Empowering employees through new wave of communication

The way organizations communicate with their people is definitely going to change. Gone are the days of out-of-date newsletters and announcements pinned to company notice boards Email and intranets have changed all of that.

But now a new wave of change is needed. As inboxes have swollen, email has become less effective, especially if messages aren’t clear and concise. The pace of life these days is intense and people just don’t have the time to sort through broadcast mails to work out what, if any thing, is relevant to them. Intranet sites have burgeoned, making it hard for people to find the information they need. And to further complicate the business of keeping people informed about their employer’s goals, progress and requirements, the way organizations work is changing.

In many businesses, for example, it is increasingly unusual for teams to work together in one place. New technology has made it not just possible, but advantageous for people to work from home and for teams to be spread across offices that may well be in different countries. New companies are being created that don’t have physical premises at all.

The old business rules, those that held sway in the old economy argued that you should hire good people, rank and evaluate them and then tell them what to do. It was the old command and control model. What that meant in communication terms was that only a few chosen were authorized to deliver messages to the masses. Typically they would be senior managers or internal communications professionals working on their behalf. This way of operating just doesn’t work any more. Knowledge-based organizations aren’t fixed and hierarchic-they adapt quickly and organize their people on a project basis. The staff may work for several managers at the same time, and risk getting mixed messages as a result.

In this new environment, glossy magazines and PR-style communication campaigns are no longer sufficient. Employees seek greater transparency and involvement. Introducing the new ways of communication, many of which are already be familiar to employees especially to those from ‘Generation Y’ who are just starting to enter the workplace.

They have become accustomed to the new ways of communicating which the internet provides as consumers, and have been vociferous in demanding greater transparency and a more open relationship from the organizations they deal with. And now employees are demanding the same. They want to be participants who take the initiatives, co-operate and learn and simply not people who just obey orders.

Luckily, the structural changes have also been accompanied by the evolution of a swathe of new online technologies called Web 2.0. As with other such innovations, Web 2.0 has been somewhat over hyped. The reality, though, is that podcasts, wikipedia, blogs, RSS news feeds and other Web 2.0 applications have the power to turn your internal communications model on its head. Not only are they a good way to get management’s message out, they help employees across business build communities, collaborate and get things done.

Others may need more convincing. CIOs, for example, may not be keen to unleash the new Web 2.0 technologies on their networks and computers. They will argue that they are immature, will soak up bandwidth and increase the demands on their help desks. To an extent, they will be right.

Internal communication managers will also have concerns. They are used to controlling the message and will feel anxious about giving more people the ability to talk to the organization at large.

The temptation, then, might be to put barriers in place to prevent use of Web 2.0 services within your enterprise but, if you do that, you will be swimming against a strong tide. As social software becomes more embedded in the internet culture, the expectations of employees will increase. It will be their natural way of working-one which they feel offers clear advantages and if they are prevented from using it within the secure confines of the corporate network, they may well start operating on the internet. That could be far more damaging.

Effective use of the new tools also requires a different set of communication skills, one that some senior managers don’t have. Blogs, for example, need to be written in a very personal style.
The new tools put the power in the hands of the audience and make it is easy for them to comment and criticize. So is Enterprise 2.0 as some are calling it worth the effort? It’s still early days, but experience suggests the answer is yes. The old ‘command and control’ approach to internal communication is too cumbersome and slow for the 21st century. Success in the years ahead demands a much more open dialogue between managers and employees, as well as between employees.