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Open Communication, Open Books, and Profit-Sharing Connect Workers

Employees have to count on each other to perform and generate profits.

August 30, 2001
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Van Walbridge, president and CEO of Mobile Tool International, Inc., a Westminster, Colorado, manufacturer of telecommunications, CATV, electrical utility, and contractor construction equipment, agrees that communication is and always has been the biggest issue for any geographically dispersed workforce.

Medium Company
Name: Mobile Tool Int'l, Inc.
Location: Westminster, Colorado, and 6 locations nationwide
Business: Employee-owned manufacturer of telecommunications, CATV, electrical utility, contractor construction equipment
Employees: 870

The company has close to 900 workers at six facilities from Maryland to California. Operations span different time zones, employee and union contracts vary by region, and staff members who interact every day don't get enough face-to-face time, Walbridge says. It's much more difficult than running a business in a single location or in a place where people see each other and can interact and develop relationships, he says.

That's where technology solutions like the Internet can provide a tool to help keep a company connected and employees informed. But just putting the technology out there won't necessarily solve a problem, says Mike Christie, a consultant specializing in operational and technology issues at Hewitt Associates in Lincolnshire, Illinois. Expectations have to be aligned and cultural issues addressed.

At Mobile Tool, this is accomplished mainly because individual plant supervisors are good communicators and run consistent operations. They follow the same corporate guidelines in areas such as attendance, rewards for outstanding performance, and disciplinary actions, Walbridge says. But they handle day-to-day operations themselves. Corporate managers serve as resources and work with plants on performance goals.

Open communication also is the norm at Mobile Tool. That means sharing company financials with employees and explaining regional differences in salaries or even workforce reductions. If employees truly understand what's going on, they don't have to focus on spin, rumors, and innuendo, Walbridge says.

Companies also have to understand that different people prefer different forms of communication, he says. "Some of them like to read it, some of them like to hear it, some of them like to experience it." As a result, Mobile Tool communicates in a variety of ways, such as the written word, video, e-mail, and, of course, telephone.

The company is employee-owned. Employees hold 76 percent of the stock and constitute a majority on the board of directors. Walbridge insists that any company can and should be open with its employees. "I know of no downside to that, to providing some of the basic financial information so that the employees can know where they have an effect on the company."

Company-wide profit-sharing further works to turn Mobile Tool's dispersed workers into a cohesive workforce, he says. Employees have to count on each other to perform and generate profits.

Workforce, September 2001, pp. 78-80 -- Subscribe Now!

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