Follow Detwiler’s Lead

Managing Internal And External Communication at Your Operation.

By Thomas J. Roach

National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) 2014 Chairman Paul Detwiler III recently told Rock Products Editor Mark Kuhar that communication is one of the priorities for the year. “We’ll begin building a communications department unlike NSSGA has ever had before,” he said.

Detwiler is off to a good start with his plan outline. Some of the key components include giving the head of communication a vice president title and making him or her an “integral member” of senior management. He wisely put internal and external communication on an equal footing when describing the new vice president of communication’s responsibilities. Furthermore, he tasked communication with producing results, and he acknowledged the importance of building relationships.

This is an enlightened view of communication that is uncommon in a business environment that is over-focused on marketing and indoctrination. It recognizes that communication is itself a vital organ for the overall health of an organization. One doesn’t just communicate when forced to respond to a problem; one communicates because the exchange of information is an essential component of every activity in which the organization is involved.

It would be worthwhile for every organization in the aggregate industry to follow Detwiler’s lead. It matters not how small an operation is, someone needs to take responsibility for managing internal and external communication and that person should be part of senior leadership.

Following are some suggestions for Detwiler and his vice president of communication and for all those who want to upgrade their communication package.

Relationships come first. Detwiler rightly talked about growing relationships before he mentioned driving a national dialogue and influencing public policy. An ongoing dialogue needs to be established with all key internal and external publics.

Think about advocacy and negotiation. These can only be effective if familiarity and trust have been established first. Organizations that only address publics when they need something from them are reducing the complex social process of communication to a verbal tug-of-war.

Establishing trust. It is also important to keep in mind that the relationships with reporters and employees are more important than any one issue. Organizations that don’t get this compromise their reputations by shifting their ground, refusing to talk, or misrepresenting facts. In the long run, admitting you are wrong and establishing trust is more important than saving face.

Keep everyone informed. Openness is counterintuitive because it always seems safest to suppress bad news and to make announcements at the last minute. This makes sense when it is applied to war, but it is not the model for communication among colleagues and friends.

Listening is twice as important as speaking. That is why ears outnumber mouths two to one.

Already Detwiler is planning to survey members. This is the place to start, but all publics need to be sampled: community members, advocacy groups, quarry employees, and aggregate customers and business associates.

It might sound daunting, but periodic random selection sample surveys are easy to perform with internal publics who have company email addresses, and external publics can be identified by creating a pool of names and email addresses from random contact with member organizations.

Ongoing feedback is available as well. Quarry operations can be encouraged to form local community advisory boards. Those boards can elect members to attend an NSSGA advisory board.

Internally employee communication meetings can be created, and they can elect representatives to a yearly national convention representing all the professional and hourly employee categories of the industry.

Most organizations don’t bother creating a network of communication meetings, and those that do use it mainly to make announcements, but its greatest value is providing feedback to corporate leadership.

Management is communication. All managers in the industry need to have communication plans, not just the chairman of NSSGA. Some managers deal with external publics and everyone deals with internal publics.

If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander. What does your communication plan look like?

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