From Broadcast to Conversation: Insights on Connecting with a Digital Workforce

Clarity, Coherence, and Connectivity Essential Ingredients to Achieving Relevance

For those of us who strive to ensure organizations work in the most optimal way through greater trust, engagement and performance, we are experiencing what may well turn out to be a watershed moment in terms of maturation and achievement.

Personally, being involved in organizational excellence for well over 25 years – counseling, teaching, leading, learning – my journey continues to be one of fascination and enlightenment. The following commentary is meant for everyone in this professional space to assess, align, argue, challenge, and assimilate.

The objective is to truly see things clearly, comprehend what’s really taking place inside organizations, and acting accordingly to achieve results.

Digital Changes Everything – from mobile to experiential to connectivity

As a foundation, it’s important to establish a baseline for how organizational communications is evolving in today’s modern corporation. The overriding factor enveloping business today is that we live in a digital world. As internal communicators, we are challenged with the reality that information is ubiquitous, employees trust peers and colleagues more than leaders and managers, and relevance is determined by the individual not the company.

This all adds up to an attention deficit economy where there is more content than attention.

So, what are we to make of all this?

Let’s explore the state of organizational communications in a digital age:

  • Organizational Clarity tops CEOs’ list of major challenges – “If people aren’t clear on what we’re doing, who we are, what needs to get done and their responsibilities, then we have absolutely no chance to succeed, let alone survive,” lamented the CEO of global manufacturing business.

If you’re not working to make things clear from a strategy standpoint chances are you are not working on the right things for the business.

  • Leaders, Managers and even Communicators are the real target – Employees and workforces respond and react to the management model they experience. Therefore, if organizations need to change culture or behavior, it must start at the leadership level not at the employee level.

An organization changes only when the workforce believes the leadership is willing to change first.

This is the most missed and misunderstood insight in organizational effectiveness today.

  • Engagement remains an elusive achievement – All this talk on engagement and yet leaders find difficulty in retaining, recruiting talent and raising productivity.

The best place to address engagement is to first define it. “There is no universal definition of engagement,” stated a chief HR officer at a conference recently. Essentially you must define it for your company and then work to achieve it as scale.

                  What does engagement mean to your organization?

  • News Finds People…People Don’t Find News – Employees like consumers have programmed their notifications of news, updates, etc., on their various digital platforms including inside their company. For communicators, the opportunity is to know the platforms and channels most used by employees internally to increase usage and visibility of important information related to the business.
  • The Company Portal is neither hub nor spoke – So much time, money and effort is spent on company intranets and yet, in almost every instance, employees find them of little use to their day-to-day experience. Where’s the disconnect?

“My intranet is a hodgepodge of information, disorganized and difficult to navigate,” a service company employee recently shared in an internal survey on the use of the intranet.

  • Organizational Communications being recognized as a strategic management priority – There is growing and expanding evidence that leaders – particularly newly minted ones – are applying internal communications as philosophy, strategy, and process into business planning and management protocol.
  • Relevance can’t be dictated by leadership – The real game being played both internally and externally by communications executive’s centers around Content. The challenge though is that there is more content than attention so the need to break through and have people hear you is more important than ever. Smart money and resources is being invested in content development and curation.
  • Data Intelligence directs strategy, content, execution – In most studies on the subject, over 65% of people consider themselves visual learners.  As such, internal communications approaches are including more visual content – videos, broadcasts, graphics, photos.  This trend is resulting in better comprehension, higher retention of information, and stronger interest among employees.
  • Internal Communications is no longer a side show but the main performer – A major impediment to effective engagement lies in varying definitions and perspectives about the workforce and communications in general as a means to improve performance among the leadership and management team. This misalignment often results in mixed signals, competing priorities, contradictory policies or worse, paralysis.
  • Technology connects the workforce especially displaced employees – This fundamental truth is often overlooked within corporate structures. Optimizing real value within organizations rests with an open and collaborative environment where leaders, managers and employees work in concert to attain goals and serve customers. Until and unless communications is comprehended and applied consistently throughout the management system, issues of trust, clarity, and performance will be adversely impacted.
  • Still chasing symptoms – One of the more troubling habits still plaguing the profession is the race to focus on symptoms vs. causes when dealing with a situation. All too often the default position seems to be generating a series of tactics (to prove action) rather than a concerted effort to probe deeper into the cause. Such efforts minimize the strategic import of effective communications, diminish our role as partners, and expend wasted energy circling problems or opportunities.

One more time, if your organizational communications strategy and plan is not tied to the overall business strategy and plan it is worth little. Metrics in this regard should be designed to show a correlation and causality between communications and the stated business goals.

  • False positives still cloud judgement – Digital is causing a passive loyalty among employees that clouds leadership’s thinking with regard engagement and motivation. People tend to tell employers what they want to hear especially in times of uncertainty and change protecting themselves and keeping their options open. From a macro standpoint, if your organizational communications strategy and plan is not tied to the overall business strategy and plan it is worth little. Metrics in this regard should be designed to show a correlation and causality between communications and the stated business goals. Such an approach keeps your efforts grounded in what needs to be accomplished.
  • GlassDoor challenges everyoneIt continues to astonish me that our interest in technology far outweighs our focus on achieving outcomes such as stronger relationships internally. I often see technology being used without regard for how it will lead to a better situation. Incorporating new ways of reaching and engaging people is critical to success but overcompensating on the tactical side only leads to complexity and obfuscation…For example, GlassDoor is another window into an organization and being used by job seekers and others to round out their perspective. It must be part of how a communicator assesses the overall perception of the company and result in more effective trust builders … leading to the next point:
  • Social/digital complements but doesn’t supplant F2F– The most effective communications method ever devised is Face-to-Face. Knowing that, every other method or approach should be designed to reflect or reinforce that truth.
  • Is Your CEO “Social?” – CEOs are migrating faster to social and digital outreach to get their message out and build support for their agenda. But the reality is that most attempts still appear disingenuous and one-sided. Being social means listening, debating, challenging, and respecting opinions. To truly break through, CEOs need to give up control and let their personality be discovered. Only then will their ideas and opinions be heard and possibly endorsed.
  • Centering “Advocacy” as the means to instill confidence, camaraderie – My strong belief is that this year is going to be a year in which Employee Advocacy as a meaningful customer attraction and retention lever will gain traction. The benefits are numerous: authentic voice for the company and its products/services with customers and consumers; catalyst for networking and relationship-building among employees throughout the enterprise; credible voice to balance arguments.
  • Multiple platforms for different story lines – The era of story line development internally is upon us. Instead of one message fits all – both content and channel – breaking down stories into pieces and placing them on different platforms allows employees to find the most meaningful subject line to relate to. Doing so adds to much richer content furthering enhancing people’s knowledge of the business.
  • Getting the Ds right – It’s about dialogue, discussion, debate vs dissemination. If people aren’t talking about it, it doesn’t matter.
  • Print ain’t dead – Contrary to popular belief, print remains an important medium in reaching certain segments of employees – specifically manufacturing, sales, retirees, and employee families. In 2016, print will increase as part of an internal communications ecosystem in organizations looking to gain an edge with specific audiences.
  • Video needs to enhance story development – As mentioned above, the use of video and visual elements are being inculcated into how communicators are telling stories for employees.
  • Employee engagement starts at the point of hire – An emerging trend to watch involves organizations establishing expectations for employees in terms of engagement, involvement, information exchange, and communications right at the beginning of employment.
  • Social Collaboration is a two-way street – In past years, the biggest knock on social collaboration platforms was that employees stayed away in droves. Those that did participate spent more time buying and selling home items than learning about the business or building new relationships with colleagues. For social collaboration to bring about the necessary benefits to organizational success such as knowledge sharing, constructive disagreement, relationship-building, discovering new ideas, and challenging entrenched beliefs, both leadership/management and the workforce at large must participate together and consistently. Doing so breaks down barriers and encourages interaction.

Relevance is the Holy Grail but Communicators Can’t Get There (Alone)

So, as we embark on a new year, there is much to consider as we look to complete the intricate communications and engagement puzzle that creates a picture of organizational excellence.

When you add up the above, the one constant is Relevance. If our narrative, messages, policies, and decisions connect with employees allowing them to adapt accordingly to the changing environment making the argument themselves then we’ve accomplished our mission.

And the business its goals.

The only problem is that communicators don’t determine Relevance. Individuals do.

Getting as close to our audience as possible – employing analytics and research – to understand what resonates with people…words, visuals, stories. The game is about connecting the business priorities to people’s reality including interests, connections, fears, passion, ideas.

When leaders and communicators recalibrate roles to and they become observer and target instead of seeing the workforce that way, Relevance is discovered.

What’s Ahead

While people can debate the nuances and intricacies of organizational effectiveness and communications in today’s digital reality, there is one thing we can all agree on – it should be an incredible journey!


Gary Grates is a Principal at W2O Group, an IPR Trustee and the Director of IPR’s Organizational Communication Research Center. Follow him on Twitter @GaryGrates.

Posted in [Blog].

2 Comments

  1. Dear Gary, can I place translation of your article in Russian in a magazine for PR professionals in Kazakhstan? Of course with all credits. It looks that we have common issues in internal communications, and your insights are very relevant for us. Thank you, Yelena Pak, PR expert, Astana

    • Hello Yelena,

      Yes, you may translate the article in Russian giving appropriate credit to Gary. Would you also be able to send us an electroniccopy of this article? My email address is sarah@instituteforpr.org. Thanks so much!

      Best,
      Sarah Jackson
      Communications Manager
      Institute for Public Relations

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