FROM CAVE PAINTINGS TO APPS

STORY HEATHER BAKER | IMAGE CSM GROUP

HOW THE EVOLUTION OF COMMUNICATION TOOLS DRIVES CSM GROUP’S ENGAGEMENT

People have been communicating since their appearance on Earth. The act of communicating started with sets of disorganized signs and sounds to transfer messages from one human to another—most likely to warn of danger or pinpoint the location of food.

As sounds developed into words and then word patterns, the art of storytelling evolved to pass on information in tribal communities or villages from one generation to the next. Cave paintings entered the picture 40,000 years ago as juices from fruits or animal blood were used to paint tales of primitive life.

Communications changed as ancient civilizations developed writing systems. The Egyptians used hieroglyphics around 3400 BC on stone monuments and papyrus, the Chinese formed characters on oracle bones around 1250 BC, and the Phoenicians developed an alphabet in 1100 BC.

Handwritten books, mostly religious in nature, appeared 1,000 years before the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg in 1439. This invention forever revolutionized communication as the mass production of books now meant that information could reach, well, the masses.

Improvements in efficiency and regularity were the next communication upgrades. Used to communicate for centuries, handwritten letters from a sender depended upon a traveler’s goodwill and successful conclusion of a journey to reach their recipient. It wasn’t until the Thirteen Colonies appointed Benjamin Franklin to be the first postmaster general in 1775 that organized systems for communication were formed. The Pony Express was coming, and it officially did in 1860.

Speed was the next process improvement. The telegraph came in the early 1830s and photography in 1839, followed by Alexander Bell’s invention of the telephone transmitting sound through air in 1876. Radio was the hottest technology trend in the early 1890s, bringing music, commercials, and news directly into homes. By 1947, television sets started to replace those radios. In 1973, Motorola’s handheld mobile phone freed people from the telephone wall cord. Then came the internet, and with it social media and blogging.

Communication is something that people inherently do. Improved throughout mankind’s history, it might seem easy today, but it is not always done correctly. No matter how technologically advanced we are, miscommunication happens. A failure to communicate accurately in the workplace can lead to employee arguments, reduction in productivity, and lack of motivation. On the other hand, strong communication strategies lead to real time improvements in engagement, profitability, and output.

As communications advance, how is your business staying ahead of the game?

CSM Group, a construction management services company headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan, uses today’s innovations in communication technology to help its clients, project partners, and others find communication solutions using technology to make its businesses more efficient. Recently, CSM Group created a division called SPARK Business Works to enhance its communications. Lori Green, the company’s director of business development and marketing, met up with the 269 MAGAZINE team to share how it works.

Why is communication critical to your success?
Communication is key to engaging a remote workforce. With over 55% of the work CSM does now outside of the state of Michigan, ensuring our team members are engaged is fundamentally important to our culture. We have over 100 employees that work across 28 states. Our teammates, who need critical information in a timely manner, can be in Illinois this week and California next. We want engaged teammates who love what they do and want to serve our clients.

How has your communication strategy evolved over time?
We previously used emails and weekly huddles as our main methods of communication. Unfortunately, there was no way to disseminate what emails pertained to business development, corporate key performance indicators (KPIs), strategic planning, recognition, and so on. And the huddles were poorly attended due to scheduling conflicts.

We needed another solution. We felt like we weren’t really communicating like we wanted to with our teammates. Information was falling through the cracks and we needed a way to increase the impact of messaging coming from the company versus all of the other messages. Employees were generally feeling disengaged.

After hiring a new technology group lead, we realized through our internal company survey that we needed something different through which to communicate. In response, our technology group created our own company app as the new communication tool. The app allows us to segregate information into logical themes for employees to receive and consume on their schedule and to reference back to as needed. Simplifying what information employees wanted at their fingertips streamlined the communication process and created a more engaged workforce.

In what ways do you leverage your app to implement strategy and drive company performance?
The app provides a central location for many employee facing applications and real-time business intelligence to our users through our KPIs. It is a corporate news hub, a place to track project status through interactive photos and comments, a method of requesting information through forms and surveys, an entry log for tracking project time, a portal for strategic documents, and a source for corporate news across the organization and its divisions.

It serves our human resources needs too. We push out employee information such as birthdays, anniversaries, and recognition through our Builder Awards. We do a monthly spotlight on an employee about their work and personal interests. We also house all of our corporate communications and key resources, such as our medical benefits, on the app.

Our team appreciates fewer emails and that we can deliver or request information from them no matter where they are.

Through the use of the app, has your new communication strategy improved engagement?
CSM measures engagement through our culture surveys. Past feedback told us that we needed a better communication tool with our workforce spread across the U.S. The app has been a perfect solution for us. Our current survey response rates consistently receive a 99 percent to 100 percent response rate and our culture survey score is at an all-time high of 4.17 out of 5.0. The app’s success so far has us excited for what comes next in our communication journey.

Can others take advantage of what you have developed?
While problem solving for our own internal needs, we saw a need within the industry. We started a division of CSM Group called SPARK Business Works and hired a team of people to work with clients, trade contractors, and other businesses to solve their software and technology issues. The division creates custom internal apps and business software, migrates systems to the cloud, and consults on facility technology needs. We invite those seeking enhanced communication tools and services to learn more about CSM’s SPARK Business Works division at engagedappsolutions.com.

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