Improving organizational communications

To help social business emerge from hype to mainstream adoption, it is important to demystify how social business improves people’s jobs. One area that social business can benefit across a wide range of areas inside of companies is the Communications Plan. Today, communications plans have wide application across many areas of business:

  • Projects
  • Programs
  • Change Management
  • Marketing
  • Organizational Change (re-orgs)
  • Crisis Communications
  • Product releases

What is a communications plan?

According to Hieran Publishing a communications plan contains the following:

  • What you want to accomplish with your communications (your objectives),
  • Ways in which those objectives can be accomplished (your goals or program of work),
  • To whom your communications will be addressed (your audiences),
  • How you will accomplish your objectives (the tools and timetable)
  •  How you will measure the results of your program (evaluation).

A well-executed plan gets everyone rowing in the same direction. It is when we look at the “how” that social business solutions come into play. In today’s business, getting your message out can be a challenge. This is because the existing communication channels no longer meet the needs of the corporation or its workers. Platforms such as e-mail are overused causing messages to be ignored. Intranets have become complex making it is hard for people to locate information that is relevant to them. Finally, things like banners or flyers in the cafeteria no longer are effective because many companies are globally dispersed or support teleworkers leaving few people to see the message.

Ensuring that your message is reaching the right audience is a challenge. Due to the complexity of organizations today, reaching all of your stakeholders is difficult. It is possible to have stakeholders that you did not even know existed.

Social business solutions can address these challenges, improving the effectiveness of your communication plans.

What are social business solutions?

Many things make social business solutions different from earlier approaches for communicating. I have captured three that I think make social business particularly valuable to business professionals:

Open – Social business solutions are designed to be open communications platforms. They are searchable and discoverable by people when they need the information. For example, “What were the objectives of last year’s supply chain efficiency program?” This allows people to determine what is important to them even if it is outside their core business function or becomes a priority in the future. Dion Hinchcliffe has done a good job of capturing this in his article on stored collaboration.

2-way – By allowing a two-way dialog, you enable conversations to happen around projects, strategies and issues that happen every day inside of companies. For example, “If we change this slightly, we can satisfy a requirement our customers have been asking for.” People can ask questions, make suggestions, identify previously unknown impacts and share experiences. This shared dialog leads to a common understanding and helps everyone align with your objectives.

Serendipity – Finding answers to questions from unexpected places helps give people a reason to participate in social business solutions. By having these open/2-way conversations, it allows tacit knowledge to be exposed, leading to better outcomes and new opportunities.

Let’s compare social business solutions to traditional enterprise communications platforms used to communicate with various audiences:

E-mail (closed, 2-way) – E-mail is a closed system. This means that its content is only available between the sender and whomever the sender includes on the To: or Cc: field. People may be added or removed when they reply creating an uncertainty, that everyone sees the whole story. Knowing that e-mail can be forwarded to anyone also causes some participants to respond politically instead of openly. E-mail is useful for information that needs to be kept between a known group (2 or more), such as job performance or when the audience is mixed between people inside and outside the company.

Portals (open/closed, 1-way) – Portals are usually the basis for many company’s intranets and extranets where the communications organization pushes down information that they feel should be important to you. They may be open, or they may be private. They may also provide a feedback mechanism that people can interact or ask questions. Because the portal is not where people do their work, it was difficult to engage in meaningful conversations or 2-way dialog.

Audience challenges

In corporations, there are many concurrent activities and priorities. Knowing the activities that are important, of interest or potentially impacting peoples’ objectives is a challenge. Staying current requires people spend time in their day actively looking for this information or relying on others to notify them. This extra work can be exhausting and often results in missing or simply not comprehending these impacts on their work. In many cases, the information continues to be unknown until it creates a roadblock that jeopardizes their work. Usually this happens when the conflict arises on the critical path. Because of time constraints, this leads to sub-optimal resolution.

A better way

Social business solutions can make your communications plan more effective and more impactful. By sharing information via a social network, there is a higher chance of reaching your audience. Once you reach your audience, they can readily contribute information, ideas and issues to improve the related initiative.

Open communication also enables people to find information when they need it, even long after the work is complete because the collaborations are stored as part of the social business solution.   This avoids corporate amnesia, which is prevalent after a corporate re-organization or project completion.

The open/2-way communications that social business enables is a key to minimizing project failures. By engaging in a 2-way dialog, you allow people to ask questions, clarify any misunderstandings, identify issues or competing efforts and offer support. A well-executed plan will help people not only understand what you are doing by why you are doing it.

Note that not every communication can or should be open. There are situations inside of an organization where communications must be closed. Mergers and acquisitions is an example where tight control must be maintained on information access.

From talk to action

Now that we have identified how social business solutions can improve a communications plan, let’s illustrate where to use it. The examples below suggest when you might want to exploit a social business solution:

Phase

Contributor

Information

Audience

Benefits

Planning

Sponsor

Scope/alignment

Request for feedback

Stakeholders, Executives

Identify unknown stakeholders

Build alignment

Implementation

Project Manager

Status Updates

Stakeholders, Project Team

Improved stakeholder visibility

Implementation

Project Team

Task Updates

PM, Team members, Others

Reduce dependency lag

Execution

Process implementers

Process Exceptions

Process owner, Project Team, Stakeholders

Identify gaps

Measure success

 

If your stakeholders are used to consuming this information via traditional channels, lead them to the social business solution in channels they are familiar with. For example, provide a link to the social business solution in an e-mail along with a reason they should read it.

Summary

Social business solutions can make your communication plans more effective. By leveraging open/2-way communications channels, you identify unknown stakeholders, uncover issues early, build broader support for your work and ensure that people can find information about your work when they need it.

Greg Lowe

Greg constructively challenges the status quo to achieve real change in organizations. With a background in IT, communications and collaboration, Greg is passionate about making technology usable to make people’s jobs easier and changing the way companies do business. He does this by demonstrating value through building business cases and leading organizations to develop and support new behaviors, by working with leadership to help them understand how and why to leverage social business systems within their enterprise to achieve better business outcomes. He also writes and speaks about strategies and tactics that can be employed by companies to drive success in the Social Business space.

Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Skype 

One Reply to “Improving organizational communications”

  1. Structuring and moderating knowledge is the basis of steady development, independent of location, time and people. Through organising your knowledge from a decentralised to a consistent and central system, you create a growing contribution platform and a social business culture – which in return attracts the best talents. As a fully networked company, you’ll be able to get the right information to the right people at the right time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *