Magazine article Personnel Journal

Crisis Communication at Georgia Power

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Crisis Communication at Georgia Power

Article excerpt

Georgia Power faced some serious communication challenges in 1989. Impending deregulation and increasing competition threatened to slash profits; the retirement of our longtime board chairman and CEO left employees uncertain about the leadership; a 1988 survey revealed that only 4% of our employees could name the company's two main goals; the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was investigating some accounting practices; and a grand jury investigation of the IRS allegations had been underway since September 1988.

As if that weren't enough, an on board lite caused a corporate jet to crash, killing the just-terminated vice president of a power company and two pilots. The National Transportation Safety Board ruled the weather and mechanical failure as causes of the fire. The news media suggested sabotage or suicide and kept the story alive as a tag line to reports on the grand jury investigation. Understandably, employee morale was at an all-time low.

Georgia Power produces electricity for 1.5 million customers statewide. Its 14,000 employees work at corporate headquarters in Atlanta and in towns and plants throughout Georgia. The diverse audience ranges from professional to hourly employees, from linemen and plant operators to engineers and marketing representatives. About 80% are male; about one-third are union members.

The nine-person employee communications department at Georgia Power was given the job of pulling employees together as a team, of motivating them to commit to profitability and customer service and of encouraging support for the new CEO's corporate vision.

The communications staff agreed to demonstrate our own commitment to the effort; our pay-for-performance compensation would be determined by our effectiveness. The goals, centered around key company issues, were to:

* Increase employee awareness of the two major corporate goals (increased return on equity and keeping the cost of electricity down) to at least 51% by December 1989.

* Increase to 70% employee awareness that management makes decisions based on potential profit.

Other goals were related to critical marketing efforts:

* To garner employee support for marketing initiatives, such as outdoor lighting and electric heat pump sales

* To heighten employee understanding of existing competition; for instance, "customer choice" situations, such as large customers who can choose their electric supplier.

Communications also were planned to address:

* Downsizing the company through attrition and early retirement plans

* Retirement of our longtime board chairman and CEO, concluding his 40-year career with the company

* A new president and CEO who needed support for his vision of the company's future and for his management team

* Employee morale problems.

The communications department already had varied media in place to reach our diverse work force: a daily recorded phone newsline; computerized news monitors in 100 locations; a weekly newsletter; weekly information boards; a bimonthly video news program; a monthly magazine mailed to employees' homes; and a quarterly magazine for supervisors and managers.

For our current challenge, however, something more would be needed. Discussions with department and executive-level management and a daylong retreat with my staff to evaluate existing media and brainstorm possible changes led us to conclude:

* We should revamp our primary publications to reduce operating costs, present an image that reflected the cost-conscious environment and update the style and format

* Because all publications serve different purposes, they should have different qualities and identities; however, they should all be part of a unified company visual plan, with some elements standardized for a consistent "family look"

* The timing was right to introduce these modifications with the introduction of the new CEO's philosophy, Vision 2000. …

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