Communication is the key to success
Alarmingly many companies don’t have any internal communication guidelines in place. At least if you quote the experts of four technically advanced companies I interviewed in my master’s thesis. Modern organizations are extremely aware of their public image and have strict policies and guidelines for external communication but are often completely in the dark in how to communicate within their ranks. Tacit knowledge in organizations is fragmented and finding information takes up a huge chunk of our time.
How, then, should companies implement better internal communication practice? I studied the subject from the point of digital communication technologies, especially collaboration platforms in my master’s thesis in Aalto University’s department of Industrial Engineering and Management. I collaborated with Fingertip to interview companies, that had digitized some of their processes in an online collaboration platform, Fingertip, which works on top of Salesforce CRM.
Collaboration platforms are virtual workplaces which offer multimedia solutions for teamwork. They manage tasks, digitize role hierarchies, create processes, make digital project planning and much more. Their value comes from organizing the fragmented pieces of tacit knowledge that the people in organizations hold.
Collaboration platforms offer a system to make decisions, while consulting relevant experts in our teams. By structuring past decisions, they offer us a database of decision-making experience we can refer to when making decisions. The informal data, often in the subordinate clauses of meeting notes on someone’s computer, is another resource companies struggle to tap into. Collaboration platforms format all the data regarding the process in a smartly indexed and searchable online interface.
Communication needs and their outcomes
People are simultaneously using multiple channels of internal communication. Instant messengers, business communication platforms like Slack, emails, intranet, phone- or video calls are some of the technology-enabled ways of communication that businesses use daily.
One area I discovered in my study, was that companies haven’t really set any boundaries when certain channels should be used. The person makes the choice according to their specific needs in the moment: speed, illustration abilities, number of recipients, to avoid disturbing, personal discussion matters, task management or their personal or team preferences.
As preferences differ, people answer with varying efficiency in different channels. We might be having similar conversations in multiple media with different people, effectively harming the ease to find certain discussions later. Other harmful effects from choosing certain channels might be anxiety from transparency, unclear accountabilities like in group emails, too much communication in public channels causing information overloads and many more.
Companies have apparently decided that internal communication is part of their organizational culture, and refrain from adjusting it to serve information structuring and findability. I suggest they reconsider this approach and set some guidelines, together with their employees, for which channels exist for different needs to improve their knowledge sharing.
Transparency and trust
Many companies are embracing transparency, autonomy, and self-organization. A modern knowledge worker has to figure out problems or opportunities, come up with novel solutions, and implement them successfully with proper documentation. They make decisions, which are one of the key outputs of knowledge work. Making good decisions determines the success of the company, and in an autonomous organization, everyone makes decisions.
When you are expecting this much from your employees, you need to be able to provide the processes to match. Trust is a two-way street – organizations need to show trust in their employees, so employees will show trust back. One way of showing this trust is transparency. Allowing workers on every hierarchy level access to key documents, decisions and strategies in the organization doesn’t only make the employees think they matter, it reduces need for communicating these things through internal channels actively. This allows more time for managers to use in working as well. According to my research, collaboration platforms have that capability, if people have full access to it.
Collaboration platforms have some challenges to solve, before we gain maximal benefit from them: They are often complicated to use, which creates a vicious cycle with the fact, that people use them less and never learn to use them properly. They are also less synchronous and social than instant messengers or business communication platforms, meaning informal communication and employee relationships need to be facilitated on other places, like virtual coffee rooms.
During the year of Covid, companies have adapted and taken up digital communication platforms for business use. Now it’s time for them to start making the adaptation for their leadership as well.
Konsta Huuki is the Marketing coordinator at Fingertip and recently finished his studies in Aalto University in the Organization Design and Leadership program. He’s enthusiastic of people being the difference makers in business, by designing organizations as platforms for them to flourish.