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Jamie Lawrence

Wagestream

Insights Director

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“We have unbelievable support from the leadership.”

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Sara Tatchio is Manager, Integrated Global Communications at Ford Motor Company. We interviewed Sara following Ford’s win in the Company of the Year category at the 2015 US Employee Engagement Awards. In this piece, Sara tells us why she thinks Ford won the accolade, how they ramped up engagement while welcoming a new CEO on board and what the ultimate end goal is for Ford’s engagement activities.

Why we think we won the award…

Firstly, we have unbelievable support from the leadership of our company. People who I speak to that have to work hard to get support from leadership cannot then spend their time working hard to get engagement. Ford has always been supportive at the top level.

As an aside when I joined the company in around 1990 I came in to TV because we had a daily TV programme that served 250 locations. The reason we had that programme was because our chairman at the time, Len Poling, wanted to make sure that people got information from the company and not from other sources when possible.

So he did that and from then on we had very strong support for employee communication in general.

The next piece I would say is when we went through another tough time we did some survey data and the numbers around believing in our products were not great. There was definitely an issue and the person in charge of product development realised we had to do something about this. From that point on we have spent a lot of time in engaging people with products.

So to summarise, the number one reason is incredible support from our top management, and the second thing is we are very broad in our offerings and constantly thinking about the ways to connect the employee to the company.

The secret sauce to making engagement work?

I don’t know if internal communications is the secret sauce to making engagement work but what I think is the secret sauce is trying very hard to be timely, relevant and consistent – not just doing something when it’s convenient.

So for example there are times we need people to know things and there are times when we want people to understand the messaging. Having a news background I’ve always approached information as a combination of things people need to know and what they want to know.

If you are giving them interesting information and there’s something that you really want them to know you will have the base of being in their ‘eco-system’ and you don’t have to work so hard for them to pay attention.

Maintaining engagement at a time of significant change – a new CEO coming in

We’re always trying to be consistent so keeping people engaged when we moved from Alan Mulally to Mark Fields was helped by the communications team who delivered a seamless experience.

It’s really about a ‘business as usual’ message when the transition is happening and it’s also about making sure people saw the support the old CEO has for the new CEO and that Bill Ford had for the new CEO as well.

There was a lot of attention on the CEO transition and we tried to make sure it wasn’t like some massive shift in the flow of the river, so to speak. There wasn’t some seismic change – it was really about building on what was there and giving room for the new CEO Mark to have his messaging and find his place.

The fast-paced nature of the car industry

The industry has changed enormously. Mark’s messaging is around ‘We make great,’ continuing the One Ford Plan and delivering great products with passion and putting innovation in everything we do.

The word innovation is used by a lot of folks but it’s literally looking at every piece of our company and asking how we can do that thing better, how we can do it faster and how can we take appropriate risk.

We have to make big cars but we also have to be realistic about what’s going on in the world and knowing that we need solutions that we never would have thought about a few years ago that are faithful to Ford’s DNA and being a reliable company.

So if you look at the news we’re doing a lot of experimentation with car sharing, with ownership sharing, with all kinds of multi-mobile vehicles and other great areas.

Keeping the engagement momentum going

It’s super hard. And it’s hard because the team that does the work has to keep the energy up and in fact of the hardest things we all face is coming in every day with the same energy levels.

The team has been fairly consistent for almost nine years so we need to have the same passion we’ve always had for it. We also must be creative because we have to fight the expectation from staff that it [engagement activities] “just happens”.

We have to work hard so they understand it’s special, and that when we – for example – show them a product before we show it to anyone else it’s because we care about them. But it can’t be taken for granted and so I guess my biggest challenge is trying to make sure the workforce doesn’t take this for granted.

On how other companies can learn from Ford’s engagement efforts

There’s not a secret formula: you really have to look at your own company.

But if I was going to do some kind of formula I would say that, if you’re a company with products, expose your people to the products. That is absolutely a first for me.

If your own employees aren’t going to love your products why would anyone else? Arm people with the exposure information to be advocate. That’s absolutely probably number one, two and three most important things to do for me.

It’s also important to have some kind of method where you’re affording transparency – really asking people what’s on their minds and attempting to answer.

Also – you’ll need to work with your leadership team, so gather data wherever possible, before and after, so you can see progress. It’s very hard to argue with success.

What’s next for employee engagement at Ford?

My goal for 2020 for employee communications is that when someone wakes up in the morning and they turn off their phone they’ve used as their alarm clock, they go to see what’s going on in the world and when they do that they include looking at what’s going on with Ford from the information we provide. The company becomes part of their information ecosystem. 

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence
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