Employees in the Driver’s Seat

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Published on July 4, 2017, at 8:30 a.m.
by Katie McKinzey.

Who do you think of as being the main driving force for a Fortune 500 company? At first thought, one may automatically think of the leadership, such as CEOs or department managers. While the top-tiered people in these companies do play a majority of the part in leading the company to success, we may also need to take a look at the employees behind the scenes, or in this story’s case on the plant’s floor.

Tenneco is a Fortune 500 global company, being large suppliers in the automotive industry. It manufactures automotive parts such as ones that clean tail pipes to produce cleaner air or shock absorbers for a better driving performance.

You may be familiar with Land Rover vehicles. According to a New York Times article, (http://markets.on.nytimes.com/research/stocks/news/press_release) Land Rover has recently used some of Tenneco’s Clean Air systems for the new Land Rover Discovery, noted as a popular model for the brand. If you care for the environment, these products reduce potentially harmful pollutants, promoting healthier lives.

According to its website and government archives, Tenneco’s global Ride Performance operations “include 30 manufacturing facilities and seven globally-linked engineering centers,” (http://www.tenneco.com/our_products/ride_performance/) while its global Clean Air operations “include 63 manufacturing facilities and eight engineering centers located strategically around the world” (http://www.tenneco.com/our_products/clean_air/). Talk about a prestigious company. It has over 31,000 employees.

With so many employees in so many different places, how do internal communications work? How can it be most affected at such a grand and global company in a way that each employee feels appreciated? Lisa Hartenberger, Tenneco’s global director for public relations and communications, tells of how she and the in-house communications team, alongside their leaders, led the employees of Tenneco to be in the driver’s seat.

The Carrs Photography, Tenneco

“What we do really matters because things simply don’t get done if you don’t have a strong internal communications team. We inspired people to do their best work and show them they play a huge purpose in the company,” Hartenberger said.

Tenneco has a set of 10 company values to follow: (http://www.tenneco.com/overview/vision_and_values/)
1. Accountability 2. Health and safety 3. Innovation 4. Integrity 5. Passion and sense of urgency 6. Perseverance 7. Results orients 8. Teamwork 9. Transparency 10. Trust

The company decided to do a bi-annual viewpoint survey of the 10 values for employees and, as a result of this survey, found an issue: Employees felt like these values were not being resonated. Some felt there was a lack of recognition, a chronic issue for employees. The team decided to ask employees what their thoughts and feelings were about this issue of feeling unrecognized for their work. With the findings, they wanted to develop these solutions: get better involvement, give rewards, build stronger relationships, and make everything more genuine and authentic.

As a communications team, Hartenberger said they look for ways to tell their company’s story, engaging employees in the company story and the role they play in it. The team says that it all begins with research. To help resonate these 10 company values and make employees feel like their part was just as important as anyone working for Tenneco, they developed a system to enact their solutions, recognizing the 10 values of Tenneco with “Ten10.”

Ten10 is a peer-to-peer nominating system where co-workers can nominate one another to make them known for their excellent work and be recognized for embodying one or more of the values. The communications team promoted the heck out of this program and pulled it off in 15 months. Hartenberger said the results exceeded expectations.

Human resources officer Michael Alzamora gave statistics of these stories. He works with his team and details of the Ten10 program. He said he thinks the program has been a great success and will continue to be successful now that employees have seen who gets nominated and who wins.

“The first year we had 7,000 entries, the second year we had 10,000 and this year we will have nominations in the month of July, and I believe the number of entries will continue to increase,” Alzamora said.

One may be thinking, why is employee engagement important or why would a company care if employees working on the bottom tier were happy? The answer is that the ones on the plant’s floor, doing manual labor work, really do connect business results. They are producing the product and ensuring its quality.

The internal communications team and leadership of Tenneco recognized this contribution. After Ten10 was presented, President Gregg Sherrill traveled over 58,000 miles around the world to recognize the winners of the system.

CEO Gregg Sherrill greets Cambridge employees.

“More importantly, creating belonging and appreciation is important,” Hartenberger said. “From the latest employee survey, the issue of recognition dropped off the map. The employees brought these values to life, and it feels very authentic. We now have hundreds of stories to tell about the use of our values and that we have made them real through our employees, themselves.”

Tenneco has recently been named to Forbes Magazine’s list of best employers in the United States for the third year in a row. The Forbes findings are based on the results of online surveys from U.S. employees. Because of every employee’s research, hard work and dedication to the company, Tenneco has shown to be growing and prospering.

Without employees’ drive to work and recognition through Ten10, Tenneco might not be where it is today. This story is just one example of how employees are the main driving force behind our companies, and without them, we might just come to a complete stop.

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