March 13, 2007

Communications in a Glass Company

By Paul Bieber

Let’s talk about communications within a glass company…actually, this will be applicable to all companies. The current buzz word is ‘stakeholders’. This is anyone who has an interest in the success of the company you are involved with. The first stake holder is ownership; owners are entitled to a realistic return on their investment, whether financial or sweat equity. Next is management, which in most glass shops is the same as ownership. Third is employees, fourth is vendors and last but not least is customers.

Each group should be communicating with all of the others. Some groups have distinct communications channels, for instance in a public company, management communicates with owners in an annual report. Since many of US Glass’ readers are glass shops, we’ll concentrate on that area. It will take weeks to cover all of the channels, so let’s start with, what to me, is the most important: employees and management communicating together. This should be a two-way street. A company that actively solicits and uses employee’s thoughts and ideas will be more successful than one that doesn’t. (In the for-profit world, success is defined as earning that return on investment, a good paycheck, and a little extra!)

Management and employees interact every day; get this job done first, then do this or that, and keep the trucks clean! The important conversation is about reaching the company’s goals and the employees’ goals. In small and medium size (up to 35 people), this should be a group meeting, maybe including all people, and in larger companies, broken down by department or shift. Management/ownership doesn’t have to give specific financial numbers, but can discuss goals of customer satisfaction, safety, number of units manufactured or installed, deliveries made or percentage of accounts receivable past due. Work with the employees to set goals, usually quarterly, and then discuss the path to that goal. Some goals may take a year or two, some maybe set up in a week or two.

Set some early guidelines, like we won’t discuss wages in this group meeting and then encourage the employees to bring in goals. A goal may be selling more of a specific product (like low-e), or improving the organization of receiving glass from fabricators and factories. The people who actually do the installing know which vendor is easiest to work with. Accept the fact that most employees will be quiet and let one or two do all the speaking. This is OK, this is how you develop leadership.

Have a consistency to each meeting. Always, always, always start out with safety. Discuss any accidents that have occurred and how to prevent them in the future. Discuss new procedures or equipment that impact safety. If you have a safety committee, this doesn’t replace the committee, but underscores the company’s commitment to safety. Limit this to ten minutes; if more time is needed on safety, then set up a distinct safety meeting with everyone involved. Then spend ten minutes on the goals discussed at the last meeting and how far you are down the path of reaching them. What still needs to be done? Are there any questions about those goals?

Next do twenty minutes on a specific topic, like a new product you want to carry, maybe a window or door product, or ultra-clear glass, or why low-e works. Go over specific handling techniques. Maybe the discussion is how to politely get the COD payment, or how to handle credit cards. Use ten minutes to introduce your program and ten minutes to answer questions about it. Let’s say your program has five points to it; discuss four of them in that first ten minutes and hope someone asks a question about your last point. If not, bring it up as a closing point to that segment of the meeting. Come in prepared with catalogs, price sheets or pictures.

The next ten minutes should discuss a success that your company has created and how that can be copied into other parts of your company. Maybe an installation went smoothly; ask that crew what was unique about this job and how all people can work to get to those same conditions. Maybe a salesperson or someone who works on your customer counter created a special order and what you need to do to get more orders like that.

The last ten minutes should be general question and answer about anything that comes up. The first meeting will be awkward, but you will find that as the meetings become a regular part of your company, people will be prepared with questions.

Some people reading this blog, the great portion of life called ‘middle management’ will be involved in two meetings, one in which you are a leader and one in which you are the employee. Set the tone by bringing well-thought out questions if you are on the employee side. When on the leadership side you have the capacity to say “Let me think about this question and get back to you”, or to say “That’s not a topic we can discuss in this type of meeting”. The meetings are not a chance to embarrass someone, you or another employee. Try to think ahead and announce the next meeting’s quarterly topic, so people get a chance to think about questions they bring in.

Make the meetings casual by having a soft drink, maybe some fruit juice, or donuts. Toss out a candy bar to each person that asks a question. If you would like more info on this type of meeting, leave a post on the USGlass Forum, describing what type of company you are, and I will gladly create a custom agenda for your first meeting!

The other type of company-employee communication is the annual review which will be the topic of next week’s blog.

Thanks for reading this. Any questions???? Post them on the USGlass Forum and you will get answers.