How one woman coordinates employee communications across six continents—without social media
Internal communications can be a Herculean job regardless of company size. For a company that employs tens of thousands of people worldwide and a lean communication department, the task might seem downright impossible.
But it’s a reality for communicator Ginger Kuenzel.
Every morning she goes to her job at Thermo Fisher Scientific faced with an international audience of over 30,000 employees and a staff of two; two years ago it was just her.
Thermo Fisher, a $10 billion Massachusetts-based corporation that makes science supplies, is the result of a 2006 merger involving Thermo Electron and Fisher Scientific. This publicly-traded company now has over 30,000 employees spread across 400 locations on six continents.
Companies are growing, merging and outsourcing like never before, and as this happens they begin spanning borders and languages. Meanwhile, communication departments are asked to reach this expanding audience with skeletal resources.
Here’s how Kuenzel faces this common challenge—and what you can learn from her experience.
Lost in translation
Like countless other internal communication departments, Thermo Fisher’s is responsible for numerous tasks: a quarterly print magazine, corporate intranet, e-mails from execs to employees and more. However, there are no internal communicators outside the corporate headquarters in Massachusetts.
At Thermo Fisher, HR departments stand in as employee communicators for most of the company’s individual locations while Kuenzel is responsible for companywide messages that come from headquarters.
These corporate messages are rarely translated. Kuenzel has found a way to effectively reach her multilingual audience, on the cheap, by recruiting people at different locations to serve as translators.
“When I first came here there were a lot of people outside the U.S. who would ask why everything is in English,” Kuenzel said. “I told them we’re more than happy to have this stuff translated, but we’ll have to rely on you.”
Kuenzel taps employees, usually HR folk, at various locations to translate company messages. For instance, when an English-language e-mail arrives at the international offices from Kuenzel’s corporate office, these stand-in communicators do the translation and further distribute the message to local employees.
The power of face-to-face
Creating a global network of volunteer translators is a tricky task—one Kuenzel manages with face-to-face meetings and with the telephone.
“I’ve found that if you make contact with people just one time face to face, that really does so much,” she said. “I can’t say I’ve made contact with all the HR people I rely on, but I do try.”
Basically it’s all about building relationships: Meet a representative from an international office, ask her to serve as translator and then nurture that relationship.
“I think you should meet the person you deal with face-to-face at least once and then you can do things just on a regular phone call,” she noted.
The power of technology
Face-to-face, telephone … Kuenzel sounds old-school, but she isn’t computer-phobic. Right now she’s developing an internal podcast with episodes about different Thermo Fisher locations.
“While some employee might be unable to read English, they are willing to listen to it,” she explained.
“I think what we have to be is what I like to call firing on all pistons,” Kuenzel said. “You have to be electronic, you have to be face-to-face, you have to be print, you have to be phone—I think you have to use every channel you can.”
Kuenzel is in the process of improving certain channels of communication. For instance, she’s anticipating a new intranet platform to replace the current one she deems “horrible” because it is so outdated (the platform not the content).
A steering committee comprised of every major stakeholder group at Thermo Fisher is researching new intranet platforms. The effort earned Kuenzel’s small department a new position devoted to building a better intranet.
“One of the ways we’re going to get funding [for a new intranet]—we think—is to show there are a lot of business units and divisions setting up their own intranets,” Kuenzel explained.
Various locations have begun ditching Thermo Fisher’s corporate intranet for their own versions. Kuenzel said it’s difficult to deny an individual location’s request to build a new intranet when the corporate platform is so poor.
“It’s very important that we not have lots of different intranets people are going to but they’re that coming through one front door everyday [to find company information],” Kuenzel said.
Even more power of face-to-face
Another communication channel that will see improvements is the company’s town hall program; Kuenzel wants to ensure employees worldwide are walking away from town halls more engaged.
Right now, each Thermo Fischer site conducts a town hall meeting after quarterly earnings are released. Execs in Massachusetts send each Thermo Fischer division a package of PowerPoint slides, speaker’s notes and other information for the town halls.
More slides and notes are then added at the divisional level and passed to each site leader who contributes information about that particular location. “The site leader is then supposed to make it applicable [to employees during a town hall],” Kuenzel explained.
The company hopes to improve these meetings to ensure employees are really getting this information. Kuenzel hopes employees will return from town halls understanding how they can help the division achieve its goals.
“Just really get them more engaged and make it more meaningful to them on an individual basis,” she said of the future of the program.
How is Kuenzel ensuring her programs will be supported worldwide? By “training management to be constantly doing face-to-face communication, walking around finding out what people are concerned about, what information they need to be enthusiastic about their jobs,” she said.
|Improve your global communication|
Whether your staff is skeletal or booming, Ginger Kuenzel has these six tips for improving your company’s global communications.
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