Removing the risk from change management


Three definitions are important when it comes to managing change communication in the new workplace health and safety environment, says  Dr Vincent Covello, director of the Center for Risk Communication New York City 

 The three definitions are:

  • risk communication – the exchange of information about risks
  • crisis communication – the exchange of information during, before, or after a crisis, and
  • change communication – the exchange of information about change.

All three share the same interconnected goals, namely to inform and educate, to build or repair trust, or to gain agreement, persuade, or convince.

However, based on research, there have been definite and distinct alterations in the landscape when it comes to change communication.

Dictating change has given way to dialogue; from the one-way approach to a two-way, interactive approach, from the DAD model – (D)ecide, (A)nnounce, (D)efend – to a dialogue and participatory conversation based on listening, caring, empathy, authenticity, and transparency.

This is perhaps best observed with the marital communication example, which describes seven major topics of marital and family argument or dispute driven by change where communication skills are important.

These are:

  1. Money
  2. Children
  3. Work versus gamily
  4. In-laws
  5. Division of labour at home
  6. Intimacy/Sex
  7. Communication.

A key takeaway message from this exercise and other change or high-concern situations is the rules for effective communication change in high-concern situations.

Change is a special type of high-concern situation. High-concern situations produce stress and place special demands on the brain. Change and other high-concern situations require a different and more complex communication toolbox.

When people are stressed, concerned, or worried, they typically:

  • want to know that you care before they care what you know
  • have difficulty hearing, understanding, and remembering information
  • focus more on negative information than on positive information
  • focus more on what they hear first and last.

The key determinants that make up 50 per cent of trust, namely listening, caring, empathy and compassion, are assessed in the first nine to 30 seconds; followed by competence/expertise and honesty/openness and all other factors.

This intimate connection between change management, stress, and neuroscience can perhaps best be summarized by the SCARF model:

Perceived Change                                                 Source of Stress

(S)tatus                                                                      Reduced importance to others

(C)ertainty                                                                 Inability to meet expectations

(A)utonomy                                                               Reduced control over work and events

(R)elatedness                                                           Threat to established group relations

(F)airness                                                                  Inequitable distribution of costs/benefits

There are various risk/crisis/change communication tools and templates that can help overcome these challenges. The first and perhaps most important of these is the CCO template. The CCO template calls for messages to be delivered with Compassion, Conviction and Optimism.

There is also:

  • the Rule of Three template, that consists of offering no more three messages at a time, repeated three times, with at least three proofs for each message
  • the Primacy/Recency template, that involves ranking and delivering the most important messages first and last
  • the 1N = 3P template, where one negative is equaled or outweighed by three positives.

Perception or fear factors can also be summarised within a TBC template, comprising:

  • (T) Trust – determine by perceptions of listening/caring, competence/expertise and honesty/transparency
  • (B) Benefits/Fairness – evaluated at the societal, community and personal level
  • (C) Control/Voluntariness – determined by choice, voice and knowledge.

One of the best and most efficient forums for implementing and benefitting from these templates is an open house, forum or information exchange platform that offers all stakeholders the chance to participate and air their concerns and suggestions.

Similarly, one of the most effective methods of implementing change management is the APP Strategic Tool:

  • Anticipate – Issues, Stakeholders, Questions and Concerns
  • Prepare – 3 Ms: (M)essages, (M)essengers, (M)eans of Communication
  • Practice – Practice, Practice, Practice.

This is essentially a seven-step process:

  • identify potential risk, crisis, or change communication scenarios
  • identify key stakeholders (audiences)
  • identify stakeholder questions and concerns
  • develop key messages
  • develop supporting information
  • coordinate and test messages with stakeholders and partners
  • plan for delivery.

As former New York Mayor Rudolf Giuliani noted in 1995: “The key is relentless preparation. Most of the concerns and questions of upset or concerned people can be predicted in advance.”

Message maps

One extremely effective method of clarifying major areas of concern and developing positive communications is a message map that identifies the solution and is reinforced by several supporting messages.

Take, for example, a question such as: What can people do to protect themselves from the new danger of mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus?

The key message is Remove Standing Water, and the three subsequent messages indicate where standing water is found: puddles, flower pots/bird baths and old tyres, and even a cup or bottle cap of water.

The second key message, Wear Protective Clothing, is followed by advice to wear long sleeves/long pants at dusk/dawn, and, with the Zika mosquito, even during daylight hours.

The third key message, Use Insect Repellent, is followed by medical advice to use an insect repellent with DEET at 23 per cent concentration and to follow the directions on the label.

However, it should always be remembered that non-verbal communication such as body language:

  • provides up to 75 per cent of the message
  • overrides verbal content
  • is intensely and quickly noticed
  • and often interpreted negatively.

Ultimately, therefore, nothing ensures successful change, risk or high-concern communication like preparation and practice.

As Abraham Lincoln noted many years ago, “If I had all day to cut a large tree, I would spend most of the day sharpening my axe.”

The seven cardinal rules of change and risk management

Accept and involve the stakeholder as a legitimate partner

Plan carefully and evaluate performance

Listen to your stakeholder audience

Be honest, frank and open

Coordinate and collaborate with other credible sources

Meet the needs of stakeholders and don’t wait to be solicited for information

Speak clearly and with compassion.

Three key objectives of health and safety risk communication

Effective health and safety risk communication has three objectives:

  • communicate what is known about an occupational hazard and necessary controls
  • ensure workers understand what is being communicated
  • ensure workers have an opportunity to participate in the process.

The key words in effective communication are interaction and exchange, which require:

  • two-way communication
  • interactive communication
  • engagement, dialogue, and participation.