The communications revolution has changed the way we talk to each other, whether we’re exchanging information, seeking to influence or just looking for solutions to the challenges of the moment. This change has been largely driven by social media, which has broken down conventional boundaries and blurred the traditional divisions between how we live at work and home.
The implications of this radical change for internal communications are immense. Messages are scrutinized, shared across multiple channels and discussed like never before. Employees feel a new freedom to question and assert their own visions for their organizations. Technology has raised expectations of easy access to – and engagement with – the business, and authenticity and consistency have become the watchwords for leaders, as they seek new ways to forge dynamic relationships with their people.
The fundamental impact of these trends can be seen in the way external and internal communications have arrived at the same crossroads and are now blending in exciting and innovative ways. The most progressive businesses have anticipated this change, identifying a new opportunity for internal communications to break free of its old niche and become a vehicle for engagement – endorsed by the C-suite and driven all the way to the most remote mobile worker.
Success, however, depends on transparency. People will engage if they know they can trust a company’s vision. That means messages, campaigns and initiatives will only work if they are crafted through engagement, rather than imposed by a business that is focused solely on telling its employees what they should do and think.
This might not sound like rocket science; after all, it really boils down to treating people as individual human beings rather than assets in a spreadsheet. Yet lightbulb moments, as decision-makers see the positive, measurable results that emerge from a successful engagement-focused campaign, can be surprisingly powerful triggers for fresh angles on existing practices.
Truth, of course, is not always comfortable – for the recipients of a message or the business that must deal with the unexpected revelations it unleashes. But if truth is the foundation of a message told in the voice of the communicator – whether it’s about forthcoming change, the impact of current events or key learnings from the annual report – and the response is listened to and acted upon, the conversation will deliver value with interest.
Achieving that degree of consistency in approach is a challenge. It depends on a profound understanding of the business and its people, ensuring that every message is relevant and rooted in addressing the needs of both sides. It also depends on a willingness to embrace new communications models (specifically social media), which encourage people to be open and honest, and to use those channels as their mouthpiece within the organization.
It is in responses and interactions that you find lessons of successful engagement: the revelations that indicate how effectively an organization is listening to its people and translating the acquired knowledge into meaningful change, which will then be discovered and identified as a best practice.
Successful internal communication at this point in the 21st century is, above all, about finding the best ways to capture human responses to campaigns and messages; combining them with timely, meaningful data; and measuring engagement consistently and continuously.
Multiple channels mean that generalizations about how people engage are pointless. What matters is showing them that they are being listened to, regardless of the channel, in a cycle of constant consultation; that they have a vital role to play in the conversation; and that by sharing their inputs, they can be a positive force in the evolution of the business.
The advent of new technologies to further shape and shift communications models is inevitable. They will enable leaders to gain even more granular insights about their organizations, their people and how effectively their strategies are modernizing internal communications, driving their value to the heart of the business. The revolution is by no means over.