Ask employees of any company what makes a business successful and nearly all will likely mention good communication. That communication can take many forms—newsletters, email digests, blogs and town hall meetings. While Southwire uses each of these, we also encourage meetings that facilitate open dialogue between employees and senior management.
Created more than a decade ago, Southwire’s Sounding Board allows machine operators and supervisors to meet directly with senior management, including president and chief executive officer Stu Thorn. Over a meal, they talk about family, personal interests and recent news. They also discuss what is happening on the production floor and how Southwire is doing financially.
“The Sounding Board truly exemplifies our open-door policy,” said Kelley Park, vice president of human resources. “Employees have a direct line to senior management that allows them to make suggestions, ask questions and get updates about how we’re doing as a business and where we stand in our markets.”
At the same time, manufacturing leadership hears from the front line about challenges and opportunities and receives suggestions for improvement. Sounding Board also provides an excellent means of managing rumors and ensuring accurate communication.
Rich Carr, vice president of manufacturing and one of the newest members of the company’s management team, echoed that thought. “The Sounding Boards allow employees a seat at the table with key management,” said Carr, who is responsible for Southwire’s OEM manufacturing operations. “They also give management an opportunity to speak to rumors and present a more positive message.”
As the company has grown, so has the Sounding Board concept, reaching plants across the company. Local managers sit down regularly with employees to discuss local issues over lunch or dinner.
For Carr, the Sounding Boards’ two-way dialogue provides better feedback than other communication options. “They are interactive and collaborative,” he said, adding that the group discussions also increase accountability on management’s part. “We have to follow through with some ideas,” Carr said. “This has to happen all the way down the management chain. We need to have a servant leader mentality if we truly want to have engaged employees.”