A nationwide Tribe Inc. survey published recently indicates that employees at every level prefer two-way communication with senior leadership and with fellow employees and that they’re inclined to use internal communication channels to achieve this interaction.
Having arrived at our present point along the social media continuum you may wonder if organizations still debate the value of two-way communication—which would appear to be the case, or findings like this would no longer be newsworthy.
Two-way communication represents the finest opportunity we have to capture workforce feedback and encourage greater collaboration across the enterprise. Two-way communication facilitates workforce engagement and a more consensual leadership style, where leaders stay fully informed with frontline feedback so they can calibrate their decisions accordingly.
Two-way communication provides employees and staff with a voice, and should become even more of a priority in light of recent research indicating that four out of 10 workers are disengaged globally. Disengagement levels appear to be even worse in the U.S., where 70 percent of U.S. workers don’t like their job, according to the latest State of the American Workplace Report, as Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith pointed out in Forbes recently.
What’s more, most organizations have increased use of micro-blogging platforms like Yammer and Twitter for internal communication and there’s greater fluidity and a growing need to share information outside the organization to increase transparency and build brand equity. Often overlooked, employees and staff remain the most effective purveyors of brand identity at most organizations. Two-way communication, in presenting an opportunity to keep employees and staff engaged, represents the most compelling opportunity there is to convert employee and staff spectators into brand ambassadors.
In one sense, intranets are nothing more than a tool for simple two-way communication and discussion and social media is nothing more than a means for simple dialogue and conversation—part of the DNA of any organization. Still, outlier organizations persist in trying to undermine the importance of two-way communication. Here’s five objections we’ve heard. Do any sound familiar?
1. We can’t afford it
Maybe we can’t afford not to use two-way communication tools. Which makes better sense: Live in fear of providing an opinion platform because of the harm it could do to your organization’s reputation or acknowledge that the conversation is already happening and do what you can to shape those opinions positively? Get out in front of the message and build a transparent, responsive organizational culture or ignore the chatter and hope it goes away? The persuasive possibilities of employee voices online outweigh the reputational risks of social media to the organization, a recent study concludes. Studies like this confirm what we should already know.
2. What would legal say?
This is a case of the tail wagging the dog. The value of the legal function is beyond dispute, but their seemingly endless forays into risk aversion must be subservient to the mission and goals of the organization. Don’t spend needless energy worrying about gaining permission from legal, redirect it into telling them how you’re going to manage your two-way communication channels and collaborative workplace proactively using best-of-breed social media governance practices. Demonstrate that you have a response plan when things go awry and folks act unreasonably, as they surely will from time to time. That doesn’t mean you should throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Just have a plan to deal with it: Respond to the issue immediately and honesly. If you’re acting ethically in the first place you’ll have nothing to hide.
3. Leadership by command-and-control takes less time
Some leaders value the people that work for the organization, but only within the confines of their command-and-control leadership style. They assert that talent is the organization’s most important asset but prove by their actions that not all talent is created equally. They occupy their position of power by merit alone, they would have you believe, rather than as the result of a confluence of factors which may have little or nothing to do with merit. I’ve seen this so many times it reminds me of the philosopher Diogenes who, when asked why he went about city with a lamp in broad daylight, confessed: “I’m looking for a honest man.” But feedback from frontline employees should inform the decision-making process of every leader because frontline perspectives can produce guidance that’s critical to the organization’s success or failure. That’s the point of two-way communication. Do we need a stronger argument than that?
4. Our communication channels are working fine
Are you sure? When was the last time a thorough communication audit was conducted to assess the communication needs of your workplace? We need to have a thorough understanding of the present state before we can begin to hope for the organizational culture change needed to realize the future state and long term goals. The audit should be conducted by an independent third party to ensure the integrity of the results, not by yes-men looking to tell you what you want to hear. Do you have data supporting the assertion that communication is working properly at your organization? Can you trust the data you have? If you haven’t created a culture where feedback is encouraged and respected the answer is no—not from annual employee surveys or anywhere else. Workers and staff won’t be honest—they won’t waste their breath—without unequivocal encouragement from leadership about the importance of their opinion and how it will be used to bring about change.
5. Our intranet doesn’t support the use of social media tools
You might want to look into that. Two-way communication should be at the heart of every intranet. Many so-called intranets are little more than glorified websites—all information push and no pull. The cry for help I hear from most organizations is not knowing how to use the social media tools they have, though some mid-market organizations can be found who are still holding out on a basic intranet investment. Many low-cost intranet-like options exist, from platforms like Yammer, which offer a Twitter- and Facebook-style user interface, to many open source solutions (click here review eight).