Communication the key to success

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 Introduction

the process of communication

This case study focuses on the issue of communications. It describes a range of ways in which organisations communicate with their workforce in order to:-

  • help employees understand fully what they are required to do
  • provide feedback on how well they are meeting that requirement
  • give them an opportunity to share ideas on how products and services can be improved
  • let them know how the company is succeeding and its plans for future development.

FKI is a multinational group of companies engaged mainly in engineering. It has member companies in the UK, the USA and Europe. The independently managed Companies within the Group are involved in design and manufacture and supply a wide range of high tech solutions to engineering production and services, to the material handling, hardware and automotive engineering industries. FKI member Companies have customers throughout the world and have earned an international reputation as leaders in their field. Building and maintaining a reputation such as this is gained by dedication to quality and technical excellence - a clear priority when meeting customer needs.

This means that the Companies must stay ahead of competitors in aspects of quality and innovation. But it is the people within those companies who are vital to its success in rapidly changing markets. Employees at all levels need to cope with rate of change unlike anything they have known before - a pace of change which will go on increasing.

Meeting the challenge of change has meant that restructuring within parts of the Group has been necessary in recent years. This has caused uncertainty and anxiety amongst some employees, requiring their commitment to the company, their patience and goodwill. What are the priorities of successful Companies such as those in the FKI Group when it comes to handling change? Managers throughout FKI Companies acknowledge that success comes through people at all levels working as a team.... working together to solve problems. If they are to do this successfully, they need to communicate properly. This means Talking!

The process of communication

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Communication needs to flow in all directions in a successful organisation. The Board needs to devolve their objectives through management to all employees but equally need to be able to receive ideas and input from all corners of the business. Here are some of the ways businesses communicate:

Annual Reports
Each employee receives an annual statement from the Managing Director of his or her Company which summarises Company successes or problems in the previous year. It provides an outline of changes planned for the year ahead and how these fit into the Company strategy for the medium and long term. It also summarises the financial progress of the Company.

Team Briefings
Messages about new developments and changes in production methods or the solutions to problems can be rapidly cascaded by team briefings - a regular and systematic provision of up to date information. The Board agrees key messages, these are communicated face to face with managers, managers pass these on in face to face meetings with supervisors and they in turn pass on the messages through similar meetings with production teams.

Working Groups
"Quality Improvement Teams" Sometimes a problem can be solved or change achieved by bringing together people from different departments and different levels to deal with a specific issue. It might be the introduction of a different manufacturing process or a problem with defective products, missed deadlines or customer complaints. The Group is brought together to discuss a particular issue for a specified period, it makes recommendations and disbands.

Quality Circles
Groups of people meeting together to deal with problems of quality which they have identified in their day to day work. The groups are retained on an on-going basis. Membership is voluntary, meetings are held during normal working hours and the group itself sets priorities for the topics they will cover. Often the group members will receive training in problem solving techniques and they may call on the advice of experts in a particular field for specialist advice.

Notice Boards
An old and far from "high tech" technique, but if used properly, posters and notice boards can provide accurate and speedy information on production achievements, safety records and quality performance. This can help to correct some of the misinformed and exaggerated stories which will flourish on the unofficial "grapevine" in every workplace. Saturation poster campaigns can be used to support drives on particular issues such as quality or safety.

Job appraisal

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All employees agree with their immediate manager the scope of their job. This Job Description means that the objectives, duties required, responsibilities and performance levels expected are understood and can be used as a basis for regular appraisal. At appraisals, the manager can give feedback to employees on how well they are performing against job requirements, the employees can express any ideas they might have for improving their performance and together they might identify any training needs which need to be met.

Suggestion Schemes
Employees are encouraged to produce ideas - in writing or orally - on how products, processes or administrative procedures can be improved. A sifting committee drawn from various parts of the organisation checks out the feasibility of the proposals and assesses their worth. Sometimes cash awards are made for ideas which when adopted can help the organisation to save money or improve customer services without additional costs.

Some examples used successfully in FKI Engineering Companies:

An Active communications policy has been adopted by the Board. Directors use half-yearly meetings to keep employees informed of long term strategies, future developments for the Company, how it will get there and what role the employees will play. The meetings also provide an opportunity for questions to be asked of Directors. Points raised can include order intake, new product development and new investment.

Weekly meetings of Directors and Middle Manangers enable messages to be cascaded quickly through the Company. Middle Managers in turn pass on information obtained to supervisors and work teams, varying in size from 6 to 30 people.

Implementation is now focused on a Team Enterprise approach – authority is delegated to production teams. Team Leaders facilitate training of their team members and are responsible for liaising with the leaders of other teams. The teams manage quality and production levels and bring in specialist help from support functions within the Company to help resolve production problems.

Project teams

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Project Teams are formed for short periods to address cross Company issues, acting as a problem specific "task force". They include representatives from the various production and support teams involved and provide a method of drawing ideas on solutions from the shop floor.

The Board has recently developed a Mission Statement for the Company which is a brief statement of company aims and values and acts as a guide to employees on Company values. The Business Plan has been condensed into a 20 page version which is copied to each employee, summarising Company objectives and developments for the coming year. A two page summary of the plan is posted on the Company Notice Board .

Each employee participates in an annual appraisal, which is used as an opportunity to identify the training needs of individuals.

Directors address all the workforce together at a quarterly meeting, an extension of the successful use initially of half yearly meetings. The meeting provides an explanation of business plans, forecasts, progress and problems. Questions and suggestions are encouraged.

Top down communication

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The Company has five operating departments and each has a monthly review meeting. Every three months, group meetings known as sector boards bring together representatives from the various departments. These provide a means of jointly dealing with common problems or new developments and the results are communicated to the Directors.

The Management Team puts a heavy emphasis on Top down communications to keep the workforce informed on what is happening in the Company. Notice boards are regularly used to inform employees of new appointments in the organisation, new orders and trends in orders and sales. Senior Managers attend a regular monthly meetings with Directors and then cascade information gained throughout their own departments. Whatever methods of communication are used, formal or informal, written or spoken, they should contribute to keeping employees continually informed on the following key questions:-

  • What do I need to do?
  • Where does my work come from and go to?
  • Why is my job important?
  • Who is my line manager?
  • What are my work targets?
  • What changes are being made and why?
  • How can I help to improve what is done?

Conclusion

There is a role in the workplace for every method of communication, but any successful communication strategy cannot omit face to face communication and the spoken word. Messages are much more readily absorbed when received in this way.