Want to challenge and motivate ordinary people to turn in an extraordinary effort? Share information with them. Lots of information. And encourage them to share information with one another.
The more they know about the problems and opportunities facing the business, the more likely they are to want to become involved and actively participate in it.
If this sounds like the stuff of Employee Communications 101, thats exactly what it is. Lots of companies attempt to do it with e-mail, memos, face-to-face meetings, bulletin boards, newsletters and other means. Some companies even go to the expense of putting together closed-circuit news broadcasts all in the name of improving internal communications. But, sometimes, simpler is better.
One Pittsburgh-based equipment manufacturer makes use of something thats about as basic as it gets . . . and it really works. Posted permanently on the wall of one of the busiest corridors in its office is a large white board the kind you write on with an erasable magic marker.
Listed across the top are all of the major projects going through the shop. Down the left side are the names of teams working on various phases of each of those projects. Written in black marker in the blocks of the chart, and what everyone stops to read, is the status of each of those projects assembly completed, testing underway and delivered (with the date). However, on occasion, in one or two of the blocks, is the word failed in red letters.
Share good news . . . and bad
Its obvious that this company shares information with its employees. Regardless of whether the news is good or bad, any employee who wants to know the status of a project, or how many jobs are going through the shop, need only spend a few minutes in front of that chart. Its updated every day.
In todays information economy, that kind of real-time information sharing is critical. The people working there can see instantly who the customers are, what is being built for them and how the project is going, even if its not going well at all.
Dont rely only on the company newsletter for this type of dynamic information, since it may not be published until next month and certainly wont feature a story about every issue within the company. This daily sharing of information is better than a periodic state of the union address to the troops from management.
But the greatest value of that white board doesnt have anything to do with what is written on it. Its true value comes in the subtle but clear message that information sharing is very important in this company.
Some preparation needed
If youre thinking of trying something like this in your business, you need some preparation. Dont just slap a sign on the wall and reach for the red marker. Its important to let employees know that ongoing communication is coming, and its absolutely critical that they understand why.
Take the time to explain how everyone in the organization benefits when information is shared. Tell them that this is an example of how management wants to share whats going on with all of them. Encourage them to do likewise.
Undoubtedly, this is a message they have heard before, but the chart and whats on it may be something they have never seen.
Granted, its a bold move to put all of that information on display in a very public area. But consider the implications for employee morale, or the reaction of visitors some of whom may be customers or partners if a number of failure blocks show up at the same time. Then, again, the presence of that board may be one of the very things that keeps many of those negative status reports from showing up at all.
It might just become one of the key factors in turning ordinary people into teams that turn in extraordinary performances.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a marketing communications firm based in Pittsburgh. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Reach him by phone at (412) 434-7718.