The Gatehouse Blog

Linking management and shop-floor with Q&As at Novozymes

Novozymes, market-leading biotech company, implemented an innovative format to give shop-floor employees a voice and increase dialogue in Novozymes’ production. Joachim Aaen, Communications Specialist, explains how.

 Novozymes produces a wide range of industrial enzymes and microorganisms used in a lot of different industries. We develop solutions for the world’s pressing problems, profit from doing so, and then reinvest in finding biological answers for better lives in a growing world.

Supply Operations in Novozymes produces enzymes at five core plants worldwide and three satellite plants, whereas microorganisms are produced at eight facilities worldwide. At our plants, we have around 1,000 operators in production and supply chain involved in the manufacturing process and warehouse operation. Due to the nature of their job, most of these employees don’t have easy access to computers; the majority of them don’t speak English, which makes it critical for us to translate clear, easily accessible messages into a number of languages.

“We decided to turn the widely-used mass communication model upside down to see if we could start a dialogue with operators via our team leaders”

One challenge is to communicate strategic messages to shop-floor employees. A year after the introduction of a global lean initiative in Supply Operations, we were searching for a new approach to ensure that this large stakeholder group was reached – and heard.

Previous approaches had focused on traditional channels, such as articles and info screens, but we found that the impact was limited. Internal surveys confirmed that this audience’s preferred source of information and communication is, first and foremost, their line manager (called ‘team leaders’).

Thus, we decided to turn the widely-used mass communication model upside down to see if we could start a dialogue with operators via our team leaders.

Questions from the Shop Floor

“Questions from the Shop Floor” was created as a means to promote the voice of our shop-floor employees and make it possible for them to ask questions to our top management.

We established a group of a dozen team leaders from our global organisation and asked them to gather some of the questions of interest to shop-floor operators around a given “hot topic”, in this case the lean initiative that had been introduced. We worked to identify some sharp, critical team leaders who were interested and willing to engage. We wanted operators to dig deep and share their honest questions, so we made sure to anonymise every question we received. Examples of questions were: Why will lean work this time? Will the initiative pay off? Do we need all plants to work in the same manner?

We selected around 10 questions which we then asked two management members (4-5 each) and asked them to share their point of view and to tell their story.

As our objective was to prioritise verbal, offline communication, we translated the Q&A into local languages and sent it to all team leaders globally to share relevant answers with their teams and relate answers to their plant and local environment.

Feedback & measurement

Team leaders have told us that they liked the format, enjoyed the direct tone and found that the concept was good to address issues that are directly impacting the operators’ work. Furthermore, I, myself, think there is a strong symbolic value to being able to bypass a few management levels and ask questions directly to the top management; it builds an open communication culture.

“Being able to bypass a few management levels and ask questions directly to the top management builds an open communication culture”

We wanted to reach a very broad group across regions, so answers had to be applicable to all locations. For this reason, the questions and answers cannot be as specific as team leaders and their team of operators might wish.

Nevertheless, I believe that feedback gathered via our team leaders didn’t only enable us to understand what their and their teams’ concerns were. In addition, we were able to share some valuable insights with the top management, so they could act on these as well.

Future intentions

Novozymes

By starting this kind of dialogue, we raised expectations, and in 2016, we hope to start more discussions through this format. We are planning on expanding the respondent group from around 10 to 20 team leaders so we are guaranteed (a varied) input.

We also want to apply this model to different topics. To do so, we will have to make sure the topic is cross-country and cross-functional (or perhaps restricted to a specific region) – it has to be relevant for all operators, which is the biggest difficulty we will face.

Finally, it will be important, in the future, to get more feedback to make sure this format has value and to make sure that we actually choose the hot topics that our staff want to hear about.

 

BIOGRAPHY – JOIACHIM AAEN

Joachim Aaen spent three and a half years working as a communication consultant in an agency before joining industrial enzymes producer Novozymes in 2009. Over the years he has occupied multiple positions within Novozymes’ supply chain focusing on internal communications. For the past two and a half years he has worked as Communications Specialist for the management team in Supply Operations.