Voice of senior management. (Regular) intranet updates. E-mails flying around left, right and center. These are the things we associate with internal communications.
In a Social Business – in companies, which operate both an internal network and an external network, which make knowledge visible and leveragable, and which integrates stakeholders into the value creation process – this unwieldy style of internal communications is not only out of date, it’s also counterproductive. Because a social business understands that today’s employees have to be a part of strategy at all stages, from initial drawing-board thoughts to final roll-out. Top-down management directives without a comprehensible background and without direct feedback channels are passé. And a new leadership model also requires a new style of internal communications.
With the old-school model of internal communications, countless hours are spent adding and updating the pages of the classical intranet, or writing and sending the boring internal e-mail newsletter. This is understandable, since frequency of issue, length of articles, and clicks on internal stories are all criteria against which the performance of many a Corporate Communications professional is still measured. Because when IT decides to implement a collaboration tool, or PR and Marketing sets up external social media channels, Corporate Communications is often treated as the stepchild and brought into the loop far too late.
But a real Social Business knows that the key to effective use of social media technologies on all levels is culture. And internal communications are what impacts the latter most of all. This is the only sensible way to implement social governance models. If the culture is not truly “social”, everybody can stop flogging a dead horse and go back to doing something less effortful – because it won’t work.
A new kind of internal communications has to grow with technology. It is precisely by introducing internal social collaboration and communications technologies such as Yammer, Microsoft SharePoint or IBM Connections, for instance, that community-oriented thinking will come to the fore. Suddenly Corporate Communications has to manage an internal network and is expected to take a real mediator role between management and workforce.
Employees should constantly feel that people are being open and honest with them – and not just one-way! If you have a new product, a strategic re-alignment, or your processes undergo changes, opt for communication formats with feedback functionality, instead of sending out an impersonal email. A blog post written by a member of senior management with a debate in the internal social network to follow, for example. Or a round table broadcast live in the intranet with real-time chat. This is the format that Microsoft Germany chose when they wanted to inform their people about changes to the way performance was assessed. Members of the senior management took delicate questions, which employees taking part in the event could put to the managers using a chat window. A moderator sorted the questions, put them directly to the managers live “on air”, who answered without the safety net of a script or the “false-bottomed suitcase” of skilful post-production editing. This open, authentic and respectful communication was a great success. More than 500 employees called up the 60-minute live stream, there was a lively question and answer session, management were able to assuage doubts and misgivings regarding the new evaluation criteria, thus proving once again that open and two-way company communication culture is desirable, not only on paper, but also live in action.
Internal communication has to be a beacon in cultural transformation – its job is to show a good example and put other members of the organization in a position where they can communicate effectively with one another without barriers.
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