Corporate communications, according to the latest crowd-sourced definition on Wikipedia, ”is a set of activities involved in managing and orchestrating all internal and external communications aimed at creating favorable point of view among stakeholders on which the company depends.”
Wrong. If this is your definition of corporate communications, you are failing as a communicator.
The notion that communications is “orchestrated” and aimed at “creating a favorable point of view” is antiquated and undermines the concept of synchronous communications. That is to say, two-way communications (dialogue) between one or more individuals. Face-to-face dialogue is one example; instant messaging is another. Though not instantaneous, discussion forums and “user commenting” also provide tools that allow the communicator and the audience to exchange communications (comments, questions, dialogue).
The definition for internal communications (employee communications) is far more precise, “the function responsible for effective communications among participants within an organization. The scope of the function varies by organization and practitioner, from producing and delivering messages and campaigns on behalf of management, to facilitating two-way dialogue…”
The key to the modern communications equation is “two-way dialogue.” Modern communicators must not only be a mouth-piece for their organization, they must promote and facilitate dialogue (including soliciting and responding to feedback). To be a successful communicator, you must learn and understand the topical issues, concerns, and hopes of all involved – including frontline employees AND senior executives.
Top-down, one-way messaging from the executive suite, command-and-control communications best exemplified by armed forces and military organizations in times of war, is as antiquated as the fax machine. Would you like to create a war-like mentality at your company or organization? Does any communicator plan their communications strategy and execution around the fax machine?
In a recent planning workshop with a client of mine, a financial services company, the question of “two-way dialogue” was debated. The oldest and most senior participants, the CFO and COO, argued for the removal of “two-way dialogue” from the strategy. Further, the suggestion that the new intranet have user commenting on news articles was roundly shot down by the grey-hair seniors at the board table. Their concern: employees may say inappropriate things or ask questions that shouldn’t be answered.
Ignorance is not bliss, it’s bad business.
There are these wonderful legacy technologies like the water cooler, phone and email, that allow employees to converse with whomever they want, about whatever they want, whenever they want, without filter, moderation or supervision. Employees talk about or discuss whatever is on their mind, often non-work related subjects, and there is no corporate watchdog to block or moderate them.
You trust employees to behave accordingly when chatting at the water cooler or on the phone, why wouldn’t you extend employees the same courtesy and accountability on the intranet?
Once an employee is logged onto the intranet, their name and picture is attached to everything they do and say – and it can all be tracked, monitored and moderated. So naturally, unlike the phone, everything is recorded… and employees act accordingly. The Code of Conduct or Employee Handbook applies to all activities and actions, whether online and offline. Believe me, employees are far more well-behaved and conscientious on the intranet than on the phone.
Trust: if you trust them with a phone, it’s far easier to trust (and monitor) them on the intranet.
Rumor and innuendo breed suspicion and anti-social behavior and activities. The information vacuum can suck the culture and profits out of any organization. The modern communicator must anticipate the comments, questions, and dialogue of the employee (customer) audience.
Ignorance is the death blow for modern communicators. The absence of two-way, synchronous communications purposely seeds ignorance that breeds misinformation, distrust, and disengaged employees. In the absence of true two-way dialogue, you will see organizations hampered by internal politics, high employee turnover (15-20% or more of employees leaving every year) and lower profits.
What the grey-haired executives don’t understand, but must or be retired, is that idle chat and rumor milling exists in any organizations and must be addressed head-on; find out what’s on employee minds, and discuss it before it leads to rumors and innuendo. Communicators must anticipate and proactively seek out employee concerns, hopes and wishes and manage their expectations accordingly. If not, they’ll find ways to discuss and gossip amongst themselves around the water cooler, or on the phone, or by email.
Lead the conversation, use technology such as the intranet, user commenting, SharePoint and Teams as tools that promote dialogue and seed conversation. Employees will be more informed, happier and more engaged, leading to lower turnover and higher profits.
Oh and by the way, there are these new employees called “millennials” and they now make-up 25 – 50% of the employees at most organizations. And millennials have been using two-way communications technologies enshrined in the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp for 10 or more years. And they expect, if not demand, their employers to embrace these modern communications technologies.
Grey-hairs beware; caveat emptor.
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Toby Ward is the chief blogger at IntranetBlog.com and the founder of digital workplace and intranet consulting firm Prescient Digital Media. He is also the chair of the intranet conference, the 2019 Digital Workplace & Intranet Global Forum conference.