Tips for the topOn 1 Apr 2001 in Personnel Today Fed up with management not taking you seriously? We outline strategies forgaining their attention, including talking to them in language they understand,by Nic Paton You’re worried. You’ve identified a worsening health trend among the staffin your workplace – increasing sickness absence, for instance – and all yourexperience tells you firm action needs to be taken to tackle it. But can youget the human resources director, let alone the chief executive, to listen? Apparently, as the latest research conducted for Occupational Health showsthis month, too often the answer is “no”. The clearest complaint among occupational health professionals polled in thesurvey is that management do not take them or, more worryingly, their functionseriously, and that occupational health practitioners too often do not haveaccess to the board-level decision-makers they would need. Yet with health and safety, and public health, creeping ever higher up boththe corporate and the political agenda, it should be easier now than ever topress the case for occupational health. Find the bottom line However, the fastest way to attract a chief executive’s attention is, itseems, still the most tried and trusted one – through his or her bottom line. Talk in pound signs – what the problem is costing the company and,critically, what your solution will save it – and you’re almost certain to getpeople listening, says Anne Robinson, health care manager at British GasServices. Robinson joined British Gas Services in 1997 and set about formulating anoccupational health scheme that focused on the engineers who maintained andinstalled equipment. Her success in helping to reduce work-related sickness led her last year towin the Health at Work Award in the prestigious Personnel Today 2000 Awards. Days lost, turnover lost, numbers of staff lost and the overall cost to thebusiness – these are all arguments guaranteed to get managers listening, sheexplains. “You must be able to demonstrate that you can act to save money, or saythat you are losing money here, or there is a significant risk,” she says.Work out what it is costing the company In Robinson’s case, she secured funding by outlining what it was costing thecompany by simply waiting for work-related health problems to occur, and whatBritish Gas Services could save by providing a support network for its workers.But building up credibility is an on-going process, one that is earned fromday one, and can be lost just as quickly, she argues. Right from the start, at the job interview, be clear about what is expectedfrom you. There is no point sitting there thinking, “I can change thatlater” – it just doesn’t happen, she argues. Learn as much as you can about the business so you can start to see whymanagement are making the decisions they do. “Yes, you need to wear your professional badge, but you also have to bea team player, you have to contribute to the team and contribute to thebusiness,” she says. Also, you can’t go wrong with a management qualification, she argues, as itgives you the confidence to speak the language of commerce, and link yourobjectives to the business objectives. For managers to know your background – and they may even have been on thesame course as you – can be a real bonus in helping to build up credibility. Get support of a board member Getting the support of a key board member, preferably the chief executive ormanaging director, to champion your cause is also vital, if not alwayspossible. And if you simply want to get results, but perhaps not all the glory, youmay also need to be prepared to let them take your initiative to the board, sheargues. Tenacity, learning influencing skills and a knowledge of business can allhelp, she adds. “It’s about trying to be a joined -up professional,”she says. According to Paul Kearns, a consultant with Personnel Works, a humanresources management consultancy based in Bristol, building up credibility withmanagement – whether in the private or public sector – is the key to asuccessful relationship. “Anything that does not have pound signs in it tends not to win theargument, or does not get given the same priority,” he says. Think strategically For OH professionals, this often means thinking strategically – thinking howtheir managers think – as well as making sure they are excellent at theirday-to-day job, he argues. “Most managers underestimate the effect that lack of attention tothings like occupational health has on their workforce. “If a machine breaks down everyone runs around like headless chickensuntil it is up and running again properly, but they do not worry if someonecannot get the time to see the OH nurse about something. But it is amazing howdemotivating that can be.” While there are health and safety issues which it is imperative the OHpractitioner makes clear cannot be flouted, it is also important – and a keypart in building up credibility – to be prepared to be flexible, to thinkwhether a suitable compromise can be reached. Having a fair but firm reputation – and occasionally showing flexibilitywhere appropriate – makes it much easier to convince management when somethingis wrong and needs action, now, he argues. “A realistic, mature,intelligent, consistent approach to occupational health will win more friendsthan a judgemental approach,” he says. Small things, too, can help – a tidy office, always making sure files are tohand, responding quickly to requests or, if information is not available, beinghonest, saying so and then delivering it when you say you will. “If you do not have credibility it is bound to undermine your standingin the organisation,” says Kearns. When it comes to presenting a case, be clear in what’s wrong, why it’s wrong– but be constructive – and what can be done about it, he argues. However,”a little passion never goes amiss”, he adds. Be clear, concise and succinct Jargon, particularly complex medical or legal terms, or lists of European orUK regulations, will often leave busy managers glazed. “Do not use jargon – be clear, concise and succinct. For instance, donot put regulations at the front of the paper. Use anything that grabs theinterest, then keep the regulations half-way down page two. “If you are having to resort to a heavy-handed approach you haveprobably lost the argument already in some respects,” he adds. Colin Carmichael, a consultant at Organisational Consulting, a London-basedmanagement consultancy specialising in changing business attitudes, agrees. Before OH professionals can expect management to take them or their functionseriously, they must ensure they cannot be faulted on their day-to-day work, heargues. “People must make sure they have got the basics right first, so theirday-to-day delivery is spot on,” says Carmichael. After that it is a question of making sure, not only that you are thinkingas your managers think, but that they appreciate where you are coming from. Managers will be less likely to listen or understand if they believe the OHdepartment is introspective, or too focused on occupational health to thedetriment of the rest of the business or organisation. “You need to invest the time to get alongside senior management andunderstand what their agenda is. Be honest about those areas where you cannotdeliver something,” he says. Taking too long, being inflexible or making decisions that do not suit theneeds of the business can all damage the perception of occupational health inthe workplace. OH will never be top of the agenda And, at the end of the day, like it or not, OH professionals have to acceptthey are unlikely ever to be at the top of their management’s agenda, heargues. “Some in the OH professions are being over-ambitious in wanting to geton the board agenda. For managers, day-to-day revenue and product developmentwill always be more important,” he adds. But if OH practitioners can, for instance, show they have improved staffretention and sickness, this is a real, quantifiable benefit to the business. Even if OH is not top of the corporate tree, an argument like that issomething managers will clearly value, he adds. Practical, user-friendly guidance for OH practitioners on how to build uprelationships with managers is something that is sorely lacking, admits DrPeter Verow, consultant occupational physician at Sandwell NHS Trust. But, as a runner-up behind Anne Robinson in the Personnel Today awards lastyear, Dr Verow knows all about getting management behind him. The crux of his success in the awards was in extending his work in the Truston dealing with absence from work through sickness to local GP services andindependently with employers in the area. There is no doubt that explaining clearly what sickness absence was costing,and how much money could be saved, helped his arguments, but Sandwell’smanagement was already well behind his drive, he admits, securing him £200,000each year for the last three years for his innovative work. Ensure there is a suitable forum For OH professionals looking to get their message across, one way forward isto ensure there is an appropriate forum where your voice can be heard. This body, whether it is the safety committee, health at work committee orsome other forum, must have a high-level management representative on it,preferably the chief executive or human resources director, to give itcredibility. However, there is no point making a case if it is not what they want to hear– it may sound obvious, but if management are not listening, or do not appearto understand the occupational health function, ask them what they do want fromoccupational health, he argues. “Find out what their priorities are for the next two years,” hesays. Speaking in a language they understand, and explaining what effect eithertaking action or, critically, not taking action will cost the business, is thekey to success, Dr Verow explains. “You have got to target it with costs and a business plan. If you havenot written it up as a business proposal they are not going to listen toyou,” he says. Even if you do find a receptive ear, don’t necessarily expect resultsimmediately; effecting real change, especially in a big organisation, can oftentake years.` But if the real change is that management are finally listening and takingOH seriously, then success in the workplace is almost bound to follow. Organisational Consulting Group, 020 7623 5594 Personnel Works, 0117 914 6984 Positive Presence, 020 7586 7925 Lesley Everett, LE Consultants, 01344 427977 Ten Top Tips– Think how they think: if money is their bottom line, explain what nottaking action will cost them– Judge how far you can be flexible and be prepared to bend rules– Work on building up credibility, be professional at the nuts and bolts ofthe job– Work with people, not against them – Invest time in understanding the management’s agenda– Get a management qualification, learn management skills– Talk to management in their language, don’t work in isolation– Manage expectations – accept that some things take longer to achieve – Find a board-level champion– Identify a suitable forum from which to put your viewsHow to create a positive imageIf you feel uncomfortable, are worried about what you’re wearing or how youlook, it can have a major impact on how you are perceived by colleagues andmanagers, according to image consultants.Laurel Herman, managing director of Positive Presence, a “personalimage optimisation” consultancy firm based in London, says grooming,voice, body language and facial expression all have a beneficial role to playin improving your authority in the workplace.How you speak can also be as important as what you say, she argues, with alistener often influenced simply by your tone of voice, timbre and pace ofspeech as much as what they are saying.”The voice is very much part of the image identity kit, giving youauthority, approachability, sincerity and attractiveness. You can adjust thetone, pace, pitch and passion. Test your voice on a third party and get them togive you feedback on how they perceive you,” she says.When listening to someone, concentrate on them, don’t tap your fingers orfidget, listen to their answers, she suggests.Facial expression can also affect how you are perceived. If you look anxiousor frown a lot this can be taken as showing a lack of confidence, even if it’snot true. And if people think you are not confident, you are not going to inspireconfidence and trust. Work on appearing relaxed and on top of your job, sheargues.Dress, appearance, personal grooming and body language present the strongestmessages about us and the points we want to get across, adds image consultantLesley Everett of LE Consultants.”With a staggering 93 per cent of the overall impression we make basedon the way we ‘package’ ourselves – that is our appearance, voice and bodylanguage – and only the remaining 7 per cent based on the words we use, wecannot afford to become complacent with our image if we want to maximise ourprofessionalism and credibility and be taken seriously,” she says.Walking with an upright posture signals confidence and capability, as doesmaking eye contact, a firm handshake and smiling when you are talking topeople, she adds. “If you’re not sure whether it’s appropriate to shake hands, always optto do so. It will increase your professionalism and tactile behaviour like thisscores points,” she adds. But it is worth paying attention to clammyhands.View your clothing and grooming as a language. Your audience will decodethis language and subconsciously or consciously, gather information about you,she says. Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos.