Case Study: Employee Communications

An aerospace supplier struggled to connect with dissatisfied employees at two U.S. manufacturing sites. In the wake of several leadership and policy changes, plant employees reported low satisfaction scores, and there were talks of unionization. Due to a large backlog of orders resulting from disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company needed to retain employees and could not afford a high turnover rate.

The company realized it needed an expert in change management and crisis communications to improve employee relations at the plants. The director of global corporate communications and manager of aerospace communications brought in Kirkpatrick Group to develop and execute a strategic and engaging communications plan.  

Kirkpatrick Group follows a proven five-step process, and this project was no exception.

  1. Discovery and analysis
  2. Development and approval of strategic approach
  3. Development and approval of a detailed plan and timeline
  4. Ongoing execution and overcoming challenges
  5. Monitoring, tracking and maximizing

Step 1: Discovery and Analysis

Kirkpatrick Group conducted stakeholder interviews with local leadership and managers, then visited the plants to build an accurate understanding of the situation. The team spoke to 30 plant leaders and supervisors at the two plants about their experiences and what they felt the biggest challenges were at each plant. The team also developed and administered anonymous written surveys related to communications to approximately 500 front-line workers.

The team discovered that site rumors, lack of ability to talk to leadership, and delays in receiving accurate information fueled discontent at the plants. Site leaders were hesitant to communicate with employees about topics before they had all the information, and those delays led to speculation and mistrust. Shift managers and supervisors were not being leveraged as communications stewards. Leadership, supervisors and employees were not getting enough face-to-face time to build strong relationships. Employees also expressed frustration with other non-communications plant issues and HR policies.

Step 2: Strategic Development

Kirkpatrick Group leveraged the quantitative and qualitative results and industry experience to develop a holistic communications engagement strategy and an executable tactical plan for the next six months. The approach focused on increasing communication between front-line employees and leadership, increasing employee engagement and developing a streamlined, repeatable process. The strategy consisted of five components:

  • Consistent, transparent and frequent communications delivered to employees via multiple channels
  • Providing talking points and messaging to the supervisors to give directly to their employees
  • Opportunities for supervisors to listen to employee feedback and address concerns
  • Clear development and approval processes for critical communications
  • Fun, creative and inclusive employee engagement activities with rewards and recognition

Step 3: Detailed Plan and Timeline

The detailed communications plans included schedules, methods for imparting key messages, content owners and checks to ensure the correct individuals were involved at each stage. The plan adapted vehicles and opportunities that already existed but were not fully utilized by the plants, such as televisions in the break rooms that had been turned off. Important messages were highlighted across multiple mediums to reach employees in various ways. The plan included:

  • Weekly talking points and messaging for supervisors and managers
  • Bi-weekly text messages from the plant manager
  • Presentation slides for break room televisions with information about town halls, plant news, HR initiatives and events
  • “Snack and Chat” sessions for small group discussions with the plant manager
  • Proactive messaging and Q&As with the company’s perspective on unionization before and after the voting process (at one of the plants only)
  • Cadence for continuing consistent communication  

Step 4: Ongoing Execution and Overcoming Challenges

One of the challenges of this project was the prioritization of timely communication. Although leaders at both plants said they recognized its importance, sometimes communications were delayed because of competing plant priorities. Identifying others in the plant who could serve as decision-makers and messengers helped alleviate some of the challenges.

Another challenge involved finding the right people (IT staff, subject matter experts, etc.) who could accomplish tasks internally. For example, both plants had TVs that could be used to share plant messages, but it took several weeks to identify the person who could enable the technology and conduct training. As new leadership came into both plants, the plant managers prioritized clear roles and responsibilities and encouraged staff to get things done quickly and remove barriers to progress. 

Several other important factors contributed to the successful execution of this complex project.

Leadership Buy-in: The Kirkpatrick Group team continuously engaged and secured buy-in from supervisors and middle-level managers who had a direct line of communication with front-line employees. When they were informed about upcoming changes early and understood their role in communicating the information to their employees, they could convey changes effectively and were prepared to answer questions, halting the spread of misinformation based on incomplete messaging. What also helped was having new leadership at both plants who placed a greater importance on communications. At the corporate level, Kirkpatrick Group provided biweekly email recaps to show progress at each site.

Incremental Changes: At first, changes were introduced incrementally to small groups. Trying to make too many changes at once can overwhelm leadership and employees. The Kirkpatrick Group team also performed regular checks and follow-ups during weekly meetings to measure improvement and remained flexible enough to pivot if the current approach did not produce the desired results.

Consistency and Transparency: Employees value honest communications from their employers. Employees appreciated the consistency in communications. They could expect regular updates and were proactively made aware of issues and changes.

Step 5: Monitoring, Tracking and Analyzing and Relationship Building

After six months, Kirkpatrick Group conducted a follow-up survey at one of the plants and found a 49% increase in participation; 307 employees responded compared to 206 in the initial study. Employees reported improvements in satisfaction with communications, with 76% ranking communications from direct supervisors as “Good/Excellent,” while only 25% of employees highly ranked communication from leadership six months prior. Their preferred communication delivery methods were mobile text messages (67% of employees) and verbal communications from their supervisors (51% of employees). They also stated that they noticed the increased communication efforts around the plant. In addition, the union presence left the area due to decreased employee interest.

The company developed a process to enable employees to better provide feedback and connect with supervisors, including plant manager “Walk and Talks,” town hall question follow-up discussions with supervisors, and suggestion boxes with supervisor follow-ups. An engagement plan was also created to address the lack of morale with spirit days, recognition, and celebrations. One site created a team focused on delivering quick wins, who would identify minor issues that could be fixed promptly and provide value to employees. These responses showed employees that leadership was willing to listen, and, more importantly, take action.   


The client’s self-awareness of the issues and humility in hiring a professional firm yielded substantial results. Kirkpatrick Group’s efforts empowered the plants to approach employee communications proactively, contributing to improved morale and retention.