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Manufacturing Spotlight: Tackling Turnover, Part 2: Start by Talking to Your Employees

Have you heard the word “jobpocalypse?” It’s how some experts are now describing the war for talent, the Great Resignation… all the employee retention-related challenges facing many businesses right now. But, when we first read that new term, it really struck us. The name alone implies the dire – and enduring – situation many businesses find themselves in right now. They’re looking for new ways to tackle the ongoing issue of attracting and keeping talent, because it clearly isn’t going away anytime soon.

While Tschida Communications works across a myriad of industries, we’ve recently seen an uptick in communication needs from the manufacturing industry, specifically around internal communication. These companies are wisely recognizing the need to engage and communicate with their employees like never before to combat the effects the “jobpocalypse” is having on their businesses. (Note: While most manufacturing organizations have had some form of internal communications over the years, it’s often been HR-driven. This is about taking a broader, more strategic approach to the content shared with employees, and the ways that content should be delivered.)

In this 3-part series, we’ll share observations and best practices that other manufacturing companies can use to communicate with their notoriously hard-to-reach front-line employees, based on our work with organizations in that industry.

In part 2 below, we’ll share how to get feedback from employees and leaders on what they want to know and how they want to receive information. If you missed part 1 about industry-specific reasons for starting to communicate with employees, check it out here. Then, coming soon in part 3, we’ll explain how to create a communications roadmap that balances quick wins with longer-term investments in new channels and content that truly engages your teams.

Now that you know both the general and manufacturing industry-specific signs that indicate you might need to communicate with your employees more intentionally, what’s the next step? We always start by talking to employees directly to learn how they experience the company’s formal and informal communication practices currently, and what they think needs to change and stay the same. In many cases, we hear from frontline employees that our conversation is the first time they’ve ever been asked to share their opinion. While it can be tempting to skip this step in favor of executing what management already knows they want, please resist that urge – the simple act of asking can make a world of difference for this audience!

While you likely can’t speak with every employee directly, you can ensure you get a representative sample by making a point to interview employees:

§ At each key level within your organization. That might look like C-suite, managers, supervisors, and frontline – or in your company it might look entirely different. Just ensure that every key level is represented proportionally. So, for example, if 30% of your employees are supervisors, ensure that 30% of the employees you select to interview are supervisors.

§ Within each function of your organization. Similar to level, ensure that all key functions and/or departments within your organization are represented within the population you choose to interview.

§ At every key location. It’s critically important to interview employees at all locations – not just headquarters because of the ease of proximity. Here again, if 30% of your overall employee base is in a particular location, ensure that 30% of the group you interview comes from that location.

§ That embody the demographics of your company. Be sure your list of interviewees captures the mix of genders and ethnicities represented across your employee base. In cases where your company lacks diversity, be sure to seek out those voices in your interviews, even if it technically represents a disproportionate percentage compared with your overall population. It’s critical you hear from diverse employees and identify any trends in their experiences that need to be understood and addressed.

Once you’ve determined a representative set of employees to speak with, it’s time to get out and talk to them – our very favorite part of doing this work! Compared with our background in more corporate environments, we find the candor and directness of frontline employees so refreshing. Our work relies on getting their honest, unfiltered feedback, and that’s exactly what comes in. This can be where having the involvement of a neutral, third-party really makes a difference – whoever conducts the interviews, the key is to ensure your employees feel comfortable opening up to that person and telling them the truth about their experience.

What should you actually ask employees? We recommend a mix of questions that cover how they’d describe the culture, what content they most value and what they’d like to hear more about, what methods of communication they prefer and would like to see in the future, etc. Be sure the questions reflect what you most want to know and can feasibly take action on. It’s also critical to ask people managers what tools and resources they need to lead and communicate with their teams even more effectively.

When we play back the results of these interviews to our clients, they find a lot of value in comparing and contrasting how employees describe the company compared with how executive leaders do. This provides insightful information on how the company can preserve what employees care about while embedding new expectations about new behaviors (sometimes gradually, depending on the amount of change it represents!).

From there, look for other “low-hanging fruit” based on employee feedback about how the company could start communicating differently. Those insights should be combined with internal communications best practices, tailored for what makes sense for your company, and its priorities and culture. That’s what we’ll dig into in part 3 of this series, coming soon – how you can create a communications roadmap that meets employees’ and leaders’ needs and start taking action against it.

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