No one at Harnischfeger Corporation had public relations in mind a few years ago when the topic of product quality pushed its way to the top of the agenda. Like many other companies throughout the country, the Milwaukee manufacturer was faced with a growing decline of employee interest in the problem of keeping quality high. There were no horrible defections from standard just a sort of mounting employee casualness. This was strictly an internal problem. It had no intimations of public relation values. It was a hard fact to be faced within the company's gates.
George Staudt was graduated in Journalism, University of Illinois, in 1935. He was a copywriter and radio producer for Benson Dall, Chicago, two years, then joined the Illinois Central RR as assistant advertising manager. In 1941 he undertook military service, serving ultimately, in 1945, as Chief, Counter intelligence Corps Branch G 2, War Department. From 1945 to 1949 he was advertising manager, the Standard Register Co. His responsibility for public relations dates from 1949 when he joined Harnischfeger Corp., Milwaukee. In 1955 he joined American Motors as director of advertising for Hudson cars.
A Suggestion System with Dynamics:
The usual pep talks, colored posters, and associated appeals to reason had long since failed of their purpose. At this point the officials of the company struck upon a formula so simple and so obvious that it had been passed over at the beginning. Briefly it was this: “If you have a question involving employees, why not go to the employees for the answer?”
Out of the decision came at once a revitalized suggestion system. It was designated as the agency for attracting employee ideas. To give the program a new firmness and added attraction, the suggestion system took on a contest flavor. The plant bulletin boards were dusted off and lively new posters, locally originated, started to give the campaign impetus.
Employees were invited to enter the 10 week contest by submitting ideas for quality improvement. Tire two top awards were substantial a round trip for two by air to Mexico for a week, and a trip to New York for two for a week end. Although the program gained momentum slowly, it attracted more than 800 suggestions. Some, of course, were not practical but several were. Although there is no accurate calculation of savings, it was clear that the program had not only put quality consciousness on employees' minds; it had done something to pay its own way.
Before the contest fever had subsided, the Harnischfeger officials had embarked upon another of several months' duration. Here the quality theme was stressed again, and thousands of ideas many of them helpful ideas poured into the suggestion committee headquarters. Tire awards spurred contributions, naturally a Chevrolet was the first prize, a Motorola color TV set was second, and the third was a round trip for two to the Rose Bowl game.
The employees were now in the act. They recognized the problem for what it was, and they had management's continuous assurance that their ideas were being carefully and sympathetically examined. The employees began to understand that employer and employee sit in the same boat.
The third contest spanned nearly a year. With the early "bugs" worked out of it, the contest was able to pin point quality weakness through the biweekly bulletin board posters. On the bulletin boards a continuous tally was kept of results; pictures and names of participants were shown. Awards over the year were made in terms of points exchangeable for merchandise, and the plants and divisions of the company were set up into six teams. First, second, and third prizes were awarded to each team, and to the winner of the best suggestion submitted from among the six leaders, a Ford car was presented.
No report of the campaigns would be complete without these seven thumbnail recommendations of Harnischfeger's personnel director, governing employee contests: Keep it as simple as possible, explain thoroughly what you want, keep the contest alive, make attractive awards, announce winners promptly, publicize the winners, and thank the participants when it's over. This capsuled advice will help any contest campaigner in industry.
Let us remember that this was strictly an intramural affair. As stated earlier, the contests were not launched with public relations in view. There was no thought in anyone's mind that a local level activity of this character would have happy repercussions beyond the main gate.
Primarily, of course, the gains were noted within the plant. The problems of quality improvement and customer mindedness began to take care of themselves. Waste and scrap totals began to decline. Better plant housekeeping was evident. Of particular interest to the budget conscious was the fact that savings represented by contest suggestions went a long way toward paying the cost of the contests. If savings are projected over a period of years, the contests will have paid for themselves many times over. Thus it is not only good practice it's also good business.
The public relations values soon became discernible. What started out to be purely a family affair attracted the attention of journalistic neighbors. The local press was generous in its coverage. That mighty chronicler of business events the Wall Street Journal sent one of its reporters to Milwaukee, and an impressive front page story followed. One of the better known business magazines gave the contests feature treatment. As the word was aired around, speakers on industrial relations and public relations subjects cited the programs as a good example of employer and employee profitably riding the tandem.
The writer would be the first to suggest that this glamorization of a suggestion system is not new. Its simplicity is obvious, but the tangible results are obvious too. One of the obligations of a public relations program, it seems to me, is to show measurable results.