Professional communication has three streams: you as a practitioner, you as a member of the wider occupational health (OH) nursing community, and you as a change agent at the highest possible level. Practitioners involved in government stakeholder groups and OH forums who were surveyed for this article suggested types of communication for OH nurses to get involved in.
Suggestions made by respondents included joining a network or professional group making time for strategic communication at an organisational or national level embracing and shaping the public health agenda addressing health promotion needs as part of business objectives getting involved in or leading a special interest group writing articles for publication presenting at conferences and workshops or challenging what is being said by the government, professional bodies, allied professionals or the media.
There was also a core theme of targeting OH nurse education.
Rather than burying our heads in the sand we should put them above the parapet, which will not only benefit OH nursing, but also help others learn from us and build their confidence. As Alison Persson, vice-president of the Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners (AOHNP) says: “OH nurses have a unique health background, are innovators, and have the necessary business focus.”
However, be mindful that communication should be evidence-based, challenging but respectful, contemporary, positive and for the benefit of patients/clients.
The following guide can be tailored to develop a business communication plan or an individual piece of strategic communication, such as presenting a new business plan, a service level agreement or health promotion initiative.
First you need to determine who you need to focus on. Draw up a list of stakeholders and any external customers, which should include those who will ultimately benefit from the communication as they will judge the effectiveness of it. Communication should not just be top-down, but also horizontal, to ensure inclusion, support and lasting relationships.
The content of your communication should include a vision, some context, a proposition, objectives, plans, actions and status updates. The context should paint a picture supported by compelling evidence. The propositions should aim to change stakeholder behaviour or opinion, and can be influenced by how you perform during personal communication.
Align the objectives to those of the organisation so that they become relevant and raise their level of importance. You need to move the audience from being aware of what your objectives are, to understanding the implications and then finally becoming advocates and active in the process. Therefore this will not be a one-off exercise it will require periodic communication to build motivation, encourage delivery of results, and lead to a series of communications. If you are presenting, try telling a story with an interesting narrative and visual images of human interest.
Timing is important. There is no point asking for resources during a recession or creating a structure that does not align with the organisation’s present ethos. You need to plan in advance where possible and then determine the milestones. Never over-promise and under-deliver.
Choose how you communicate, which will depend on the target audience. Presentations can be delivered at meetings, conferences or online. You need to decide whether it is primarily to provide information or instruction, or to open up a two-way dialogue. One size does not fit all.
If the communication is interactive, you need to be prepared for critical inquisition, as this is where you can either gain support or indifference to your proposal. Tailor the tools and activities you use to the amount of time, and the level of human, financial and technological resources available.
Get support from IT specialists and marketing, as the correct introduction of new technology will improve the quality of your communication, and branding will provide a coherent approach with strong recognition and loyalty.
Review your communications approach for fine tuning. Time spent preparing is never wasted. Run through the presentation to get the necessary critical feedback. Is it pitched appropriately for the audience, written in the most appealing style and, above all, clear? When presenting to a board or group, try to find an advocate or use the coffee break to plant the seeds of your ideas.
In summary, remember your communication plans are all to do with audience, content and timing.