Transparency during a time of transition

It may sound clichéd for businesses to institute open communications policies these days. Forbes and other magazines, journals and books have tackled the subject of cultivating “a culture of open communication” many times over — yet taking on this initiative amidst a leadership transition is another experience altogether.
My family has owned and operated the privately held Miller Welding & Machine Co. since 1963. My father was president before me, as his father was before him. Once the “torch” was passed to me to fill the role of president, a sequence of activities was developed and triggered a year prior to the announcement.
Our management team was informed of the transition and its implications and, six months prior to our official notice, the news was shared with the entire company. The early notification process certainly made for an easier internal shift.
More transparency = better engagement
After the transition took effect, it was time to re-work some of our internal communications. My father, now chairman of the board, had already established monthly “All-Hands” meetings. These 30-minute presentations are held for each shift to discuss current progress points, new initiatives and so on. We’ve noticed that the more transparent we’ve been, the better our employees are engaged with their work and contributions to the company. Research proves this point, as companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202 percent, according to a Gallup survey.
But like most things, there was an opportunity to improve upon these meetings.
We’ve started disclosing profitability during “All-Hands” meetings, for instance. No longer could employees grossly inflate the profits the company was receiving, particularly in comparison to worker wages. Releasing key data has given our employees confidence in the direction the company is moving toward and helps them understand the impact their actions have on the bottom line.
Show you’re listening
We’ve also begun to survey employees after each “All-Hands” meeting. It gives them an anonymous channel to voice thoughts or concerns that they otherwise may not feel comfortable doing so with a supervisor or myself. We had over a 20 percent response rate with our first survey, and I personally read each and every comment. Selected feedback is then incorporated into future meetings to demonstrate the value of employee input. Quite simply, it shows that we’re listening.

It’s important to me that all employees — from management to laborers — feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with me, in the same way that I’ve been open with them. While our employee engagement and communication goals are far from attained, involving them in as much of the business as possible has been an important part of this long journey, so far.

Eric D. Miller is the president of Miller Welding & Machine Co. Eric represents the third generation of Miller family leadership. The Brookville, Pennsylvania-based company is a metal fabrication partner for innovative OEMs with a global presence.