Vollmer was retained by Norwood Promotional Products, Inc., the leading supplier in the $16 billion industry, to develop and implement an employee communication program. Vollmer rose to the challenge with an integrated three-part initiative consisting of 1) a monthly newsletter; 2) a quarterly meeting in a box; and 3) creation of collateral materials. The extensive program developed effective employee communication, a constructive culture and a sense of unity in a previously disjointed company.
Over 17 years, Norwood acquired 13 promotional products companies. By 1999, Norwood was comprised of more than 4,100 employees, two divisions, 20 locations, 13 subsidiaries and 31 product lines, all managed independently of each other. In January 2000, prior to the launch of an external branding campaign, Norwood executives determined the need to create one unified company and establish two-way employee communication. The reorganization presented challenges including 1) the employees did not think of themselves as working for Norwood, but rather aligned themselves with their specific location; 2) the 4,100 employees were spread out among 20 locations across America, Canada and Asia; and 3) most employees worked in shifts, making it difficult to hold company-wide events.
Primary informal research was performed to determine the internal culture and employees’ perceptions of Norwood. Employee interviews with executive, mid-level and lower-level employees indicated 1) Norwood had poor communication among employees at different levels; 2) employees closely associated themselves with their location, holding little loyalty for Norwood as the parent company; and 3) employees had minimal awareness of other product lines or the scope of Norwood’s product offerings. A communications audit revealed a failed effort to implement a monthly newsletter within the past two years. The primary reason for the failure of the newsletter was a lack of commitment and resources for the project. Beyond the newsletter, the audit revealed no other company-wide communications tools. Phone surveys of human resources directors indicated that internal communication needed to be developed in English, Spanish and Closed Captioning. Evaluation of Norwood’s workforce revealed that approximately 85 percent of employees did not continue their education past high school. This was valuable to the development of the style and tone of internal materials.  Vollmer also learned that only 10 percent of the workforce had access to e-mail. Secondary research, evaluation of other internal company newsletters, was performed to develop a consensus on the general layout and contents of the publication.
Based on Vollmer’s research, the following objectives were developed: 1) to create consistent communication among all levels of Norwood employees; 2) to realign employee loyalty with Norwood; and 3) to enhance company pride and increase job satisfaction. Target audience: all Norwood employees at 20 locations and in the field.
The strategy was to create a constructive culture through effective employee communication using the external branding campaign and organizational changes as drivers. Three tactics, development and distribution of a monthly newsletter, quarterly meeting in a box presentations and creation and distribution of collateral materials, were applied to this strategy. To hold the attention of employees, it was important that creativity be used in materials. The newsletter was named “Norwood Notes.” Vollmer intentionally gave the newsletter a different name than the previous newsletter to create distinction. The newsletter had to communicate information clearly and honestly, including topics that were relevant to all employees.
Vollmer developed and submitted a budget for client approval and identified vendors to design, translate and print the newsletter. The masthead was designed using Norwood’s new corporate logo and colors to reflect the corporate identity while still recognizing each individual product line. It also was important to choose a Spanish translator who could accurately reflect the conversational style of the articles. The editorial calendar developed for the newsletter directly addressed the objectives. For example, “Location Spotlight” gave employees an opportunity to learn about other locations and instilled pride in employees at the featured locations. The class schedule for Norwood’s Growth Center was included in every issue to emphasize Norwood’s commitment to education and growth of employees and to develop a sense of loyalty among employees. Another permanent feature was Norwood’s “Brand Promise”, a pledge on which Norwood based its success, which instilled feelings of pride as being the industry leader, as well as served as a constant reminder of the standards to which they should hold themselves. Vollmer’s responsibilities included interviewing employees, drafting articles and gathering graphics and photos. Vollmer also oversaw the graphic design, translation, printing and distribution of the monthly newsletter. Each month, 4,200 English and 600 Spanish newsletters were printed and distributed to Norwood’s locations throughout the U.S., Canada and Asia.
The second tactic implemented was the quarterly meeting in a box, consisting of a video with support materials. Upon budget approval, Vollmer identified vendors for video production, translation, voiceover, Closed Captioning and duplication. Video topics included the launch of Norwood’s new brand identity, introduction of a new sales force and Asia office, explanation of the company’s new organizational structure and a town hall meeting with employees. The videos were shot on location and featured Norwood’s chairman and executive vice president in a relaxed setting explaining organizational changes to employees.
Graphics and charts were used throughout the videos to clarify and support topics and reinforce important issues. To produce the video, Vollmer: 1) contacted video crews and interviewees to schedule the taping; 2) developed a script; 3) produced visuals, as necessary; 4) attended the taping; 5) supervised editing; and 6) coordinated distribution of the videos. The quarterly videos, distributed in English, Spanish and Closed Captioning, were presented on predetermined dates at each Norwood location as the cornerstone of employee meetings. Vollmer supplemented each video with an instructional letter to the meeting leader, an agenda, visual aids and a question and answer sheet to encourage discussion among employees after they had viewed the video as a group. These support materials ensured consistent messages were communicated to all 4,100 employees. Videos with customized materials also were sent to Norwood’s 50 sales employees in the field.
To implement Norwood’s branding campaign, Vollmer developed collateral materials including letterhead and envelopes for each of the 20 locations, business cards for more than 500 employees, corporate post-it notes, location signage and graphics standards manual. The new corporate identity was “unveiled” to employees using a meeting in a box. To further increase the impact on employees, Vollmer produced “Team Norwood” banners for display at each location, reinforcing the unification of the company. At the conclusion of the meeting, t-shirts embroidered with Norwood’s new logo were distributed to every employee. Vollmer also played an integral role in the introduction of Norwood’s unified benefits plan, including the development of a 6-color benefits brochure and two NCR enrollment forms produced in English and Spanish. Vollmer drafted text and oversaw design, production and distribution of materials. The benefits program was rolled out with a meeting in a box featuring the CEO and Senior Vice President of Human Resources. Again, instructional meeting materials and visual aids were provided to support the video.
Vollmer also provided support when messages needed to be communicated immediately, such as letters addressing the resignation of a high-level executive and the death of a beloved employee, as well as talking points regarding a plant closing.
Vollmer’s efforts have improved Norwood’s internal communication and achieved the stated objectives. 1) Since its introduction in June 2000, monthly issues of the newsletter have been successfully produced and distributed to all Norwood employees in a consistent and timely manner. An Organizational Culture Index (OCI) survey of 25 percent of employees performed in October 2000 indicated that Norwood had made significant progress in its employee communications and is quickly approaching the benchmarks of a constructive culture. The response to the newsletters and videos has been very positive with employees consistently responding to inquiries posted in the newsletter and contributing story ideas. A common theme from the videos, strengthening lines of communication, has resulted in more frequent team meetings at the locations. 2) Vollmer has received frequent feedback from Norwood employees relating the positive impact of the employee communications campaign. Articles as simple as “Fun Facts” excited employees and made them feel more involved with Norwood. 3) In addition to “Location Spotlights,” special features such as employees banding together for a blood drive for an employee’s sister instilled company pride in the employees. The “Team Norwood” banners have become a daily source of inspiration for employees.
Employee profiles and award recognition articles resulted in increased job satisfaction and loyalty to Norwood, as did the “One Norwood” benefits materials. As further proof of the success of the two communications tools implemented by Vollmer, Norwood has approved continuation of the effort and furthered their financial investment in the projects.