Nearly 25 years ago, I was the first person hired at Pitney Bowes to focus primarily on external communications. Upon my arrival, I found the best internal communications infrastructure available at that time, even though employee communications director Bob Strickland continually suggested ways it could be even better. After last week’s panel discussion at the Page Spring Seminar, I am more convinced than ever that Pitney Bowes has masterfully woven employee communications into its DNA.

Noting that the way an organization treats its people is a driver of its reputation, Edelman’s Gary Grates nicely set up the panel discussion with Juanita James, chief marketing and communications officer at Pitney Bowes, and Ron Kirkpatrick, national manager of external/internal communications and social media at Toyota Motor Sales USA. Even if both companies are non-union, the points they covered can be universally applied to other organizations. The bottom line is no surprise: Managers are key to effective and believable communications. At Pitney Bowes, it starts at the top. In fact, former Chairman and CEO Michael Critelli still talks with employees and the public via his blog: Open Mike. Fortuantely, other enlightened companies also are investing in employee communications.

Despite gloom and doom consuming the auto industry, Ron Kirkpatrick said Toyota needs for its employees to know that their company is strong and will weather the storm, market share will come back and the company will use this time as a mandate for change. In order to manage the onslaught of emails that sometimes overwhelm employees, Ron said Toyota implemented a 3-tier approach where information is categorized either as “Good To Know” (i.e. read if you have time), “From the Office of the President” (new information that likely is of interest to all), and “Breaking News” (information you’ll want to know since you’re neighbors will be talking about it).

Online communications is increasingly important with both companies. Pitney Bowes relies on online vehicles to bridge communication and cultural gaps arising from its acquisition of 85 companies over the past 10 years. “Gain On” is an online suggestion program that has netted some 800 ideas with cost savings of over $20 million.

Everyday word-of-mouth and manager engagement in communications remains critical to these companies. At Pitney Bowes, Juanita says the leadership mandate is simple: Be honest. Be clear. Be visible. Tough, frank discussion is encouraged at Town Hall meetings. If employees are concerned about raising sensitive subjects, the company invites them to submit them in advance and they will be answered without attribution–or retribution.

Following the panel discussion, I enjoyed further conversations with Ron and Juanita–and Pitney Bowes’ corporate communications VP Sheryl Battles. These companies and, fortunately, others are plowing important new ground in efficient and effective employee communications.