DEARBORN - Communication is an essential part of any successful relationship – whether it’s between a husband and wife, a parent and child or a company and its employees.
Effective communication is particularly important at Ford’s manufacturing facilities.
“A strong communication system is important to enable all of us to understand how our business is performing, to stay aligned, and to understand the challenges that we face as part of the global manufacturing team,” said Adrian Price, director, Global Ford Production System.
Establishing a standardized Communications System (CS) as a support process for the Ford Production System (FPS) has been a priority for Ford since 2010, when a communications survey of hourly plant employees revealed that they didn’t feel connected to the business, according to Sara Tatchio, manager, Global Integrated Communications.
“People felt that they didn’t have a voice,” she said. “They didn’t feel they had a way to provide feedback about what was going on at the plant, and they also didn’t feel as though they were being recognized for the work they do both at the plant and within their community.”
With strong support from Vice President of Manufacturing Jim Tetreault and Executive Vice President of Manufacturing and Labor Affairs John Fleming, the new CS was developed in 2011 and fully implemented last year at Ford’s North American manufacturing plants.
“When you think about the FPS, communications touches every facet of what we do,” said Tatchio. “The CS is a standardized set of tools and methods designed to not only disseminate information to employees but also to get information back from them, actively listen to them and then respond to their feedback.”
Tatchio emphasizes that the CS is not a program but an ongoing process.
“The CS is a standardized and permanent part of the FPS,” she said. “Like everything else in manufacturing, we will have continuous improvement, and in order to keep improving we must have a two-way dialogue between plant management and employees.”
Tatchio says having a CS in place is especially critical this year as the company continues to roll out the FPS.
“It’s very important that everyone gets the same information about FPS because this is the year of implementation and people need knowledge about the different facets of the FPS in order to do their jobs,” she said.
To help deliver consistent information, there are now communications coaches – people who are educated and trained in communications – in place at all of Ford’s North American manufacturing facilities.
“The CS coaches have journalism expertise so they bring a perspective and a set of tools specific to the job that is really valuable,” said Joel Kimball, HR manager, Sterling Axle Plant.
Alex Maciag agrees. She is the director of North American Transmission Operations and the CS champion.
“Our coaches help us channel our communications through a number of different avenues such as social media and plant media sources,” she said. “They also make sure that the communication we do put out is effective and inclusive of all employees.”
Kimball says formalizing the CS has brought a new sense of consistency to plant communications.
“It has a provided us with a system and a process so that we’re doing the same things everywhere and we’ve got a cadence laid out so that if you go from one plant to another you will see the same kinds of communication tools being used in a very deliberate way,” he said. “We didn’t have that structure there before.”
In addition to having coaches on site, the CS has also put other tools in place to ensure that employees are able to get important information and provide feedback in a timely way.
For example, all of the plants now issue a corporate bulletin called “In the News” that contains company-wide news as well as Go Further stories from different facilities. All plants now have drop boxes – both physical and virtual – where employees can ask confidential questions about the business and provide feedback about what’s on their minds. And each plant has its own page online (accessible via @Ford Online) where people can find specific information related to each facility.
The TV text system and communication boards have been revitalized throughout the plants and skip level meetings – between employees (both salaried and hourly) and plant managers – are now on a regular cadence.
Plant employees also have access to information through @Ford Magazine as well as social media outlets like Facebook.
“Different people get information in different ways,” explained Tatchio. “We know that people in manufacturing facilities don’t sit at their computers all day so we have to find ways to reach out to them. So we’ve developed a series of tools so that everyone will have information available to them.”
As with every other facet of Manufacturing, the CS is a constantly evolving process.
“In order to keep improving we must have two-way dialogue and we must have feedback from people,” said Tatchio. “We have to earn people’s trust and we love feedback on how to do that.”
Kimball encourages all employees to take an active role.
“Please let us know what you like and what works for you,” he said. “Tell us what messages are getting through and how you like to get them so that we can continue to tailor the message and give you what you want to know in the way that works best for you.”