Communication at Center of Almo Corp.’s Learning Efforts

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Almo Corp. and Caliper Corp. partnered to improve communication among Almo’s distributed workforce.

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By Lauren Dixon

W

hen Lynn Buschman came to work for Almo Corp. in May 2016, her task was to connect all company employees, remote or otherwise. As its first-ever learning and development manager at the Philadelphia-based company, she needed to create a learning initiative to improve communication for the organization, an independent distributor of appliances, electronics, furniture and professional A/V equipment and services.

With nine regional distribution facilities and approximately 600 employees across the country, connecting them would prove quite a task, which Buschman took in stride.

Internal organizational communication has a direct positive effect on employee engagement.”

— Emma Ruth Karanges, Queensland University of Technology

Preparation for this endeavor involved Buschman spending more than six weeks speaking with senior leaders, shadowing employees and visiting various Almo sites. “This idea of connecting us under one Almo family was a theme,” she said, adding that communication was a core need between people, teams and across the organization in order to best serve customers.

To accomplish this goal, Buschman created Almo Business Foundation, a series of four workshops delivered to 20 employees at a time. The four workshops include a business overview, a session on vendor relationships, then a Caliper Corp.-led session on communication, followed by Buschman-led conversation on customer relationships.

Development of the workshops took place both internally as well as in partnership with Caliper Corp., an employee assessment and talent management solutions company based in Princeton, New Jersey. Buschman wanted to bring outside perspective in to achieve the best results, and Caliper proved a great match, she said as both their cultures are open, flat, growing and able to change quickly. The off-the-shelf solution Buschman chose also came at a lower cost than a custom-designed course, keeping the investment economical. Buschman also noted the value Caliper adds to her program through their assessments, workshop and booster session. Other potential partners only hosted a workshop, but Buschman sought more well-rounded programming.

As Buschman developed the Foundation, she kept Caliper in the loop, sharing her strategy, purpose, audience and more. The two parties communicated throughout the process so that when it came time to implement, they were in sync. “I view them as a business partner for our talent development,” Buschman said.

Developing Communication

Prior to the first Foundation session in December 2017, employees learned their communication style, as well as where they fall in a certain personality block of champion, creator, implementor or facilitator in Caliper Profile’s Team Roles Plot, said Matthew Cooke, strategic account specialist at Caliper. After the employee receives their report, they have a confidential debrief consult with an expert at Caliper. That session provides the Almo employee with an introduction to the company, the science behind the program, insights into their behavior and an opportunity to share experiences of communicating at work. “It focuses on self-awareness,” Cooke said. He thinks this element of the program helps employees because they begin their education on communication prior to any formal session.

I love technology, and it’s necessary, but when communication gets that assumption level between both parties, then there needs to be a point where transparent, open dialogue needs to take place.”

— Matthew Cooke, strategic account specialist, Caliper Corp.

Later, during the session Caliper leads — Communicating to Achieve Results — experts at Caliper conduct a 90-minute webinar to teach best approaches for contextual listening.

Context is critical for understanding content, Cooke said, adding that while communicating virtually is the norm in business today, face-to-face remains important for having fluid dialogue and social cues that create a feedback loop.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Cooke said. “I love technology, and it’s necessary, but when communication gets that assumption level between both parties, then there needs to be a point where transparent, open dialogue needs to take place to level set what both parties mean and what both parties want to understand.”

While in-person communication is ideal, not all 600 employees at Almo reside in the same area. To still have each of them interact and participate in the Foundation sessions, Buschman had to find ways to connect all parties. The solution was for 20 people to come together every two weeks for their workshop; half in the Philadelphia headquarters and half at other locations. Those at headquarters gather in a training room, while others access remotely.

This allows employees to connect across geography, but they also meet cross-functionally. Even for those in the Philadelphia office, they could be in departments such as buying, customer service or IT, Buschman said. “They’re meeting co-workers across channels, across locations, around the country so everyone is meeting new people.”

During the sessions for Almo Business Foundation, participants receive the training and then smaller groups break out for more in-depth discussions and exercises, during which they continue to become better acquainted.

Following the completion of their four sessions, programming requires the employees to create an action plan for an idea or goal to complete in the coming months, Buschman said. At the time of interview, 100 people at Almo completed the Foundation sessions, resulting in 100 ideas, many of which Buschman said are around establishing communication, such as regular phone calls or meetings. “I see this as a catalyst to really keep spurring on communication — people feel empowered to build those bridges with each other,” she said.

Additional efforts outside of the Foundation are led by Rhona Fromm, vice president of human resources at Almo. She created the Communication Engagement Group, an employee group of around 15 employees from across the business and country who look at corporate communication and how to keep all employees informed. The group is temporary, Buschman said, and they will make certain recommendations to leadership and then disband.

Fromm leads additional work to improve communication, including redesigning the company intranet in an effort to make it the go-to resource for company updates.

Research and Results

Early results seen from the Almo Business Foundation have been qualitative, but Buschman sees a positive impact on employees, who have greater empathy for one another, improved communication and a better understanding of how their role fits into the greater business. Idea sharing also means “we’re becoming more efficient and productive,” she said.

It would be safe to assume that employee engagement is also on the rise at Almo. In “Optimizing Employee Engagement With Internal Communication: A Social Exchange Perspective,” researcher Emma Ruth Karanges of Queensland University of Technology found that “internal organizational communication has a direct positive effect on employee engagement.” When employees receive information they find beneficial, the workers respond positively in their emotions and actions. “This supports the notion that internal communication has a significant role to play in increasing employee engagement,” Karanges wrote.

Almo Business Foundation also impacts more than the employees within Almo’s walls; vendors and customers also benefit from improved customer service and exceeding expectations. “All of that is continuing to make us an industry leader,” Buschman said.

Although more of the Almo employee population still needs to participate, the goal is to put each worker through the training. After achieving that goal in about a year and a half, Buschman anticipates a new-hire version, offered fewer times per year and with fewer participants. Still, “this will always be a development topic for us at Almo.”

Lauren Dixon is a senior editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email editor@talenteconomy.io.