need to find a way to communicate crucial safety and compliance messages to employees above the din, says communications expert Jonathan Champ.

In an environment where staff are drowning in push communications like email and research shows very few organisations are less complex than they were five years ago, companies need to set measurable objectives for safety communications over the long term, Champ says in an HR Daily Premium webcast.

(While focused on safety, the messages apply to all compliance-related communication.)

“Many organisations have significant competing priorities,” he says. “People are shouting for more attention. A specialist topic such as safety becomes only one of a number of things organisations are trying to have people be aware of.”

Organisations should have four key goals in their internal communications strategy, says Champ, the founder of Meaning Business. They should create an appetite for essential safety information; they should amplify those messages through various channels available to them; they should avoid one-hit announcements and structure campaigns for the long haul; and they should build a culture genuinely committed to workplace safety.

Crucial to this strategy is making safety and compliance messages easy to digest with clear guidelines to staff about what is expected of them. And they should be spiced up with a sense of “what’s in it for me”, Champ says.

Resistance to change

Employees often resist change when it is brought in and communicated from above, Champ says, and there are three typical causes of that.

“What we know about change communication is that people will tend to resist the new and that’s quite predictable,” he says. “But there are three different kinds of resistance and it’s important to understand what kind of resistance there is here.”

The first is when people don’t know or understand what they need to do and what is required of them. Information needs to be made available and accessible to everyone using multiple channels, Champ says.

The second is when staff lack the skills, resources or capacity to enact the change. Feedback processes are needed to genuinely help employees through the problems they are facing.

The third is they simply are not willing. This is often due to a “values disconnect” and it is important to build trust through openness about the importance of the change, Champ says.

What’s in it for me?

Motivating workers is key to successfully communicating safety and compliance messages, and this needs to be done through a balance of what Champ calls “compliance” and “commitment”.

Compliance is an academic understanding of the things that need to be done.

“Compliance is driven by external motivators – you will be in trouble if you don’t do it, there will be fines, there will be disciplinary processes,” Champ says. “That’s valid, we need to do some of those things.”

But a sense of commitment comes instead from an innate desire to do the right thing. When that exists, employees are able to act within guidelines instead of strict processes.

“Instead of being seen to do the right thing it’s about actually doing the right thing,” Champ says. “They’re the kinds of outcomes you would strive for if we’re trying to drive commitment instead of just compliance.”

Finding the right balance between commitment and compliance is important for  communicating mandatory requirements.

Finding the right balance between commitment and compliance is important for communicating mandatory requirements.

One factor that can drive compliance and also commitment is a bit of fear, Champ says, in the form of demonstrating the risks of non-compliance. It is showing that if people do the wrongs things, there could be personal liability, organisational liability, and even injury or death. But companies have to be careful using fear as a motivator.

“Fear can be a successful driver of behavioural change,” he says. “A lot of behaviour change campaigns on social issues like drink driving or smoking campaigns rely on a fear component. But it’s complex behaviourally and not something to dabble with in your first efforts of communicating safety in your organisation.”

HR Daily Premium subscribers can watch the full webcast – or excerpts – by clicking here

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