Friday, October 26, 2012

Communicating Change

One of our readers suggested we look at Communicating Change* by T.J. and Sandar Larkin.  The Larkins are consultants so I was somewhat skeptical of finding any value for safety culture but they have significant experience and cite enough third-party references (think: typical Wikipedia item) to give the book some credibility. 

The book presents three principles for effectively communicating change, i.e., delivering a top-down message that ultimately results in better performance or acceptance of necessary innovations, workplace disruptions or future unknowns.

Transmit the message through the first-line supervisors.  They will be the ones who have to explain the message and implement the changes on a day-to-day basis after the executives board their plane and leave.  Senior management initiatives to communicate directly with workers undermines supervisors’ influence.

Communicate face-to-face.  Do not rely on newsletters, videos, mass e-mail and other one-way communication techniques; the message is too easily ignored or misunderstood.  Face-to-face, from the boss, may be even more important in the age of social media where people can be awash in a sea of (often conflicting) information.

Make changes relevant to each work area, i.e., give the supervisor the information, training and tools necessary to explain exactly what will change for the local work group, e.g., different performance standards, methods, equipment, etc.

That’s it, although the book goes on for almost 250 pages to justify the three key principles and explain how they might be implemented.  (The book is full of examples and how-to instructions.)

Initially I thought this approach was too simplistic, i.e., it wouldn’t help anyone facing the challenge of trying to change safety-related behavior.  But simple can cut through the clutter of well-meaning but complicated change programs, one size fits all media and training, and repetitive assessments.

This book is not the complete answer but it does provide a change agent with some perspective on how one might go about getting the individual contributors (trade, technical or professional) at the end of the food chain to understand, respond to and eventually internalize required behavioral changes. 

Please contact us if you have a suggestion for a resource that you’d like us to review.


 *  T. Larkin and S. Larkin, Communicating Change: Winning Employee Support for New Business Goals (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for following up. I suggested this book as a practical guide for managers interested in creating and sustaining cultural content in a dynamic, adaptive environment. Practical guidance - don't talk about culture, live it; make supervisors the sole source of influence and information, give supervisors the tools and information to communicate face-to-face in context with the task, make manager performance visible - might seem simplistic to someone with an elite academic bent. However, some of us in the trenches find it of some value. Anyway, thanks for your integrity. I will await the one book that has the complete answer.

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