Goodbye command & control: hello open communication culture


It fascinates me that with all the talk and hype about the transformative impact of social media, there is very little discussion of the fact that social media has profoundly and permanently changed the expectation of how employees get information from their organizations, and how they connect, collaborate, create and perform.

This is the invisible impact of social media that is bubbling under the surface and that we don’t often consider – that is, until we bump up against the sharp edge of the reality that our traditional approaches to communication are just not working anymore.

Enter Employee Communications & Engagement 2.0

In my experience the challenge we’re facing as communicators is the confluence of three factors:

  1.  We’re working in the most information saturated era  in the history of mankind.
  2. Social media has been the death knell of the command and control approach to internal communications – our familiar and oh-so comfortable model of packaged messages sent out how, where and when we want is no longer working for us.
  3. Our audiences’ expectations of internal communications have been raised exponentially as a result of their experience on social media – that is, an experience characterized by radical transparency, authenticity, speed, and user-driven opportunities for dialogue. Old school internal communications (think:  very rigid President’s messages, infrequent  newsletters filled with fluff no one wants to read, vacuous talking-head style all staff meetings, memos that come out long after the news has passed) are not only fundamentally broken, but actually contribute to worsening the communications and engagement experience.

Today’s digital tools provide us with unparalleled opportunities to connect and engage with employees in creative and meaningful ways. We now have the potential and opportunity to drive organizational performance – even in large multinational companies – by providing relevant content and establishing a one-to-one communication experience.

This is crucial since engagement is an individual experience felt by an employee on a personal, rather than a collective level (for more insights on this important theme, check out The Engagement Equation).

So what is Employee Communications and Engagement 2.0, and how can it work for you?

Most importantly, employee communications and engagement 2.0 is not about technology – it’s about having a dynamic, social and collaborative approach to communicating and connecting with staff. This may involve digital platforms such as intranets and wikis, but more significantly, it has to do with creating an open culture of communication on-line as well as off-line.

Characteristics of Employee Communications & Engagement 2.0
  • Dialogue
  • Authenticity and transparency
  • Storytelling and user-generated content
  • Community building
  • Emotional connection, rich experiences (visuals, multimedia)
  • An open communication culture

Making the shift from the parochial, rigid and uni-directional internal communications model of the past toward a more social approach can be done gradually. Often, it’s a matter of making deliberate efforts to dial up the social nature of communication structures and messages.

Our clients have demonstrated great success using this model – it might be a matter of structuring your all staff meetings as dialogue sessions (with rounds of staff) instead of the traditional classroom set-up for the all hands event. It may be updating the staff list to include photos and bios, or a display screen that shows photos and video clips taken by staff.

5 Guiding Principles

Here are 5 key principles that can help guide your efforts in shifting toward Employee Communications and Engagement 2.0:

  1. Form should follow function. If you want to foster collaboration and exchange of ideas, structure your communications as a dialogue. Think in terms of a conversation, not a dictation.
  2. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. 2.0 communication is fast. It’s messy. It’s organic. And that’s ok.
  3. Cultivate an open communication culture. Leaders must set the tone by embracing an open culture where staff feel safe to express ideas and take risks. Not only do they need to emulate those behaviours, they must drive out behaviours that run counter to this goal (information hoarding being chief among them). Keep in mind – trust is a pre-condition to communication, and trust cannot grow where there’s fear.
  4. Think in terms of relationships. Look at your organization as a series of networks, as an ecosystem of relationships among and between individuals. Find creative opportunities to build connections, and foster those relationships in order to provide a rich, meaningful and relevant experience to the individual.
  5.  Focus on the emotion first, the information second. In today’s attention economy, the only hope to pierce through the noise of information overload is to establish relevancy by making a compelling, emotional connection in your messaging. Worry about the information and data as a second step. (For the most compelling business case for investing in the emotional dimension of engagement I’ve seen, check out Switch).

Employee communication and engagement 2.0 holds tremendous promise for communicators, and for the organizations we serve.  The shift toward these models may be challenging, but the rewards in terms of alignment, engagement, morale, retention and performance are worth it.

After all, what can be more important to your organization than ensuring that staff are engaged, informed and motivated to contribute their maximum potential?

The top 10 questions in strategic communications

Related articles

Book an exploratory call with Caroline
Set up a 30-minute Zoom call to discuss your challenges, gain fresh perspectives and chart a path towards solutions.