Caterpillar is a multi-billion company with more than 90 years of service. It heavily relies on robust communication processes to ensure Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Groups of presidents, employees and the general public are updated on essential company news, information and events. The Company's chairman and CEO uses a group of presidents to run the 31 business units structured as independent organizations. Usually, in each single business unit, there are hundreds to thousands of employees in multiple facilities for both office and production tasks (Al-Khafaji et al., 2009). Due to its complexity communication is crucial to attain and maintain success. Communication can be between members of the same level at the organization (lateral) or different levels (upward and downward). Proper integration of these flows leads to effective and consistent business operations (Clampitt, 2005).
This paper looks at communications styles and channels at Caterpillar Inc. It seeks to address the effectiveness of these communication strategies, the type of messages and vehicles, the role of different communicators including the CEO, leaders (presidents), managers and employees, and challenges experienced in the process.
Most communications at Caterpillar uses the downward communication approach; from the Caterpillar's executive office to the business units. Since each business unit is independent and produces specific products and services, communication needs are distinct too. Therefore, each business unit uses a committed staff for communications to serve the organization's specific facility services and ensure the information reaches the right audience and promptly. However, in some cases, an upward approach is adopted if the information to be relayed is deemed strategic and crucial to the global audience (Al-Khafaji et al., 2009).
Caterpillar uses communication vehicles such as home mailing, newsletters, facility signage, etc. as communication vehicles. It has a corporate internet portal as a primary source for information to its worldwide employees and audience. The portal displays corporate news, strategy updates, messages from CEO, benefits and compensation news among others. Besides, every business outlet has its section within the portal where specific information is displayed to the concerned audience.
Direct communications from leaders to employees or managers to employees is the number one channel for employee communications. Therefore, more emphasis is put on frequent all-managers and all-employee meetings. Depending on the message to be shared different methods are adopted. First, presidents in every unit meet with departmental managers where they engage in face-to-face communications, video-calling, and recorded videos, among other styles. Next, the managers meet with their teams and may use the same forms to relay the message. For instance, in values and strategy launch event in Austin, Texas, the CEO Jim Umpleby authorized Michele L. Sullivan the President of Caterpillar Founder and Director of Corporate Social Innovation to address the general public during the launch of Value of Water Campaign. Later, the company posted the content on its internet portal and other social media sites. Also, the company used an opinion survey to determine the effectiveness of the communications styles used by the company.
Although face-to-face communication or public address systems is an effective way of communication since the audience receive the message directly without distortion, it is challenging to reach out to all employees given the size of the company. Using social media sites, and video conferencing have been practical to Caterpillar Inc. Besides, many leaders to employee or customer communications are enhanced by the manager to employee communication channels, online sites to cover more population and gather feedback. Also, owing to the massiveness of the company upward communication is usually a challenge despite being crucial for gathering feedback.
Al-Khafaji, A., W., Oberhelman, D., R., Baun, W., and Koch, B. (2009). Construction Stakeholder Management: Caterpillar case Study 1, 163-165.
Clampitt, P., G. (2005). Communicating for managerial effectiveness. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
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