Learn, Apply, SHARE - The Importance of Effective Communication

Karen Deme, Chief Safety Pilot, Bombardier

In our operation, most of the voluntary safety reports we receive describe a minor event that did not result in a safety incident, but potentially could have under different circumstances. Through these reports and the subsequent investigations, we seek to identify and address potential hazards. We “sweat the small stuff so we don’t have to sweat the big stuff.”

The key to ensuring that as many people as possible benefit from these “free lessons” is to pass on to the appropriate audience the lessons to be learned from each event. Through experience, I have found that the way this information is disseminated has a profound effect on whether the message gets across.

We are trained to be aviation – not communication – professionals, so most of us have had to figure this out as we go. Complicating the issue is the changing nature of workplace communication. When I joined my department more than 20 years ago, we each had a desk phone and there were two shared computers in the office. Memos were distributed on paper. Since then, we have evolved to each crew member having their own company-issued laptop, tablet and smart phone. Being so readily available, email seems to be the obvious way to send an important message or reminder. There are several things to consider, however. When is the best time to send an email with a clarification about SOPs or instructions to help standardize a procedure? Probably not the Friday afternoon before a long weekend. What system is in place to prevent someone from just skimming through this email on their phone and them promptly forgetting about it as it is driven down further and further in their inbox under a continuous cascade of new email? How will new crew members who join the department in the future get this information?

Other missteps such as creating a “one-pager bulletin” composed of four pages of dense text, or announcing a revised policy at a meeting with no plan to fill in those who are not present, or forwarding a lengthy email conversation with the instruction “see below” may allow us to tick a box on our to-do list, but are not the most effective ways to get our point across. The message should be clear and concise. A couple of sentences with background information to explain the context will help people understand why this information is being communicated to them and why it is important they pay attention. It should get to everyone who needs to hear it and should also be readily accessible so people can refer to it in the future.

Back when we were sharing two desktop computers, important information in our office was shared via a “read file.” Memos were printed and placed into a binder, with each crew member checking the binder regularly and signing their initials to show they had read each memo. Recently, we have adopted a similar but updated strategy for information dissemination using our company’s online communication platform. Important memos are placed in a designated folder accessible from any of our devices. We use an online spreadsheet to indicate we have read the memos. The messages are emphasized verbally during our weekly department meetings. It is simple and effective – and having all the memos in one place makes it easy to review them and will allow new employees to get up to speed easily.

Effective communication requires deliberate thought and effort. When done well, it raises awareness, promotes best practices and shares lessons learned – and ultimately helps maintain a strong safety culture.