Trouble getting your troops aligned with your CEO’s marching orders? Time for a town hall meeting to straighten them out.
But what if your organization spans multiple countries, time zones, cultures and languages? Should you throw in the towel and rely on old-fashioned communication cascades?
Belden Inc. has found a way to transcend geographic and language differences and reach nearly 80% of its 10,000 employees worldwide.
A St. Louis manufacturer of high-end networking, connectivity and cable products, Belden combines onsite meetings with translated videos of town halls featuring CEO John Stroup, says Corporate Communications Manager Michelle Foster.
For each town hall, Foster coordinates Stroup’s travel to one of the company’s global locations and records a meeting before a live audience. A senior business leader appropriate to that location facilitates the discussion.“ We produce the video and send it out to be translated it into 10 languages, and we distribute that,” Foster says.
Reaching non-English speakers
The translation mode varies according to the audience. German, Spanish and Czech-speaking employees get voiceover videos. Speakers of French, Japanese, Hindi, Chinese, Hungarian, Arabic and Dutch get subtitled versions.
“A lot of our associates don’t speak English—either at all, or they don’t understand the level of complexity that our CEO has to go over,” Foster says. “So we thought that it would be crucial to translate it.”
Once the translated videos are distributed, more-focused work begins. A leader and administrator are identified for each of 65 locations with local audiences ranging from 10 people to 1,200, Foster says.
“We ask the leader and the administrator to view the broadcast with their employees and to take time at the end to answer any questions they might have,” she says, “and to provide any local context and to make the content given by our CEO real and relevant to the people onsite.”
Not only does method this work better than livestreamed town halls across multiple time zones, it also means each session is relevant in a company with 15 different brands. It would be difficult for Stroup to provide detailed messages for the varied business units, so he keeps the information high-level.
“What we ask our site leaders to do is to make that content meaningful for the associates,” Foster adds.
Belden launched this form of video town halls last year. The company has done six of these; the next will be in September. Prior to last year, Belden offered livestreamed town halls, and whoever could join would do so. But the new format—combining prerecorded video with local discussions—has raised total participation from fewer than 1,000 people to more than 7,500 per meeting.
“It’s a tremendous improvement that we’re really proud of,” Foster says.
The communications team helps the local discussion leaders make the information relevant at their site by providing talking points such as these:
- Explain how your business or sites serve the markets.
- Identify areas where there has been organic growth investment in your business unit or sites.
- Identify any work done onsite that supports customers mentioned in the video.
- Share some of your relevant customer wins.
- Communicate and reinforce our breakthrough goals. (These goals concern employee engagement, customer loyalty and stock performance.)
Though the target participation is 100%, Foster realizes that’s a high bar because of production needs and customers’ delivery expectations.
“It’s quite an ‘ask’ for our manufacturing locations,” Foster admits, “because they do have production needs and shift changes and all that.”
In addition to the raw numbers of participants, Belden is seeing the effects of the meeting in its employee surveys. In response to a statement, “I am sufficiently informed about business performance,” the yes responses shot up. Once coming in at 77%, the number leaped to 88%.
There has also been a jump in positive response to the statement, “I am sufficiently informed about business plans,” rising five points to 78%.
Foster’s favorite moment so far came during its annual CEO value awards. Every year the company gives out awards to employees based on its company values. Not long ago, and for the first time, Stroup made those awards part of the all-hands meeting.
A gifted speaker, he discussed the winner: a director of manufacturing who had found ways to reduce waste and bring efficiency to multiple plants.
“He talked about this woman that he was giving this award to, and the emotion that he felt for her and just being so proud of her,” Foster says. “It was really great to see.”
All this makes the new style of town hall a success. “It’s been transformational, for sure,” Foster says.