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The winner's edge - 'cascading management,' attention to employee needs spell success for these Gold Quill recipients.

The Winner's Edge--`Cascading Management,' Attention to Employee Needs Spell Success for These Gold Quill Recipients

This is the second article in a series onn the making of Gold Quillwinning projects.

Communicating vital information to the ranks has always been a challenge for business communicators. Judging from the approaches taken by several 1990 IABC Gold Quill winners, a new concept in employee communication not only works but also garners awards as well. A commitment to high quality in publications, driven by better responsiveness to employee needs, also comes through as a key to creating a Gold Quill-worthy project.

* Award of Excellence

Category # 8--Employee communication programs

Leslie Lamkin, Employee and External

Communications Manager

Atlanta, Ga.

"Georgia Power Employee Communication Program" The employee communication staff of Georgia Power Company in Atlanta devised a program worthy of a Gold Quill Excellence award by finding out what its employees wanted, cutting costs, improving the effectiveness of publications, and taking some bold steps to reposition publications while restructuring the internal communication process for the utility.

"The strong point of the program was that we tried to emphasize face-to-face communication," said Leslie Lamkin, manager of external and employee communications for Georgia Power. "Employees had told us that they like to get information directly from their supervisors or management on-site at their plants. We designed a program using cascading management, where the CEO presents information at a monthly meeting of all officers and generating plant managers, who then go out and give the information directly to their employees."

This approach resolved a classic internal communication problem--"We would come up with this great idea, announce it in the company publications and then find there was this great void," Lamkin said. "The officers just ignored anything that wasn't `theirs' and employees would think it was unimportant because they didn't see it coming directly from their vice presidents or on-site managers."

Introducing a "new way of communicating" has worked, Lamkin said: "The president is really behind it and we will be communicating the same way this year."

Lamkin and her colleagues know the employee communication program works, because they incorporated a survey into it and did follow-up research on results, one of the elements that made the Gold Quill entry viable. In fact, they were so certain that the new approach would work, they tied their department goals to it, which meant they put their own bonuses and salary incentives on the line, Lamkin said. "At Georgia Power, you now receive a bonus or salary incentive if you accomplish or exceed stated goals. We tied our department goals to whether or not employees got the message about the company--whether they knew the company's goals and through which medium they learned things--rather than on how many publications we published or whether we got things out on a timely basis," she said. "That was a unique thing for our department to do."

The effort worked--"Knowledge of the corporate goals soared to 70 percent of employees on an end-of-year survey," Lamkin said in her entry. That was "a vast leap above the four-percent level a year before--and 19 percentage points higher than our goal."

To make their goals happen, Lamkin and her staff held an informal retreat ("We spent the day in a colleague's basement--that was our retreat site!") and then conducted research on employee opinions. Having used focus groups to assess company morale and what employees wanted to hear and receive from the company, Lamkin and her staff redesigned existing publications, moving news and several departments from a higher-priced, four-color magazine to a lower-cost, two-color newsletter to make the newsletter more timely and the magazine more substantive. The magazine went from monthly to bimonthly and the newsletter became a weekly. They created a "family look" for the publications as well and focused other efforts on face-to-face interaction and the cascading management concept. "We saved money and improved the timeliness of information, which is what employees said they wanted," Lamkin said. The resulting savings in production costs also fulfilled corporate goals of reducing costs company-wide; "our communication changes helped us come in under budget by $73,500 for 1989," she said in her entry.

Other successful elements of the employee communication program were a "Jeans Day" at corporate headquarters to encourage employees to "Unstress for Success," which improved morale so much that it will be repeated; and a new "Everyone Has a Customer Award" recognition program that encourages the public to nominate employees for performing extraordinary help or service--"certificates are displayed on a wall and then given to the employees. The wall in our main office lobby is now almost papered with certificates," Lamkin reported.

Although she said she "would like to know what went on in the Gold Quill judges' minds, because you really never can know why one project wins an award and another one doesn't," Lamkin concluded that this program made the grade because it worked--it used research and direct communication to determine employee needs and then moved to fulfill them, saving money in the process and following up with research into whether those moves were effective. And don't worry--Lamkin and her colleagues received their bonuses, too.

* Award of Merit

Category # 35--One-to three-color (publications), services

(utilities, insurance or banks)

Fran Aller Goldstein

American Express Company

New York, N.Y.

Dateline magazine The process of repositioning and revamping a publication often yields a stronger, more effective publication. It also helps communicators think through the purpose and impact of the publication in much the way a Gold Quill entry should be approached. For Fran Aller Goldstein, manager of corporate employee publications for the American Express Company in New York City, the two processes were similar and produced appropriate results--a better magazine and a Gold Quill Award of Merit.

To fulfill the primary goal of presenting American Express as "a diverse, innovative, people-oriented company whose vision has consistently placed it on the leading edge" and "one of the best places to work," as well as ensuring that "all employees feel they are a part of the company and relate to their colleagues" in other, far-flung company units, Goldstein and her staff took a hard look at how well those goals were served by Dateline, which was considered the "flagship" magazine for the company. Then, they made some substantive changes.

"As the flagship magazine, it must appeal to all employees," Goldstein said in her entry. "In addition, it should be innovative, contemporary, `non-corporate' (in tone) and credible." The magazine had existed in various formats for five years, with Goldstein involved in four; it had gone through several design changes, the most recent two years ago. "In 1989, we changed from bimonthly to quarterly to allow for more expanded coverage," she said. They also changed the distribution, from being sent to employees and retirees only in North America to dissemination to company locations worldwide; in non-English-speaking countries, employees at the manager level and above receive the magazine.

Gold Quill category requirements are fairly basic: Entries should be "external or internal publications in magazine format with feature and/or issue orientation. Materials may include interpretive writing and liberal use of photos and art." What makes Dateline stand out is that "when we gave the magazine a new look, we wanted to create a publication that was most suitable to the culture of the company," Goldstein said. "We have employees worldwide but the bulk are in the US; they are young--in the 30s primarily, the television generation; managers are flooded with paperwork so they really need a reason to pick up and read something. Because American Express is known for quality ads and cardmember materials, we want the magazine to be high-quality as well."

To achieve the "contemporary, consumer-type look rather than a corporate look" that she wanted, Goldstein developed a specific style and approach for Dateline. "This was done through both the design and the writing style," she said. "We use free-lance journalists for stories, rather than corporate communication people, because we want feature leads, business-feature pieces. I tell people to write as if they were working with the Wall Street Journal or a consumer publication. We use photojournalists for the same reason--it adds to the human, consumer touch in the publication."

One aspect of Dateline that adds to its success and makes it stand out from the herd of corporate magazines, according to Goldstein, is that "we try to get pictures of our executives outside the office, without a suit and tie. We featured one company president in full archer's gear--archery was her hobby! We also try to illustrate stories with rank-and-file employees whenever possible, rather than only using corporate executives."

Dateline editors develop story ideas in collaboration with the company's vice president for corporate employee communication and senior vice president for corporate affairs, with input from each business unit requested as needed, Goldstein said in her entry. The staff plans articles for all four issues but "often must change paths in mid-issue to keep up with an ever-changing company." Once, Goldstein had to add four new pages when an issue was a week away from press date, to cover the formation of a new business unit in a timely way.

Response to Dateline in its current format has been reassuringly positive, Goldstein said. "Dateline is well received based on consistently positive comments from senior management and employees at all levels throughout the company," she wrote in her entry. "Distribution overseas was expanded as a result of requests from each country." A fall 1989 "state-of-the-art readership survey," in which 8,000 employees who received an issue were asked to call in their opinions, showed that 40 percent of callers read 100 percent of the magazine, 60 percent read 75 percent or more; 54 percent found the magazine "interesting and informative," and only 12 percent found it to be of "little value."

Putting together the Gold Quill entry was easier for Goldstein than she expected. "Our boss always said that you have to put a lot of work into the entry, but it wasn't so hard on this one because we went through the same process when we redesigned and repositioned the magazine," she said. The linkage between careful planning in producing a communication project and winning a Gold Quill for it couldn't be much clearer.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is a free-lance writer/editor, Washington, D.C.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:part 2
Author:Thaler-Carter, Ruth E.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Previous Article:Memoirs from the day Dr. Koop came to visit.
Next Article:Communicating for ethical change.

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