Ask most manufacturing executives how they foster internal communication and you'll hear about newsletters, intranets and staff meetings. Communications is a product, event or a department -- not a strategic process. Wrong, says Linda Dulye, founder of L.M. Dulye & Co., Warwick, N.Y., and an expert on internal corporate communications. Dulye's firm uses a structured, measurable process modeled after process-improvement methods at General Electric Co., where Dulye formerly worked. The aim is to embed healthy cross-divisional, lateral communications in an effort to help companies reach their bottom-line goals. These days most of her clients have been through a restructuring, downsizing, merger or acquisition and are rife with morale problems that are depressing performance. At Lockheed Martin's 16,000-employee Space Systems Co.'s Space and Strategic Missiles division, Dulye's Two-Way Communications Improvement initiative has helped bring together former competitors from Lockheed and the former Martin Marietta, which Lockheed acquired in 1995. The division started using the program about two years ago when it became clear that time alone had not healed all wounds from the merger. "You would think with our similarities that this would be a slam dunk, but it's not," says Evan McCollum, communications director. "The Sunnyvale [Calif.] and Denver sites for many years have competed. So since 1995 we've been trying to work together when we previously worked against each other." Marshall D. Byrd, vice president of operations for the space and missiles division, says he is using the Dulye tools to engage upper management in smoothing remaining merger wrinkles. "We still have a percentage of upper management that is stiff-arming the [merger] process." The Two-Way initiative starts with a group-wide survey to identify an organization's top three problems, says Dulye. Next, voluntary employee teams perform a six-week intensive research and review of each issue. The teams then spend a day meeting with upper management in a "work-out session," presenting information and recommendations and then further refining their ideas to their top recommendations. Executives then openly discuss the recommendations and, if they support them, immediately allocate resources to carry them out. "We don't leave that meeting with an action plan; we leave that meeting with action," says Byrd, who notes that about 75% of recommendations are implemented. One example is creation of a Career Development Center, the outcome of a team that researched and then recommended improvements for career development. Once a change gets the go-head at a work-out session, an implementation team is charged with making sure the change happens and reporting progress. Scorecards common to other process-improvement initiatives are used to measure performance. The Two-Way process is ongoing, and as it goes, it grows, says Byrd. As more work-out sessions take place, more problems and solutions surface. The Lockheed division has established 80 Communication Action Teams to address problems and concerns. A follow-up survey conducted two years after the launch of the Two-Way initiative found:
- Senior management credibility jumped 45%.
- Employee confidence in the company increased 25%.
- Rating of communication with senior management increased 50%.
- Knowledge of business goals, direction and performance increased 20%.