Sustainability and Communications: Let’s Start Out on the ‘Write Footing’

I’d like to kick off this first CISL theme by offering to the wider Cohort 7 audience, and anybody else, some very practical principles, plans, and tips that have heavily influenced communications and promotion in the field of HSE (Health, Safety, and Environment).  I take these from the founders and authors of both the International Sustainability Rating System (formerly the International Safety Rating System) / ISRS and the book, Practical Loss Control Leadership (‘PLCL’), by Frank E. Bird, Jr., M. Douglas Clark, and George Germain.  These are now products and services wholly owned by DNV GL.

In planning any kind of communication and/or promotional initiative, it is helpful to remember the following four principles of communication in order to best get your message across:

  1. The Information Principle – Effective communication increases motivation.  In essence, providing people with the relevant and needed information in advance increases the probability that they will be motivated to DO something about the topic at hand, as opposed to leaving them blind with nothing to go on.  As Peter Drucker has said, ‘DO is the critical word!’
  2. The Distortion Principle – The more levels a communication goes through, the more distorted it becomes.  Communication, ideally, needs to be as direct as possible.  This principle illustrates the danger of trying to communicate a message through too many channels.  What began as ‘Message A,’ by the time it has gone through ten people, has become ‘Message Z.’  As kids, we often called this the ‘Chinese Whisper,’ or ‘Telephone.’
  3. The Psychological Appeal Principle – Communication that appeals to feelings and attitudes tends to be more motivational than that which appeals only to reason.  This simply means that appealing to the intellect only, and/or making presentations full of statistics and facts alone will not ‘sell’ your message.  People are emotional, and liked to be grabbed by the ‘heart’ as well.
  4. The Utilization Principle – The sooner and more often an idea or skill is put to work, the better it is learned and remembered.  This requires putting your message, of any kind, to work, and timing your communication so that people act on the message immediately it has been presented or discussed.  For example, we typically would want to hold an HSE Meeting on a Monday, so people can act on the HSE message throughout the entire work week.

To supplement Principle #3, Psychological Appeal, I highly recommend you watch John Kotter’s ‘Hearts and Minds’ You Tube video – it’s a super example of how change initiatives can be successful OR FAIL if we don’t pay attention to the emotional and feeling side of our audience.  The link is here:

Finally, I offer to you a practical set of guidelines for making your communications and promotions more organized and effective, and thus you more successful!  This is called the ‘5-P Plan.’ Yes – laugh at its simplicity, but don’t leave home without it!!

  1. Prepare

Failed to prepare?  Prepare to fail.

There are many ways to prepare for the meeting:

  1. Think of your own experiences, observations, convictions, ideas, and feelings. Choose a topic that you know something about. Remember, you are different from everyone else; no other person has your personality and your perception; you have something special to offer.
  2. Think of the company and your department. What are the current problems? What are the current accomplishments? What is being emphasized? What topic will be most timely and helpful?
  3. Think of your people. What are their needs, their backgrounds, their wants, their jobs, their attitudes, their aspirations, their abilities? Pick a subject that will mean something to them.
  4. Write things down. Jot down notes, quotes, ideas, incidents, and observations in your day-by-day work, as you go through the workplace.
  • Read lots of safety material, and other materials, and do it with a selfish viewpoint. It could be something the safety department sends out, a trade magazine, a technical journal, a book, or the local newspaper. You may want to clip it out or take notes and make a deposit in your bank of ideas, information, notes and quotes. This system yields maximum and permanent value from your reading and helps prepare you to give first-rate talks.
  • Listen carefully to what other people say about the subject. Listen to what they complain about and what they praise. Listen to their likes and dislikes. Listen to their problems and suggestions. You will not only learn more about the topic, but also more about the safety attitudes of the people around you. And you will certainly get many excellent ideas for your talks.
  • Organize and outline your talk. Preparation and organization are real keys to success. Practice improves your timing. you know the great difference between the disorganized, rambling speaker and the one who knows what she/he wants to say and says it, clearly and concisely. Your outline may be a few key words scratched on a scrap of paper, or a complete outline of key points, supporting facts and examples. Whatever outline form you use — be ready. Know what you are going to say and pay your listeners respect by giving them a well-organized talk. They, in turn, will respect you for it.
  • Practice delivery. Practice may make the difference between a good talk and an excellent one. Practice increases your confidence. If desired, use notes to keep yourself on the track, but don’t memorize your talk. Practice will make your talks better and better and better.
  1. Pinpoint

The second P is to pinpoint.  This simply means don’t try to cover too much ground!  Your talk is likely to be only ten to twenty minutes, so don’t try to cover everything.  If you talk about everything, your listeners will remember nothing.

The main idea in pinpointing is to focus on one main idea and stay with it.

  1. Personalize

The third of the Five P’s is personalize; establish common ground with your listeners.  Get real interest by relating to their attitudes, abilities and aspirations; their wants, wishes, drives and desires; their jobs; their backgrounds; their interests; their personalities. Make it personal for your listeners.  Make it mean something to them.  Personalize your presentation.

  1. Picturize

The fourth P is picturize.  This is what you do to create crystal-clear mental pictures for your listeners.

Do you want people to pay attention to what you say?  Do you want them to understand what you mean?  Do you want them to remember your message?  If you do, make them use both their ears and their eyes.  People understand and remember much better what they both hear and see.  The key point here is to use both sound and sight; make your presentation both verbal and visual.

You communicate much better when you both tell and show. You create clear mental images when you use visuals to aid the verbal. You get increased attention, better understanding and improved retention when you paint vivid mental pictures for your listeners.  When you picturize, you help people to really see what you mean.

  1. Prescribe

The fifth and final P is prescribe.  In closing your talk, answer the questions that your listeners always have in mind: What does it mean to me?  How is it going to help me?  What do you want me to do?  Tell them what you want them to do.  Ask for some specific action.  Give them a prescription.  We urge all to remember the words of Lee Iacocca:

‘You should always get your audience to do something before you finish. It doesn’t matter what it is – write your congressman, call your neighbor, consider a certain proposition.  In other words, don’t leave without asking for the order.’

In my next posting I will go on to describe an initiative that put these ideas into action – a real case at one of Indonesia’s largest LNG production facilities.


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