Benchmarking File

This article first appeared in The Ragan Report, March 1999

Communicator turns a Ragan Report story about another company into a successful solution for her firm.

Sometime last January, April Jaconski scanned through a copy of The Ragan Report until she came to this section. Within moments, the problem that had plagued her mind for months vanished.

She finally had the solution to how she should communicate to Trigon Blue Cross Blue Shield coworkers during the organization’s disruptive transition from a one-state, nonprofit healthcare organization to a regional, for-profit company.

‘We were researching possibilities of two-way communication programs, and I read a story in The Ragan Report about American Airlines’ president recording weekly voice mail messages,’ the communications consultant recalls.

Inspired, Jaconski immediately began her search for a vendor that could set up a similar hotline at the Richmond, Va.-based Blue Cross Blue Shield. Unfortunately, the idea of the CEO/employee hotline was foreign to every communications firm she called. But Jaconski soon realized the company didn’t need the help of an outside vendor–Trigon was already halfway there.

The company already had a successful corporate compliance hotline in place, which she felt could easily be expanded into serving two purposes: an outlet for employees to call and anonymously leave suggestions and complaints, and a monthly means of communicating the CEO’s agenda and concerns.

Jaconski called upon Management Communications Systems, which was responsible for the compliance hotline Trigon established. Even though the vendor had never formed a CEO commentary line, it was willing to take on Trigon as a guinea pig and give it a shot.

By the summer of ’98, the new InTouch hotline was up and running. To ease employees into using the new line–and avoid any anxieties they might have about it being just another demanding form of technology–Jaconski simply introduced it as a new feature of Trigon’s employee compliance hotline.

‘The great thing about both programs is employees call one phone number, enter one company code, and then a prerecorded message will ask them if they want to press one for the InTouch employee line, or press two for the compliance hotline,’ she says.

It wasn’t long before Trigon’s 3,800 employees were relying on the hotline to learn details of the company’s conversion directly from the mouth of CEO Tom Snead.

‘We were asking them to look at every-thing in a totally different light,’ Jaconski says. ‘The conversion to a public company left employees with a lot of questions.’

She contends that through the InTouch line’s monthly, three-to-five-minute messages, callers learned about everything that was going on first-hand, boosted their industry knowledge, and gained a better understanding of the roles they played in the company’s objectives.

But employees, who have left more than 300 messages in less than a year, aren’t the only ones ecstatic over the hotline. Jaconski also emphasizes Snead’s enthusiasm in continually getting his vision out to employees via the hotline. In fact, it was his desire to do so that got the ball rolling on the project.

Jaconski says that Snead often wrestled with his conscience about not being able to frequently communicate with every employee in person. Thankfully, the hotline provided him with a substitute for doing so.

Jaconski’s voice resonates in sheer delight as she adds, ‘This is something I think is pretty incredible–he reads every single message that comes through on this line!’

The communicator receives transcripts of the calls via e-mail daily from Management Communications, and converts them into her weekly report for the CEO.

‘He reviews the weekly report, gives me back his comments, and then I pass things that need to be reviewed and suggestions onto the appropriate management that can handle the issue,’ she explains.

Furthermore, Jaconski says that before any answers are published in Dateline, Trigon’s employee publication, Snead reviews the various responses managers have prepared to ensure they’re in-line with his thinking. ‘Nothing is printed without his touch in it,’ she says.

Jaconski believes the InTouch line has truly helped increase trust in the company–and in Tom Snead, who as of next month will become Trigon’s president, COO, and CEO.

She says Snead’s interest in employees’ concerns was illustrated recently when an ongoing exercise class at the main facility was to be canceled due to lack of space. ‘Now that’s not something the president would normally know about,’ Jaconski says. ‘But employees were upset about it, it was a good program, and they wanted to keep it. They called into the line and [Snead] left a message that said, ‘Absolutely–It’s great, we’re going to find a way to make it work, and we’re keeping the program.”

Though Trigon’s InTouch line has gone a long way toward killing the rumor mill, Jaconski admits there’s still a lot of work to be done.

I’ll think it’s completely successful when we don’t need the hotline anymore because everyone’s talking face to face,’ she says. (Jaconski: 804-354-3601)

Is your organization undertaking a strategic communication program? We’d like to tell the story.

Contact associate editor Heather O’Donnell by phone (312-960-4403) or e-mail: heathero@ragan.com.

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