This is about open communications and the two biggest opportunities we have to disconnect as an organization; when we are overwhelmed by growth and when we are losing traction. The first is easier to rationalize than the second but that doesn’t make it right…‘everyone’s so busy, I don’t want to pull them away from their priorities, we’re having such a great run I can’t imagine anyone has any concerns.’ And the second…‘they can see for themselves what’s happening, I just don’t have any good answers right now, let’s hold off a while longer, maybe we’ll have better news.’
My perspective in sharing these thoughts is derived from manufacturing and distribution environments where personal communications can be constrained by distance. And, circumstances may not be any different in office and campus settings. If we’re not front and center questions are bound to arise.
A number of years ago a machine operator came up to my office wanting to talk. He wandered a bit but eventually focused on the new Chevrolet models that had just been announced. I really didn’t know much about them and gently pressed him to his point. He knew things were slow in the plant and was actually testing the waters as to whether layoffs were coming and he should delay buying a new car. Heard some of these? ‘Who were the people that toured the plant yesterday, why have we shut down three lines, people are saying we’re for sale, is that true, is our medical insurance really going to be increasing by 42%?’
Not exactly skilled management when we get behind the curve! Here are some of the things I’ve seen done or done myself to get ahead of it.
Tried and true:
• Never close your door; if you can’t talk now promise to get back to the employee before the end of the day and keep your promise!
• Don’t refer, make the referral yourself. Example – if someone has an HR question don’t send them to HR, ask HR to go to them.
• Always answer a question. It doesn’t have to be in five minutes and the answer can be ‘no.’ No answer at all suggests ‘you’re not important’ or you don’t need to know.
And a non-social media option – closed circuit breaking news. A nice addition to breakrooms and lunch rooms. Scroll on the screen who will be touring today, incoming orders, new customers, awards, exceptional performance, upcoming meetings and especially the thoughts for the day, always to include safety.
Perhaps one of the most effective communication techniques I’ve ever been part of…employee roundtables; one per month per shift or department. Management attendance was limited to the president, the COO and the director of HR joined by the first 7 to 8 interested employees. There was always food, no rigid time constraint, and no subject off limits unless we were prohibited by active legal proceedings.
The expectation was that questions would surround ‘business’ matters, ‘how are we doing financially, is our bully competitor still trying to steal our customers,’ and on. Instead, initially the queries were more parochial, ‘are we still looking at cushioned floor mats, will machine #36 ever be repaired, are we trying to find a better tape for packaging, can we add another vending machine?’ What an opportunity – and we seized on it, taking corrective action wherever we could and reporting it out, sometimes through closed circuit news.
The word spread and the process matured nicely. We first primed the pump with such things as ‘does anyone want to ask about the plans for a new warehouse’ and soon enough our roundtables became all inclusive. We talked about the good and the bad. A moment not to be forgotten; a participant whose work colleague had been terminated for failing a drug test floated the idea that our policy should be amended to allow two strikes. The management participants were all prepared to respond but we were boxed out before we could speak! The employee’s peers pounced on his suggestion aggressively insisting they were not about to work around motion equipment being operated someone who had tested positive.
Lesson learned: stay connected, the ROI makes it all worthwhile.