Six years ago, the vice president of communication for ConAgra Foods and one of her bright, young communication team members asked me to help them take a bold step out of their traditional role. They wanted to shift their work from distributing news and information to improving real business results.
Specifically, they wanted to help the company prevent people from getting hurt in their manufacturing plants. Five months later, our work together in a Missouri facility had reduced accidents there by 35 percent.
That success began the transformation of corporate communication at ConAgra Foods. Since the first effort, the department has helped attack more safety issues, as well as improve productivity, turnover and quality in various parts of the company. The Corporate Executive Board selected the ConAgra Foods approach as a best practice and produced a video about the process we used to get there.
Teresa Paulsen, vice president of communication and external relations for the $13 billion consumer package goods company, believes it’s critical that the function add value. “We decided that we didn’t want to spend all of our time doing traditional communication work if it didn’t add any value,” Paulsen explains. “We should be helping the company make money or save money. If it doesn’t do that we probably shouldn’t be doing it.”
With the endorsement of the company’s CEO Gary Rodkin, Paulsen and her team have adopted an aggressive plan to turn the department into a function that prioritizes its work by the size of the results or returns that it generates for the company. That’s new ground for many communication departments.