There's a revolution under way that threatens the very future of the internal communication profession. Ironically, the transformation is being fueled by technology that communicators have fought for years to include in their corporate programs.
Internal communicators have struggled for decades to introduce the latest digital tools to increase employee productivity. We’ve fought cost-justification battles with C- suite executives and budget-conscious managers to bring the latest communication technology in-house. It’s been a perpetual struggle to convince skeptical executives that investments in technology to improve internal communications could pay off.
While we’ve slowly been winning those small battles to upgrade processes and programs with technology, we lost a much bigger war because we didn’t understand or embrace the massive digital revolution taking place on the street.We were blindsided by the onslaught of personal communication devices and pervasive networking capabilities that radically transformed life outside of work.
Today, employees have unprecedented access to information, services and tools using their smartphones, tablets and laptops. Over the past decade, they downloaded apps to improve personal productivity.They researched products and services and bought them online.They managed their personal finances from their phones.They Skyped with relatives around the globe.They streamed full-length movies and watched live television broadcasts on their tablets.They learned how easy it was to text a friend halfway around the world and get an answer in a split second.They took high- definition photos and videos and shared them with all their friends in Instagram and YouTube.They played interactive video games using blazingly fast computers and high-speed connections. And they could do all these things from anywhere, at any time of the day or night as long as they were connected to the internet.
While they were enjoying an advanced digital life at home, the same employees faced technology obstacles at work. Their corporate email accounts would prohibit them from sending messages whenever their in-boxes surpassed a shockingly low limit. Browsers on their desktop computers often blocked access to websites.They couldn’t send graphically rich PowerPoint presentations to colleagues because the files were too large. Some companies even stopped them from using their personal smartphones to take photos or videos at corporate events or share content from meetings with co-workers who couldn’t attend in person.
Over the past decade, an employee’s outside-of-work technology capabilities quickly matched and then surpassed what the IT department provided at his or her desk.
You can credit Moore’s Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore. He observed in 1965 that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits doubled every year since their invention and predicted that the trend would continue. And he was right. Each year for the last 50 years, tech companies have been delivering twice the computing power at about the same price as the prior year.Today the newest iPhones come with up to 64 times the memory of the 2007 model and are offered for about the same average selling price.
Practically overnight the internal communication community found itself outmanned and outgunned in the communication technology battle. Nearly every co-worker was walking around with a powerful communication device, and had more experience than the company’s communication professionals with photography and video production. Surveys showed that user-generated content was more credible and effective than polished professional material. Moreover, many IT departments were beginning to reluctantly welcome employee-owned devices onto their corporate networks in a trend labeled BYOD (BringYour Own Device) to work.
Here are the three challenges that communication professionals must meet to survive the revolution and thrive:
1. Strengthen the network
Since the start of hierarchical organizations and top-down communication, non-formal networks have developed inside organizations to share information. Most corporate executives dismiss these organic structures because they can’t be controlled or managed, labelling them as the grapevine.Yet these networks are extraordinarily efficient, work quickly, don’t cost anything, and they are perceived by employees as highly credible.The 2017 EdelmanTrust Barometer showed that “a person like yourself” is far more credible than a CEO, implying that the primary axis of communications is now horizontal or peer-to-peer.
As communicators, we need to tap into the power of these non-formal networks as a key component of our internal communication programs. One Danish communication consultancy that has done just that is Innovisor. Their client work has proven that by engaging just three percent of a non-formal network, its key influencers, you can reach an astounding 85 percent of the workforce.
If your internal communication program doesn’t already include a component based on non-formal networks, you should make it a high priority.
2. Change your focus
In the future, we need to spend less time doing and more time enabling others to communicate.
Our job is to put business goals ahead of technology tools and focus on strategy more than tactics.
It’s more important than ever for us to help create an effective communications environment for our organizations and build communication strategies that help teams accomplish their business goals.
For too long we’ve followed a one-size-fits-all approach to internal communication, relying on mass media and managers to reach the all-employee audience.We’ve created systems that are sender-centric. We decide what we think our audiences need to know.We need to evolve to receiver- centric communication models where our audiences determine what information they need to do their jobs most effectively.
3. Reset your organization’s clock
The pace of most of internal communication programs is glacial, at best. We spend far too much time writing, editing, reviewing, rewriting and approving material that few employees ever see or
read, saving daily news for the weekly email newsletter. It’s like serving a sandwich made with three- day-old fish, moldy cheese and brown lettuce on stale bread.
Move away from artificial deadlines towards real-time dissemination of information. Pick the live webcast over the recorded video. Millennials have never waited for the delivery of a morning newspaper to get their information. News to them is instantaneous. Communication should be, too.
Three Key Takeaways
There’s a digital revolution under way that threatens the future of the internal communication profession.
Almost every employee has access to weapons of mass communication and knows how to use them.
To thrive in the future, internal communicators must put non-formal networks to work, place business goals ahead of technical tools, and increase the pace of their communication processes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Whitworth has more than 30 years of experience at Silicon Valley high-tech giants HP, Cisco and PeopleSoft (now Oracle). He has shared his cutting-edge research in employee communication effectiveness in more than 300 presentations to communicators, executives and university classes around the world.
Whitworth holds undergraduate degrees in both journalism and speech from the University of Missouri and an MBA from Santa Clara University. He served as chairman of the 16,000-member International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and is one of the authors of The IABC Handbook of Organizational Communication. He was named an IABC Fellow in 1996.