Workplace Communicator Blog

Why a Failed Safety Communication Launch is Bad for Your Career

Posted by Marie-Claire Ross on Mon, Nov 24, 2014

failed_communication_launchLast year, I was talking to the safety manager at an equipment hire company that has 300 staff Australia wide. He had launched a new safety campaign with his senior manager to promote the new annual safety goal.

Beautiful brochures were created and were launched with much fanfare at sites across the country.  To the horror of management, employees were cynical and distrusted the messages.  Showing their lack of faith by throwing the expensive brochures into the bin.

A year later the company wanted to launch another new safety goal after having to abandon the previous one.  They wanted a quote on getting some communication materials made.

But here's the thing.  Pretty brochures, elaborate videos and launch parties cannot make up for any serious cultural issues that need to be worked on first.  Many leaders think they can generate change by inspiring pep talks.  That they can rally support with a few words, a couple of times a year.  But there is so much more to it than that.  To move people, you need to inspire them with a shared vision.  A vision that has meaning and that is achievable.  This is done through connecting with people in your workplace, going out and talking to them and linking how their personal goals match the goals of the organisation.  But first of all, you need to dig deeper and find out why people don't believe that change can occur.  Once you have worked on that, then you can introduce new plans.

Senior management just didn't get how serious it was that the workforce didn't believe them.  Like all companies that rate for low effectiveness when it comes to workplace communication, they were focused on the cost of communication production, rather than behavioural change.  If you contrast this to high effectiveness organisation who focus on behaviour change rather than costs, they see improvement around 3 times that of low effectiveness organisations.

In the book Execution, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charam, they mention the need for companies to have leaders who get things done.  Leaders who commit to a new plan and ensure follow through occurs.  This means ensuring that communication works at all levels throughout the company, behaviours change, processes are improved and results are achieved.  Basically, leaders who are authentic avoid empty and baseless rhetoric and have the talent to create communication that is deeper and more meaningful than just a one-off brochure.  Oh yes, and employees trust them that they mean what they say.

Sadly, this organisation is not alone in having a safety communication campaign that bombed.

Most organisations fail miserably at their latest communication launches, including safety.  A study by Towers Watson found that only 55% of communication initiatives succeed initially with only one in four being successful (25%) in changing behaviour long term.

What this firm got so wrong was that they let their safety goals die.  They abandoned it because they thought it was unworkable.  There was nothing wrong with the safety plan.  There was just something really wrong with leadership who couldn't quite connect that their inability to lead a culture of execution wasn't just going to affect safety, but infiltrate at all levels throughout the company.  When leadership can't transform a company, it sends a ripple effect of consequences throughout the organisation.  In this case, it means any new initiative in any other department will also most likely fail.   Over time, costs keep increasing over a range of areas.


The Cost of the Status Quo

Aside from wasting time, money and resources on creating their safety goal, this company increased increasing costs from remaining in the status quo.  In other words, from not changing.

Over the course of the year, the safety injuries increased not only increasing safety costs, but also productivity decreased and so did staff morale due to a stressful work environment.

When you have problems that don't get fixed, it gets more and more expensive.  Repeated employee hassles cost employees 40% of their time.  This figure is high because one problem is not just one person's problem.  Others have to be brought in to deal with the glitch as well.   These employees were dealing with daily issues of repeated injuries and stuff ups with daily processes. 

If we look into the future a year or two years from now, that company will be unable to innovate (because that company is stuck and unable to move forward), create a cohesive and healthy workplace, attract great talent and ensure their customers are happy.  It's also unlikely that either of those managers will keep their jobs due to non-performance.  Unless, of course, they learn from their mistakes.

Sadly, both the safety manager and his boss were totally oblivious to the fact that they had lost credibility.  That the launch failure was a personal indictment of their inability to execute.

Instead, they only counted the brochure creation as the only amount of money that had been wasted.  But high effective companies know that when it comes to safety communication, the aim is to create a return on investment of between 1.5 -3%.  So if you spend say $5000 on printing brochures, another $3,000 on graphic design and $2,000 on your time to get it made that $10,000 needs to see a return to the business of between $11,500 - $13,000.

To realise this return, you need to measure the success of your communication campaign.  And it has to be focused on changing behaviours.  This means you have to be strategic in your safety communication.  You have to create a strategy that is centred on behaviour change and getting results. 

Yet, too often I see communication strategies that fail because they are full of holes and don't cover all of the bases.  Organisations just implement a band aid approach which is just launch a new initiative without questioning how successfully it can integrated into the company.  Done correctly, a strategic communication approach facilitates change and promotes continuous improvements in business operations. 

Right from the start, any safety communication strategy needs the leadership team to ask these questions honestly:

  1. Will our employees accept this new safety goal?  If not, why not?
  2. In what departments, will this new safety goal get stuck and not passed on?  What can we do do get department heads on board?
  3. Which supervisors do we need to consult with first to find out their thoughts on the new initiative?
  4. How do we tie in this new initiative to the rewards system?
  5. What sort of feedback system can we introduce to track how employees are responding to the new initiative?

In the book, The Leadership Challenge, by Kouzes and Posner, they say each management decision and action is a moment of truth.  If management say that something needs to occur, but they're not committed to seeing it through, what does the workforce see?  Leaders who aren't committed to change.  Leadership isn't about charisma, it's all about behaviour.  If you want your workforce to work safely, then model the way.

Bottom line, never agree to help with any organisational launch unless you're 100% fully committed to seeing it completed.  This means course correcting on a daily basis, ensuring employees understand what is expected of them and that any issues with it are rectified, so that it's on track to get results.

If you're serious about having the skills to improve your safety communcation the book, Transform Your Safety Communication can get you up and running fast with easy to use templates, while for those who want to be true agents of change, the workshop Fast Track your Safety Communcation Results can teach you how to create actionable safety messages and be a visionary leader.


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Topics: failed safety communication launch, safety communication strategy