Steve Klingel: Communication is a two-way street Featured

8:10pm EDT May 31, 2011
Steve Klingel: Communication is a two-way street

Abraham Lincoln once observed, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed.”

Implicit in Lincoln’s words is the notion that people who are well informed are well motivated, and therefore, much more likely to work together toward ultimate success.

Effective communications policies not only make for motivated employees, they also help drive results by:

  • Sparking meaningful conversations
  • Driving innovation
  • Building corporate loyalty
  • Fostering employee engagement

Yet in today’s world of increasingly staccato and frenzied communication, the challenge of shaping sentiment and sharing information with employees has never been more challenging.

At NCCI, we’ve devoted considerable time and resources toward identifying effective communication tools and two-way communication vehicles for employees and managers. Among these are traditional methods such as e-mail, meetings, conference calls with video, and individual face-to-face sessions, but we’ve also taken it a step further.

*We host regular town hall meetings, where every NCCI staff member is invited to hear from senior management about our company plans and mission. While the meetings give us an opportunity to speak directly with employees about the vision, employees can also suggest town hall topics and submit questions for discussion.

*We put on “President’s Circle” luncheons where nine employees from across the company are invited to an off-site lunch with just the CEO. These informal gatherings help employees get to know the company head on an authentic, personal level. It’s also a chance to have their questions and concerns addressed directly from the top. In 2010 alone, we hosted six of these luncheons.

*We’ve built and populated our own Intranet site (InfoZone), which holds everything from corporate compliance rules to employee profiles to breaking company news updates. If something is happening at NCCI, there’s an excellent chance that activity is documented here.

*We produce a weekly, all-employee e-mail (InfoMail), offering time-sensitive information about company projects as well as information about new employees, social activities and even the cafeteria menu.

But again, to have effective communication with your employees, it has to go both ways. Developing strategies and tools to better listen to our employees has perhaps been our most effective communications effort in the past several years.

Not only are NCCI’s senior staff and managers accessible to our employees, but we’ve also developed a series of electronic tools to encourage constant employee feedback, including weekly online surveys. We constantly ask employees for their opinions about company news, articles or events, and we’ve put in place an open-door policy for communication between employees and any leader in the organization.

Our continuing emphasis in each of these efforts is to engage managers and employees in transparent and authentic conversation.

So how is our communication effort and emphasis working here at NCCI?

In a recent all-employee communication survey, 87 percent of NCCI employees said they are kept well or fully informed, and 88 percent of employees said the amount of communications they receive about the company is just right.

Perhaps the most rigorous test of our open communication strategy to date occurred last year, when we had to share the difficult message that there would be no merit raises for employees in 2010. Because that message was honestly conveyed ? despite the undeniable hardship it must have caused some ? NCCI employees responded in truly remarkable fashion, breaking their previous record for contributions during our annual United Way drive.

In short, we think Lincoln had it about right. Company leaders may not succeed in every effort, but with informed employees motivated by open, honest, and frequent two-way communication, our failures are not only less severe, they are much less common and far easier to address.

That’s not only an effective communication strategy; that’s an effective business strategy.

Stephen J. Klingel has served as president and CEO of NCCI Holdings Inc. since 2002. Before joining NCCI, Klingel was a leader with the St. Paul Cos. for more than 25 years. You can reach him at