Best Practices -- Something To Talk About

Dec. 21, 2004
Lockheed Martin division bridges merger gap with formal communications-improvement plan.

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%.
In addition, the process has identified potential future leaders (Byrd has incorporated the Two-Way initiative into a succession plan) and has unearthed easily fixed problems that were affecting major improvement efforts, such as the fact that the two sites used different terminology in their lean efforts. Lockheed hasn't made a quantitative connection between the Two-Way process and improvements in productivity, sales or profits, but, says Byrd, "As we have better communication, it's going to fundamentally improve productivity. We used to spend a lot of time talking about the things we couldn't talk about. This has taken that away." Dulye says despite testimonials such as Byrd's, most corporate leaders don't recognize that communication -- like quality -- is an ongoing process that all employees participate in; don't think communications can be measured in a quantitative way; aren't prepared for honest feedback and a participatory environment; and don't understand that as an ongoing process, communications needs resources that are sustained. As a result, internal problems can fester and eventually infect and depress productivity, quality and customer relations. Viewing communications as a measurable process is essential to a company's future, she says. "Communications is a process that everybody does all the time. And by not communicating, you are communicating something." Send submissions for Best Practices to Editorial Research Director David Drickhamer at [email protected].

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