Unclear proliferation

We live in a connected world. Buyers have found new ways to buy. Sellers have found new ways to sell. Motorists have found new ways to insure. Students have found new ways to study. Writers have found new ways to publish. Recruiters have found new ways to recruit. Gamblers have found new ways to gamble. Musicians have found new ways to be heard. Families and friends have found new ways to share.

In under a second Google can find more stuff than a pre-internet research assistant could have hoped to have found in a lifetime. In a matter of minutes companies can be rocked to the core by the whiff scandal spreading across the globe faster than the speed of light through multiple virtual channels that are virtually impossible to control.

Yep. We live in a connected world all right.

Many companies are jumping on the social media express, leveraging new and exciting communication technologies and behaviours to find new ways of connecting with their customers and staff. So given the ease, speed and reach of communication technology these days, it’s little wonder we all understand our company’s strategy right?

Wrong. On the contrary, while the world around us has never been more open, transparent and accessible, life in a typical organisation has never been more opaque and trust has never been in such scarce supply.

Why is that? Could it be because many organisations still hang on to the mechanical, bureaucratic, command and control models of organisation that have been with us since the days of the carrier pigeon? Is it because they still cascade carefully crafted, legally sanitised state of the nation speeches through multiple layers of distracted or disengaged management? And because they strip out any semblance of personality from CEO communications to make sure they don’t put a foot wrong, nor waste a single precious word? Somebody told me the other day that their company still sends memorandums around in the internal post! For sure – this could be part of the problem.

Too many organisations continue to inflict somewhat outmoded values and behaviours on an increasingly sophisticated young workforce; a workforce which is already shunning email because it’s too damn slow. Banning Facebook? What’s all that about? You may as well ban prayer in the mosque or swimming at the pool.

I am a very enthusiastic champion of social media. Getting active on Twitter has expanded my professional horizons immeasurably and demonstrated the power of networking on and offline. So when Yammer popped up inside the organisation I was one of the very early adopters because I got it. I didn’t need convincing. I tweet, therefore I yam.

And Yammer has been a very positive experience for my company. It has got our people sharing ideas, intelligence, information and (dare I say it) banter, across the company irrespective of traditional organisational boundaries, allegiances and geographies. It provides us with a means to improve knowledge management, collaboration and innovation in ways I had not thought possible just a few short years ago.

However, it has also given us another channel to contend with. Another application which needs to be opened up every morning, and another source of potentially distracting real-time alerts set to interrupt us as we go about our work.

As you can imagine this causes me some conflict as I have been beating the social media drum hard and fast for quite some time in and out of work; while at the same time witnessing my own increasing failure to keep track of an ever growing number of external and internal sources I rely on for professional and industry news, views and ideas.

I managed a wry smile when I read the following tongue-in-cheek plea for a ‘ceasefire’ recently on one of my favourite community forums:

“Most working days start with logging in to desktop, Yammer, Intranet, IM, Jabber, Jira, Confluence, Conference Calls, Outlook, OCS and getting a coffee. By then it’s almost time for lunch.”

Beware folks, there’s many a true word spoken in jest. As Internal Communicators we absolutely need to embrace these new channels, but we cannot let them multiply at will with no checks or balances. There is a clear and present danger that important information and meaning gets lost in all the noise. Rather than bringing more clarity, the proliferation of communication channels could well be making things less clear. There needs to be some form of unclear deterrent if we are to avoid meltdown.

When it comes to Internal Communications you need to have a single source of truth. One place that staff enjoy visiting and trust; which is a well-managed, easy to find and full of good quality up-to-date, fresh content. I still believe that place is an intranet; albeit the 2.0 versions built on blogging software that encourages instant feedback and interaction as well as opt in/opt out and ‘alert me’ functionality.

Sure, drive footfall through a multi-channel approach, including word of mouth, email, noticeboards, video on demand, and the pervasive SM channels including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn that to varying degrees most staff are using already. But do just that – drive footfall. Don’t repeat the same messages time and time again across every different channel. It’s called spam and your audience will switch off sharpish if you do it.

Social Media in particular should not be used by corporate communicators for pumping out corporate messages. These channels are designed for discussion not presentation; relationship building not hectoring and lecturing.

Everywhere I look I see people predicting the demise of the machine bureaucracy and the rise of the ‘networked’ or ‘connected’ organisation. Centralisation will be swept aside by decentralisation; formal hierarchy will bow down to informal networks; executive planning will succumb to collective learning; leadership will be usurped by the ‘wisdom of crowds’ and instead of working for departments, we will all band together in tribes. Their message is clear – organisations that fail to embrace these new paradigms are dinosaurs heading for extinction.

Poppycockasaurus. It’s all a matter of balance. Machine Bureaucracies that loosen up a little and open their minds to the new possibilities and opportunities offered by embracing the ‘networked’ or ‘connected’ revolution will live long and prosper. But only if they hang on tightly to some of their rigour and discipline at the same time.

And thrusting new business upstarts will find that all that flashes, blinks and swarms is not necessarily the route to salvation and sustainability. There will always be a place for strong leadership and high level company strategy will never successfully be determined by an all-staff vote.

Maybe, just maybe I could be persuaded to turn up for work in a loin cloth.

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