Shop floor communication: understanding and engagement are possible

Overview

Through strategic communication activities, DevCom assisted Volkswagen SA to improve its team culture by more than 85% and create a 70% awareness of the company values.

The company has developed a holistic operational production communication structure to compliment the internal communication structures. Line management communication has been streamlined, as well as managers’ training in communication skills to improve tone, flow and trust in the organisation, resulting in measured impact in the production environment.

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IABC Gold quill award of Excellence
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employees involved in research
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increase in team culture
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increase in awareness of company values

At the end of 2010, VWSA launched a new strategy to take the business from “Good to Great” by 2014. Internal communication was an integral component of the strategy’s people pillar. Its role in “Good to Great” was the implementation of an internal communication strategy that would keep employees informed, provide communication support, communicate strategic initiatives and build relationships. The aim was to improve employee engagement and create a sense of belonging.

Sappi Forests KZN had identified the improvement of relations between Sappi and its forestry community as a critical business success factor. Although the company clearly understood what needed to be done, it was at a loss as to how.

In April 2014, Sappi contracted DevCom to help find an answer. Our brief was to improve the company’s relationships and communication with the communities living around its plantations.

Naturally, our first step was research. We had one question to answer: “Why are community members setting fire to the forests?” Our goal was to provide management with the answers they needed to make informed decisions about how to minimise risk.

Management was initially sceptical about the value of models such as asset-based community development (ABCD), and the mixture of business and development communication. However, a series of oneday workshops convinced them to embrace ABCD and community dialogue as our research methodology and they helped to develop the research tools.

The company piloted a different approach to mitigate its fire risk. Using a youth focused budget, Sappi appointed – on a contract basis – 18 bright young community members (called Abashintshi, meaning changers in isiZulu) to establish a network of social mobilisation.

Challenges and Results

The Internal Communication team decided that an audit needed to be done in the production areas to establish a baseline for internal communication. DevCom was contracted to work with them on the project.

Our recommendation was practical research that would answer business questions.

The research involved 258 employees representing all six production areas and all organisational levels, from operators to the production director. In the interest of consistency, we used the same methodology across the board, namely facilitated questionnaires, personal interviews and dynamic focus groups.

The two most salient findings from this process were the need to revive the human element – the VW family and the fact that communication and organisational excellence depended on close cooperation between the Production, Communication and HR divisions. Addressing communication gaps came down to rediscovering the balance between people and production.

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