Does Your Communication Plan Promote Interactive Listening and Innovation?

The promise of the new Beatles-inspired video game, Rock Band, is that it will transform the way we listen to music through interactive listening and participation. Writing in the The NY Times Magazine last week, Daniel Radosh said that the promise of “interactive music” is that listeners (participants) will be able to add their own personalities to their favorite songs, adjusting and improvising on themes created by the musicians.

It got me thinking about the goals of corporate communication and how interactive listening should be at the top of our list. What communication goal are we aiming for if not active participation in the communication and decision-making process?


Inviting and capturing feedback helps employees own the outcomes of corporate decision-making. The goal of the Rock Band video game is to embrace the fantasy of being a rock star through simulation and participation with the music– rather than merely listening. But the point for us as communicators is to establish employee ownership of the message (like the song).

Do senior leaders really believe in the latent power of employees to tweak and vamp on an idea or decision in a way that leads to greater clarity or helps to establish or vet corporate strategy?

As a senior leader message is delivered through social media channels like videocasts and blogs and as the comment thread builds there is always the possibility for confusion, but there is a much greater opportunity for innovation and evolution.

A recent Forrester Research poll indicated that nearly a quarter of American adults who use the internet are “creators,” or what Forrester defines as those who write blogs, upload original audio or video, or post stories online.

We hear the rallying cry for innovation again and again, yet at most companies senior leaders are not even listening to employees (surprise!). But how can we expect innovation when we have not even set up a messaging process to engage employees through active, participatory listening? How can we have innovation when our communication plan does not include channels that solicit feedback from the “creators?”

Because the right communication plan and process was not set up senior leaders do not have a direct connect with employees– all the news and feedback they receive is either managed by individuals with a vested interest in doing so or processed through organizational surveys. This leads to divergence between what they think and what’s really going on.

Because employees don’t know what’s on the mind of senior leaders they naturally assume the worst; namely, that talent at the organization is undervalued and that business is going bad. The wrong inferences are drawn simply because senior leaders did not establish a direct connect with employees.

A strategic communication plan must include social media channels for two-way interactive participation as well as traditional channels like town halls and employee engagement surveys. “Management by walking around” is another great way for senior leaders to establish a direct connect. Long championed by change management consultant Linda Dulye, a simple unfiltered encounter with employees is great way to gather feedback. Deborah Dunshire, who leads a biopharmaceutical concern in Cambridge, Mass., was quoted in The New York Times this week as using this method:

“They’d be working and I’d knock on the door and somebody would put up their head and sort of startle when they would see me. Now they don’t do that anymore. I would just say: “Hey, what’s keeping you up nights? What are you working on? What’s most exciting for you right now? Where do you see we could improve?” That’s really rewarding. To have the full engagement of your employee population is so important.”

Ms. Dunshire also has an excellent approach to “getting the right people on the bus” at the organization — hiring the right talent. This has direct result on innovation and company culture, and certainly has an impact on whether our communication plans will resonate with our audience.

“Has this person demonstrated an ability to step out of their initial area of mastery and added other skills? Have they done things a little bit out of the norm? I like evidence of people who are broad, and not just deep.”

Thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.

Photo credit: niclindh’s photostream, licensed by Creative Commons.

In Category: Human Resources, Social Media

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Dom Crincoli

Show 3 Comments
  • Shara Sokol September 3, 2009, 5:43 pm Link

    Excellent thoughts, Dom. Just make sure that if you intend to set up opportunities for interactive communications, that company culture doesn’t get in the way. Make sure that senior leaders have bought into two-way honest communication. If there is unspoken fear in the company culture about speaking candidly (which does not include being rude)or being judged for what you say (given it’s something constructive), the best laid interactive plans will go nowhere. Planning for two-way communication is easy; changing company culture is the big challenge.

  • Editor September 3, 2009, 6:06 pm Link

    Thanks Shara: As usual, I couldn’t agree with you more. Buy-in from senior leadership on a consensus-driven decision-making model is essential. I’ve tried to address these issues of transparency and company culture in previous posts here too like the Gift of Employee Feedback.

    Without it our best efforts are nothing more than a tempest in teacup.


  • Shara Sokol September 9, 2009, 12:53 am Link

    Well said, Dom. Gotta check out those other posts. :o)