I worked in a company almost a decade back, which was almost on the verge of closing down, or at least its employees thought so. Most perks were cut down, and there were rumours of other conglomerates taking over and what not.
At such a time came a CEO who with his sheer power of communication turned the things around. It may sound like exaggeration but as a PR executive there, I was first-hand witness to a major transformation in employee morale and attitude.
Firstly the CEO, we got to know, had come with a mandate and backing of people who matter, to carry out that mandate of turnaround, without any interference. And that he did finally.
He was an engineer with Ph.D and ours being a manufacturing company, he could micromanage the process, production, operation and be pedantic. But he did none of that. What he did was communicate, communicate & communicate.
His being a local with knowledge of local language did help, but rest was his own charisma. Soon after his joining, he started a whirlwind tour of the huge production assembly. And maybe for effect he went in an open jeep, and not in any air-conditioned sedan. He met workers at the lowest level on the shopfloor, and took direct feedabck on what was wrong with the company. What were their problems. How could they help. What he could do to make their lives easier.
After this went on for a couple of months, he started a series of communication exercises. And I think there was not even one weekday when he did not conduct these exercises.
First was a large group interaction on a weekly basis. 400 plus employees cutting across levels and units met every week with company’s top management. Presentations were made on industry and company scenario, achievements and targets of different units. Then CEO and other top managers addressed the gathering. This was followed by the best part-an open house session. Any of the employees could come and ask direct questions from the top management. To give you the extent of its impact, here are a few comments employees made in the open house session.
-I have been working with the company for 30 years. But this is the first time that I am seeing the CEO face-to-face.
-I complained about this problem to shift incharge, AGM, DGM, GM but no one listened. I hope you will.
-I want the name of our unit to be a part of presentation among the best performing units. Give us any target and we will do it.
Second was a mix-group exercise. In this exercise, 50-60 worker-level employees of a major unit were called alongwith some executives. This exercise again was chaired by CEO and top management. Other invitees were the Heads of major supplier and customer units of our company itself. Here again presentation was followed by address and open house. The difference was that employees pointed out their problems with other units. And Heads of those units had to reply on the spot in front of CEO. That was indeed a pleasure to watch, communication-at-play.
Third was a leadership exercise, in which executives in group of 25-30 were invited and CEO himself took 2-hour session on leadership. That was an eye-openeer in itself.
Fourth was brainstorming exercises between senior level managers in a relaxed environment, and mostly over dinner, which extended till very late in the night.
A unified goal document was also finalized and was publicised through posters, magazines, tv channels etc.
This communication coupled with special incentive schemes, taskforces, union management, cultural renaissance actually turned around the company within a span of few months.
It was an honour to be a part of that change exercise.