One of the hallmarks of nuclear operations is the mandate to exercise clear and concise communication. It is a refrain heard over and over. At ELP, we challenge this orthodoxy. Clear and concise communication is not enough—never enough—and could be dangerous if left at this threshold. Instead, communication must be clear, concise, and precise. Without precision, clear and concise communication could be harmful.

Let us tell you what we mean here. During a recent outage at a large nuclear power station, a HIT team was formed to help with procedure adherence and to reduce human performance errors. HIT is a moniker for High Intensity Training/Team or, sometimes, High Impact Training/Team. In this case, at a major meeting at the end of the day, the HIT Team Leader announced to the entire leadership team, “We found three cases yesterday of personnel failing to wear their PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).” At 12 words, it was certainly clear and concise, but it wasn’t precise. Three cases out of how many observations, 100 or five? The sample size makes all the difference. Was it just gloves or eye gear or head cover? What was it? Were the observations found at night, during the day, in maintenance or operations?

The sample size issue, alone, may influence leaders to enter into bad decisions. If it is three cases out of 100 observations, I’m not sure that demands organization-wide initiatives. However, if it is 85 cases out of 100, then we may have a problem. If leaders are supposed to go after problems with a laser-like focus, how could one even approach that mandate without knowing which PPE was left out and what department or division was the key violator? From this one statement, everyone in the room felt that they had a problem—when it may have been only three cases isolated to a single team. A wild goose chase to attack a problem that never even existed could have ensued.

Bottom line, leaders must demand all three legs of the stool. Communication should be clear and easy to understand. It should not be wordy; it must be concise. However, make sure that the drive to be concise does not detract from the imperative to be precise. All three must be present to ensure optimum performance.