One of the key drivers behind becoming a ‘digitally enabled’ business is the alignment with your culture – it is a movement away from traditional working practices, and traditional ways of communicating and engaging employees. The latter is a challenge to Internal Communications and HR functions that actually play a critical role in creating a digital culture.
Although employee voice is a lofty ambition in most organisations, there is often a culture of talking at employees rather than talking to them. In most hierarchical businesses line managers play a key role as a comms channel – cascade is still an important part of the communications mix.
But the key thing with digital, especially social is that it breaks down hierarchical barriers and control of message – which can be unsettling for communications teams. Influencers in the business are perhaps no longer in a logical hierarchical order, which is something senior management teams may find uncomfortable.
Seize the opportunities
One of the primary roles for an Internal Communications team is to influence employees; help them to understand business decisions and the role they play in the overall story. The single biggest influencing tactic you can use is authenticity; it is a holy grail for IC teams. One of the most effective tactics you can use to create authenticity is using your employees to tell your story.
What digital can do for your organisation is to give employees the capability to create their own content and stories, either through an internal social network, videos, or blogs. A real story from real employees is not a new idea, but the viral and authentic nature of digital gives them a real life credibility that hasn’t existed before.
Digital has a dual purpose inside organisations, vertically it enables employee voice and the ability to talk to employees – and for employees to surface stories and translate messages without being told what to think. Digital is also a key enabler horizontally, unlocking collaboration, breaking down silos and connecting employees – even in complex businesses.
One of the biggest reasons that digital behaviours don’t replicate from home to work is the rulebook. In many organisations social media is still seen as a barrier to productivity, rather than a key enabler. Employees can be fearful of digital and technology as culturally organisations don’t encourage the right behaviours for them to thrive.
Employee advocacy is a really interesting area that businesses are becoming keen to mobilise, but it is a two way street. There is no doubt that social inside organisations does need a level of governance, but the more rules and policies that govern what employees can or can’t do creates grey areas that employees are wary to step into.
A very broad set of guiding principles can help employees use common sense at work. The reason that start-ups tend to enjoy thriving cultures is because they don’t play by the established rules. There are lessons to be learnt from organisations in established sectors about how to become digitally enabled from start-ups.
Of course, regulations and compliance play a role in what organisations can and can’t do – but interpretation of those rules, and lobbying regulators to move into the digital age are things that any regulated business should be looking very closely at.
With digital and social – anybody can become an influencer. Taking a subject by the scruff of the neck can really drive influence – the same is true inside organisations. Influencers will become a key part of organisations in the future – and they will be at every level. In the same way marketing agencies use influencers in the external world, Internal Comms teams need to work with them inside organisations.
If you have a difficult message to deliver, cascading through an influencer network rather than line managers will likely give it more authenticity and credibility. This of course creates real issues with hierarchy, but as digital continues to break through traditional heiricharcal communications, it is important that influencers are factored in.
A good way to start an influencer network is through a blogging network – which will give employees at every level the opportunity to build up influence and credibility on topics and subjects they are passionate about.
One of the biggest changes in the model of Internal Communications is that rather than owning the organisational story, in a digital world, the role becomes more of a facilitator. Being able to develop engaging digital content and campaigns will be vital to becoming a digitally enabled business.
Although organisations are showing real willing towards digital and social, many still struggle with adoption of the right behaviours. Back to the point around start-ups – it is a cultural issue and one that Internal Communications and HR teams can directly influence by transitioning how they engage and communicate with employees.
Digital isn’t a threat to Internal Communications, it is a huge opportunity. The use of hashtag campaigns internally can help lead the narrative – with employees telling the story. This is a great example of how Internal Communicators can facilitate rather than tell the story.
If you are doing Digital the right way – the biggest influencers in your organisation won’t be your CEO or you IC teams, they will be your employees. The role of Internal Communications is to create engaging digital content – and pull the strings behind the hashtags.
Blending the old with the new…
One of the challenges is that many organisations want to go full digital with little transition, there doesn’t have to be a barrier between digital and traditional – you can blend the two. Face 2 Face still has a huge role to play, but in a digital world that could be via a live Skype broadcast, or a video.
There is so much opportunity to create a revolution in workplace communications using Digital, silos and hiericharcal barriers have held organisations back from innovation and growth – if organisations are bold and brave, great things can happen!