Communicating During a Plant Expansion

How Can We Help?

Q: Our twenty-year-old plant is undergoing a major reconstruction update. Our 1500-employee base in the plant is concerned and we want to make sure they understand that this is not a nefarious plan to eliminate staff. Any suggestions? Any experience in the newspaper business? Very much looking forward to hearing from you.

Richard Malone

A: Dear Richard:

In a situation like the one you describe, I’d suggest starting with qualitative research, specifically, some focus groups. I’d focus on identifying what employees’ information needs are and their concerns. I’d probe on how they’d like to be kept up-to-date on the progress of the reconstruction as well. A good facilitator will also be able to hear “between the lines” and follow up on any indications of employee mistrust about the purpose of the expansion and probe on what company actions or communications are reinforcing the negative impressions currently.

Longer term, you’ll need to have an ongoing feedback mechanism in place as well, since build-outs take some time. You might try an 800 number people can call for updates on the progress and if they have a question or want to check out a rumor, they could leave a message of their own at the end. All the questions and answers could be shared with all those involved. In a plant environment, your employees are not likely to use email or an intranet regularly, so you’ll need to find a paper solution to the information sharing. This will provide the consistency that supervisor meetings alone won’t be able to provide. In addition, remember that not only the employees working at the plant are interested in an expansion like this. Be sure to keep the other employees informed about progress and allow for their questions as well.

Periodically, you might want to conduct large-group meetings having senior leaders provide updates and field questions in person. This face-to-face dialogue helps build trust because the employees can watch the facial expressions and body language of the leaders to gauge whether they are being truthful and concerned for employees’ best interests. Of course, this should be done during all the different shifts involved since the night and swing shifts may be the ones with the greatest apprehensions. These shifts often feel isolated and ignored by management at the best of times.

In fact, I have worked as internal communication manager at a newspaper company and even worked on a plant expansion at the time. Feel free to contact me directly if you need more ideas.

Best regards,

Angela D. Sinickas