Best Practice

7 things my shoulder surgery told me about change communications.

OK, let’s face it, when you’ve hurt your shoulder and are in pain facing surgery, there might be more on your mind than thinking about change communication, or any communication at all.

All you want to do is stop the pain, get the surgery over with, start the recovery process quickly and get better as soon as possible.

But it’s not as simple as that, as I discovered recently.  When I had to undergo an operation on my shoulder the importance of change communication became crystal clear – a lot clearer than the communication between my surgeon and myself, unfortunately!

Still, it was a great lesson in some basic rules of change communication, because prepping for the op and recovering really was a major change process. Here’s a quick run-through of some of those basics, which I was reminded of more than once during my recuperation!

  1. Always explain the change and paint a picture of success

The consultant had a notepad and a marker and drew my shoulder explaining what exactly needed to be done and how this would help me with my ambitious goal to learn to swim in my forties and complete a triathlon. Good communication!

  1. Gain buy-in and compliment all who are to embark on the change journey

My consultant told me that he was a keen triathlete himself, so he could associate with the desire to complete my first race even more. And then he threw in some flattery: you are a young (key word in the sentence!) active woman, you will need your full shoulder function for many more activities. Any woman would agree to suffer through a period of major change once she has been called young. I was ready. It was just the details of the journey itself I was interested in then. Good communication!

  1. Share small steps leading to small wins

The consultant told me I would be fit to go back to the office and to run one week after the surgery. I can handle this, I thought.  Being a contractor, I was of course worried how long the recovery would take. Running seven days after my surgery sounded like a mega quick win. By now I was yearning to go – bring on the change, I thought. The surgery came and went and my change communication reminders started coming at me in dozens. Good communication!

  1. Use simple language

Apparently not an easy rule for the medical profession overall, as I discovered. In my prep discussion for the surgery and in all the leaflets describing the procedure they kept saying that it would be performed under general anesthetic and mentioned in passing that a local anesthetic could be used to block the pain in the arm.

What it meant in real language, though, was “You will not be able to move your arm (at all!) for about 48 hours”. I wish I knew this beforehand. I would have been better prepared for the dead weight of what seemed to be my arm hanging motionless in a sling. Trust me, running in seven days then seemed like another bluff that I did not believe. NOT good communication!

  1. Check that your messages work in the same way for different stakeholders

Going back to the office in a week? Remember that? I need to point out here that my consultant was male. You would think that the consultant’s gender shouldn’t matter, but it did. After a week my arm was nowhere close to being able to go behind my back or raised above my head – two basic survival movements for a woman. How else would you expect us to do our bras and blow dry our hair? I felt betrayed!

Even the shiny promise of being able to run in a week failed me – the thought of raising my arms to squeeze into a sports bra was terrifying, not to mention that any run immediately would result in me needing to dry my hair after a post-run shower. Running, I guessed, I could do, and I am sure many men would, but I felt like I had been cheated as my consultant had not even thought of “the other half” of his patients, and this reflected itself in his communications. NOT good communication! However, this made me concentrate on my physio even more.

  1. Have regular check ins and acknowledge small victories

My physio therapist (female!) was great this way. Every time she would measure and record the progress of how high I could crawl my fingers up the wall making sure she told me how much I progressed with height or speed. She almost high-fived me when I finally told her I could do my bra! Only a woman would understand the significance of this basic skill of physical independence. It always felt like I was her favorite and that my progress was phenomenal. I am sure my progress was normal, but it sure felt like phenomenal at those sessions and it kept me going. This was communication as it should be: clear, empathetic, involved and encouraging.

  1. Do not assume everyone knows about the ongoing change. Tell them, make them part of the change story

I did get back to the office in a week, after all. In all honesty, I was impressed with how well my recovery was going. However, I was not looking forward to standing on the train, especially a full train.

But when you commute to central London, standing in a packed train comes with the territory. And indeed it did. I did not need a sling, but I thought I would put one on anyway to visually acknowledge my “change”,  and also in the hope that I might get a seat. But visual acknowledgement was not enough as I ended up standing the whole journey.

Unfortunately, this meant that I had no ability to check Facebook or my social media feeds, as I wouldn’t risk holding my phone in my affected arm,  and I needed the other one to hold onto the rail.

But there was an upside. It gave me plenty time to think about change communications – and gave me the idea for this blog!


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