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Karen Martin and Beverley Ireland-Symonds promote the value of having effective communication skills for individuals, teams and organisations.
Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Health Minister and Poor Change Management Practices

Photo by Svanhorn
Why do government ministers always break every rule about how to successfully implement change? Everyone accepts that when governments win elections they will want to make changes to put their parties stamp on the country, but it’s the style, and the speed of which they do it, that so often flies in the face of most management theory. 

The Royal College of  Nurses passed a vote of no confidence earlier today in a Health Secretary for the first time in their history.  Andrew Lansley, the current Health Secretary has been under fire because of the dramatic changes that are being planned for the Health Service and so he should be.  His handling of it so far has been very poor at best. 

Personally, I have no problem with the idea of the government turning their attention to the health service.  There are some great dedicated, talented professionals who do a wonderful job, caring, healing and offering support in often difficult or complex environments. But I’m afraid I don’t view the whole National Health Service with rose tinted glasses.

I have a great deal of experience as a patient within different parts of the NHS, and in recent years despite new buildings and improved facilities I have found the care from staff to often be well below the standard I would expect. Too often,  I have been treated with rudeness, and indifference, poor clinical treatment and ‘it’s nothing to do with me’ attitude when I have complained. I know that I am not alone, just as much as I know there are many people who believe we have the best health care in the world. 

So I believe that there are lots of changes that could potentially be made.  However, I’m not in favour of the way the government has handled their intention to make these changes.  Firstly they made a pledge that they had no intention to make any changes to the Health Service (clearly untrue).  Secondly they started to tell people the changes that they intend making with minimal consultation to canvas people’s views.  Although some of the changes may be due to getting better value for money, and improving patient experiences, it’s quite clear to see that some of them are built purely on ideology.  Thirdly, they have now stated that they want to listen to people and are going to do some consultation with professionals who are concerned about the changes before the bill is put to Parliament. 

How could the Health Minister have got it so wrong?  He’s broken all the basic elements of  effective change management practices by failing to communicate effectively to the professionals or the service users the reasons why he believes the changes are necessary, and he is failing to get the majority of people behind him.  He has now compounded the view that he doesn’t care by failing to address the main audience at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual conference. 

Mr Lansley isn’t the only government minister to have demonstrated such poor communication skills and woeful change management practices and unfortunately he’s unlikely to be the last.

7 Top Communication Tips for Retail Staff

I was in one of the big supermarkets yesterday and couldn’t find the product I was looking for, so I stopped one of the sales assistants to ask for help. I was surprised by the assistant’s response as she looked panicked and said she had no idea where the product would be and told me to ask someone else. I then approached another assistant and got the same response! Finally with assistant number three, I was taken to the correct aisle and he found the product for me.

Maybe these two sales assistants were new to the job or maybe they were both having a bad day, but either way, they weren’t providing very good customer service. This got me wondering about how much training staff in this store were receiving.

I worked part-time in a few different High Street stores when I was at university and I remember that we received the most basic training, but I believe that I still offered good service to the customers who came into the shop because I used my common sense. However, retailers can’t simply rely on all staff using common sense and understanding how customers should be treated. Sales assistants need to understand how to communicate effectively with their customers and it is up to retailers to provide this training.

7 essential communication tips for retail staff dealing with customers:

  • Language – the vocabulary that you use can totally change the message that is being given to the customer. Make sure that language used is appropriate for the target market e.g. the teenage market might be happy with slang, but will the rest of your customers?
  • Grading – If customers don't understand what you are saying, don't just keep repeating the same thing more loudly and slowly! Maybe the customer doesn't understand because he/she is from another country, has literacy problems, or maybe you are just using the wrong vocabulary. Grade your language – if the customer doesn’t understand what you are saying, find another way of saying it.
  • Intonation & Tone – the intonation and tone you use can change the meaning of your message. Something that is meant to be a simple instruction can sound rude or aggressive if said in the wrong way.
  • Body Language – you may be saying one thing, but your body language could be saying something else. Looking bored/uninterested or panicked doesn’t give the right impression to customers. Dealing with customers in a confident manner will make you appear more professional.
  • Eye Contact – make eye contact with customers when you are talking to them. This will make you appear interested in what they are saying and make you more approachable and friendly.
  • Smile – nobody wants to be served by a shop assistant who looks like he/she wants to be anywhere else but in the shop. Customers want to feel welcome when they enter the store and feel that they can approach you.
  • Find someone who can – if you really can’t help the customer then find someone who can. Either direct the customer to the correct person/counter or take them there yourself – don’t just say you don’t know and walk away!