If there’s one topic that gets put on the back burner in job shops and contract manufacturing organizations, it’s communications. Manufacturers are understandably focused, laser-like, on areas of profitability: equipment performance, estimating/quoting, pricing, quality, customer satisfaction, etc., with communications taking a back seat.
If communicating with people and groups within your organization—operations, customer service reps, sales people, maintenance, HR—has no real structure around it, you can bet that there are opportunities to improve, including when it comes to profitability.
We recommend every job shop and contract manufacturer bring communications out of their internal shadows and make it a priority. To do that, you must formalize your communications process with a plan that outlines the company’s protocols. When the process and all of its steps are written down and agreed upon by all parties, the more likely it is that those processes and steps will be followed. If all you have is a meeting to talk about areas for improvement, anything discussed will quickly be forgotten (or ignored).
Start With Best Practices
The foundation of an actionable plan is a set of best practices. Start broadly (“We will include all necessary departments on communications relevant to their area of influence and expertise”) and dig down to the level of granularity needed to ensure that people understand and can follow the plan. For example, “We will include the two most senior people in HR on Safety team monthly meeting outcomes and next steps.” Best practices might cover:
Exactly what do you want to share? Most businesses generate daily, weekly and monthly reports—is there value in sharing these with your people? What about RFQs? Would that help motivate people and boost morale? There are some types of information that’s mandatory, like some OSHA postings and state/federal workplace notices, and some that’s simply a must in order for people to do their jobs, like purchase orders being communicated to the Customer Service team. Others are optional but may have the potential to positively affect your company culture.
How often will you communicate different information? If you’re like most job shops or contract manufacturers, you’re probably not communicating enough. Keep in mind that knowledge is power, and the more information people have related to their work, the more able they are to improve.
There are multiple ways to share information: email, verbal, printed documents, online portals, memos, meetings and more. Get agreement on the most effective and efficient methods for the different types of communications and institute a protocol for each. As you determine the best methods, don’t forget to accommodate for different stakeholders. Some people prefer email, while others like information printed so they can review and edit manually. When you align the vehicle with the recipient, you’re going to have much better response and more immediate action.
Who gets what communications? Is your HR person currently kept in the loop about equipment purchases? Is there a good reason? What about your maintenance people – are they kept in the loop about hiring? Why? Review all departments and their need to be involved in conversations; eliminate them from lists that make no sense and include them on those where they add value to discussions.
What emotions are we trying to elicit when communicating different types of information? Communications, especially when not delivered in person, can affect how people feel about what you’re telling them, so identify the tone to be used (positive, proud, encouraging, insistent, etc.), especially with information that’s not welcome, like layoffs or the loss of a customer.
What kinds of non-essential information do we share? Cultural, news, industry/competitor information? Announcements of new hires, new customers, goal achievements? When you set your communications goals, don’t forget about the things that you don’t “need” to share. Often these are the things that nurture positive company culture—and help recruitment efforts, too.
Do we include metrics/numbers and, if so, when? Some companies give their employees a monthly breakdown of how they’re doing: monthly sales, year-to-date progress, overhead costs, losses, tax liabilities and more. How much you share is completely up to you, but consider that making people feel more a part of your successes (and losses) may cause them to feel more empowered to improve performance.
And, while details are good, don’t forget the bigger picture items. Do your employees know what your mission is? Do they understand what’s expected of them every day? Do they know where you’re headed and why?
Responses and Feedback
Don’t forget about what employees want to communicate to you. When appropriate, make action possible by itemizing next steps—you can even link to areas within your intranet where those steps can be taken. And there’s perhaps no better way to make people feel that they matter than to ask for their input. When an action is being considered or a new initiative is announced, ask for the input of the people who will be involved. When people see that you value their perspective they’re more likely to accept what you’re doing and participate positively.
Many organizations also make it simple for employees to give a shout out to others within the company by providing a specific spot (physical or digital) where they can congratulate, thank or praise coworkers who’ve done a great job.
Involve The Right People/Departments
Don’t underestimate the power of smart company communications and a plan to execute it consistently. The more people know, the more likely they are to feel part of the team and its decisions, and the more able they are to make good decisions for the company. The construction of a plan should involve all department heads and any other stakeholders you believe will add value to the discussions; this will ensure that all meaningful points of view are reflected in the final product.
If you need help developing a practical, actionable communication plan (or want a set of expert eyes on it), reach out to the manufacturing team at Wipfli; we can offer perspectives from our years of experience with job shops and contract manufacturing companies just like yours.
Watch for our next communications-related article: “How An ERP System Keeps Everyone In The Loop—and Making Better Decisions.” It will outline of all the ways these solutions streamline communication processes and deliver the right information to the right people at the right time—so they can make the best business decisions.