If your firm is currently engaging in some strategic planning, as so many do when the year is young, please don’t keep it to yourself.

Your employees need to hear from you. Just as important, you need to hear from them. Like encouragement and sincere good wishes, open and honest communication should be shared company-wide and practiced all year round.

Think of it this way: For a company to navigate successfully, we need to get all the oars in the water pulling in the same direction, all at the same time. Whenever there is trouble or controversy, all affected parties need to hear all sides of the issue. That’s the only way to identify and tackle the problem and get the ship moving on the right course again.

Many contractors have had to drop some bad news on their employees due to the economic downturn. Doing so openly and honestly helps make the best of a bad situation. More important, reinforcing the “we’re all in this together” concept—and actually living up to it—helps avoid bad feelings lingering when the economy recovers, as it certainly will.

But communicating with employees is not just something to do when times are tough. Employees have a stake in your company’s success and deserve to be kept informed of how things are going, whether there has been a change in circumstances (good or bad) or if your firm is sailing along on an even keel.

They deserve to be listened to, as well. What they tell you might just be what you need to know in order to head off a problem, improve a work process or make the most of a brand-new opportunity.

As my company has grown and transitioned over the years, I have found it very helpful to ensure all employees see the big picture. Once that happens, employees begin to buy into your company’s direction and take ownership and pride in making your shared goals happen.

It’s not a one-shot deal. Company goals are likely to change over time, particularly since markets and the business environment fluctuate constantly.

Change can result from something you have no control over, such as economic events that affect your customers or an entire industry sector within your service area that was once a reliable customer base. That’s when diversification can become key to survival.

On the other hand, sometimes change is an entirely positive thing, such as when your company is transforming itself in order to take advantage of new opportunities. And, there are certainly plenty of new opportunities emerging right now.

Whether change is painful or willingly embraced—and, indeed, even if you don’t want to change a thing about your company but just desire to keep it moving in a positive direction—employees that can contribute effectively to attaining your firm’s goals are key to success.

They certainly need to be kept aware of market shifts, so their skills can be updated and their duties adapted as necessary. And, regardless of the customer base or changes therein, your employees need to be taught how to keep customers happy.

That can mean your company has to provide more management education or advanced technical training for employees. I regard the cost as a high-yield investment. After all, technical expertise under good management is the best thing electrical contractors can offer and the best way to keep customers satisfied and attract new ones.

So, if your firm is looking to maximize productivity and efficiency, bear in mind that good ideas are not the exclusive domain of management. Communicate with all your employees through regular meetings, e-mails, newsletters, a thorough Web site, an active Intranet, or whatever best suits your company’s culture. And don’t forget: Your electricians and other in-field workers should be brought into the shop sometimes, so they can see what’s going on with your company and vice versa.

Well, I think you can tell that I regard good communication and ongoing education as crucial in the employer/employee relationship. I plan to discuss these very important topics further in future columns. But, for now, I’d like to wish you a Happy—no, make that happier—New Year.

May you be blessed with greater joy, good health and increased prosperity throughout 2010 and beyond!