Overcommunication Builds Bridges Across Multiple Time Zones

Overcommunicate with your employees, especially in uncertain economic times like now.

August 30, 2001
Aworkforce, no matter how widely dispersed, absolutely must understand company strategies, know it has an opportunity to provide input, and be connected to the company's mission and direction, says Per-Olof Loof, Sensormatic Electronics Corporation CEO and president. When they are informed, workers, in turn, will do their jobs better. Clients expect a workforce to behave and treat them the same whether they are in Singapore, Munich, or Miami, and that's a real challenge for any global company, he says.

Large Company
Name: Sensormatic Electronics Corporation
Location: Boca Raton, Florida, operations in 113 countries
Business: Electronic security
Employees: 5,200

Technology can help open the doors of communication and information transfer, but a company has to use whatever means possible, Loof says. Sensormatic once relied on telephone lines, after-the-fact videotapes, and discussions, whereas now it uses live broadcasts, real-time webcasts via the Internet, and company intranet to keep its employees informed and in touch.

Loof spends more than 50 percent of his time on the road meeting with employees and customers because he thinks it is important that management be visible and personally connected.

A big part of Loof's communication strategy involves town hall meetings. They are held immediately after each quarterly earnings call in a different Sensormatic location. The meeting is broadcast live to the company's dozen biggest sites and is webcast to others. For those employees without Internet access, it's available by telephone. The session also is taped for those who can't participate live.

It's not a gripe session, but an overview of what happened in the quarter and what's ahead. It includes a question-and-answer session that deals with pertinent topics. Since logistics prevent live, from-the-audience questions, Loof asks the questions based on his sense of what the issues are, and provides straightforward answers. Last quarter, the main topic was the company's recent layoffs and whether more were expected.

"The objective is to be very open and very honest and address those questions that people wouldn't want to or wouldn't feel that they could ask."

Sensormatic also counts on its intranet to communicate with workers. It has bulletin boards and electronic newsletters. "People want to stay connected, and this is a way for us to be able to talk about that." Loof even has a personal bulletin board called "Ask Per," where employees can ask him questions directly. In a little more than six months, Loof has received -- and answered -- 146 questions on everything from strategic corporate issues to mileage compensation.

When it comes to training, Loof admits it's tough to keep a worldwide workforce informed about product updates. "Training people across the globe is an issue where you are never happy." Sensormatic uses its intranet and the Internet, but primarily counts on more conventional classroom methods of training.

However a company decides to deal with its dispersed workforce, Loof offers this advice: Overcommunicate with your employees, especially in uncertain economic times like now. A personal connection is great if it's possible, though company size can make that difficult. "But even companies like Wal-Mart have managed to connect their management to the people who work at the company," he says. "And they employ 1.2 million people."

Workforce, September 2001, pp. 80-81 -- Subscribe Now!