05/19/2015 05:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Communicating: Be Clear About the Why

"Keep Off the Dunes" read the no-nonsense signs along the beach. And yet you can see the footprints of those who didn't, oblivious to the fact that if everyone did the same that would be end of the dunes and the protection from the sea they provide.


It seems so simple. You establish a rule for your employees to submit their time sheets at the end of each week. First week almost everyone does it on time and then a month later, you're down to 50% compliance. The doctor tells you to be sure to finish the entire prescription even once you're feeling better. But, hey, why waste the pills; you might be able to use them in the future.

Rules, regulations and requests are everywhere. Please use the revolving door. No glass containers at the pool. Employees must wash hands before returning to work.

Early in my career, I worked on a campaign to get people to use seatbelts after they were first installed in passenger cars (seat belt use in the U.S. wasn't required by law until the 1980s.) After a few years of seat belts becoming available, people typically would fasten the belts for long trips on the highway but didn't buckle up for short trips to school or the mall. The first campaigns focused on gruesome crashes and advised "seat belts save lives." But it was only after an educational campaign, emphasizing that most auto accidents happened within 25 miles of home, that usage substantially increased.

That's why giving people the information to understand the reason behind rules and regulations is one of the best ways to increase compliance. When people understand why they're being asked to do something, they're much more willing to do what's asked of them.


There's another sign on the beach. It's from a bit faded, but not as much as you'd expect since it's from an earlier time when attention spans were longer and people had more time to read. It explains how sand dunes can be destroyed in a day from being walked through just once. "Help Save Our Dunes," it asks after explaining why. There are no footprints around that one.