May 1, 2012

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In the Loop

Are Your Company’s Lines of Communication Working?

Heather Stewart

May 1, 2012

“One of the problems is they’re not saying it in terms the people below them can understand,” says Pixton. “Be specific. Talk in the terms your team members are thinking in, not your peers. Reframe your language.”

Each department, from IT to marketing to customer service, has its own jargon and way of talking about company processes and goals. Talking to the IT department about company strategy will require a different approach from talking to the manufacturing department. Company leaders should find ways to effectively communicate with each group, asking the relevant questions to gather valuable information.

Pixton insists it’s not the job of the IT department—or any other department—to learn how to communicate. “I would not want to waste some of that high-level IT talent making them go to a communications course,” she says. “It’s your job to learn how to talk to them…That’s what makes a great leader: learning how to listen and learning how to talk.”

On the other side of the coin, companies need to find ways to ensure information is bubbling up from the front lines to the executive level. At the very minimum, employees need a way to communicate the problems and issues they encounter.

And leaders shouldn’t rely on “open door” policies to facilitate that communication, says Pixton. “There’s no such thing as an open door policy. Everyone will know who goes in and who goes out. It’s baloney. What a leader must do is get out of their office and walk around the floor and build relationships with people and talk to people. And they have to build trust.”

Strategy for Growth
At Neutron Interactive, the company is poised for continued growth with solid communication processes and a culture of trust fostered by the owners.

“I doubt when there were five people they were having very many meetings, because they all just sat there in the same room…but now it’s kind of fun to see different teams setting up meetings and work groups. We definitely have grown up in some ways,” says Call.

And she believes that even if the company grows large, it will be able to maintain its open and transparent approach to internal communication.

“It’s hard. And it’s a learning process,” she says. “Especially for our owners—this is the first time they’ve done a lot of things…but I feel like it never hurts to communicate. 

Information Waterfall
USANA Health Sciences is a large, complex organization with multiple layers of management spread throughout 18 markets worldwide. Dan Macuga, chief communications officer for USANA, says the company has a six-pronged approach to internal communication.

Weekly Executive Management Meetings. These meetings ensure the management team is always on the same page. “We all get together and talk about information that is key to the company’s strategic direction, and that way every department head knows what’s going on,” says Macuga.

Weekly Cross-functional Depart-ment Meetings. Every “functional group” sends two or three representatives to these meetings, for a total of 24-36 attendees. “This meeting is key because if every group in the building knows what our communications are for that week, any interaction with a customer is seamless.”

Dissemination to Global Markets. The company’s director of comm-unications is responsible for conveying a consistent weekly message to each foreign market. Leaders in each market then share the information with their team members. “It’s a waterfall effect,” says Macuga.

Quarterly Meetings. At these meetings, employees hear about earnings, sales, goals for the upcoming quarter and events. The meetings end with an open Q&A session with the CEO. According to Macuga, employees are not shy about asking tough and direct questions. The quarterly meetings are filmed and sent to every office around the world, and employees in these markets can email questions directly to the CEO.

Annual Employee Surveys. A linchpin in the company’s internal communication strategy is the annual employee survey. The anonymous survey produces a giant volume of data each year as employees comment and reflect on the things that are working—and not working—in their departments and teams. Through the survey, employees can also make suggestions for process improvements or for cost-saving measures, and Macuga says USANA takes those suggestions seriously.

Social Media. In addition to its Facebook page and public blog, the company maintains an internal corporate blog “We encourage employees to read it and provide content,” says Macuga. “They get to communicate and share it with their team members, and it’s really created a unique atmosphere here where everyone knows what’s going on.”

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