Best Practices in Communication

In tumultuous times, highly effective internal communications programs help engage and retain top talent.

Several years ago General Cable Corp.'s Manchester, N.H., manufacturing facility had a defect problem -- employees were defecting to two other wire and cable producers located in the area. The 2008 IndustryWeek Best Plants winner recognized both the brain drain and financial drain such departures cost the facility and created a game plan to drive down turnover.

The solution was multifold and included changes to training, pay structure and improved long-term staff planning. Ultimately, it was better communication that drove many of the improvements.

Another 2008 IW Best Plants winner, Nordson Corp.'s Swainsboro (Ga.) assembly facility, also promotes the message of better communication. "Your message and direction have to be consistent and your actions supportive of that message," the plant remarked in the competition process.

Still, better, more effective communication is a practice that remains elusive for many manufacturers today. Yet getting it right goes far in keeping employees engaged and holding on to key talent, says Watson Wyatt. "As the economy continues to shift, keeping employees up-to-date on how the company is responding, and how they are affected, will help insure against their becoming demoralized and disconnected," says Kathryn Yates, global leader of communication consulting at Watson Wyatt. "Effective communication helps engage employees, and that has positive implications for productivity and the bottom line."

The global consulting firm identified these best practices of companies that are highly effective communicators, based on the 2009/2010 Watson Wyatt Communication ROI Study:

  1. Communicate how business changes will affect employees. Sixty-two percent of highly effective communicators have clearly defined employee value propositions (EVP), or employment deals, survey data show. The EVP tells employees what to expect from the company and what the company expects from them.
  2. Trust and train leaders to talk about change. Some 73% of highly effective communicators say managers are effective at supporting the executive management vision through their actions. Still, give managers time to take in and understand organizational changes before asking them to communicate and endorse such changes. Additionally, face-to-face communications, such as town hall meetings or staff meetings, are preferred over social media or printed material when the conversation is about business change.
  3. Use measures and metrics. Effective communicators are twice to three times more likely to have a documented communications strategy. A little more than half of the highly effective communicators are including more communication outcome metrics in their strategies. Still, 43% of all respondents said they had no formal measures or assessments.

"The best-performing companies plan communication strategically, like any other business area," says John Finney, senior communications consultant.


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