Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Internet IS the Intranet

Regardless of the communication area, new media or traditional, internal communications is one of the driving powers behind the successful actions of any organization or group.

In reality, it doesn't matter what the organization is - the employee or the manager, Friendster or Fusker, the demonstrators or the riot police - internal communications is the driving force behind successful action.

The Toronto Globe and Mail pointed to a report - Watson Wyatt Worldwide study that linked employee communications to bottom-line performance:

Shareholder returns for organizations with the most effective communications were 57 per cent higher than returns for firms with less effective communications over the past five years.

The survey also found that the best communicators had a 19.4-per-cent higher market premium the extent to which the market value of a company exceeds the cost of its assets than the less effective communicators.

In the real world, one doesn't talk about shareholder value but just plain value - this can be interpreted as the successful completion of a task, transfer of knowledge or simply a collection of ideas.

However, a couple of items in the opiniosphere recently have had me pondering the positioning of employee communications within the organization and what is the role of employee bloggers or any employee making public statements.

Allot of managements have disregarded employee chatrooms/forums because of the 'threat' of disgruntled employees blowing off steam or being negative towards management.

But perhaps the opposite is true.

Bloggers or other social platforms are personalized information - they are not anonymous. Doesn't this raise the level of content when the one who officially write the babble has to officially be responsible for itaccuracycy?

Perhaps the 'threat' is the disruption of the hierarchy - the blogger becomes an official spokesperson for thorganizationon. It's a rallying call. It's the formation of an opinion where others can support anpropagatete.

Robert Scoble's characterization of employee bloggers as being 'at the edge of a company' is slightly off the mark. I think that, when successful, they are at the center of the company.

That's the threat, perhaps.

But in the end, as employees are constantly questioning managment desisions, isn't it a question of employee credibility?

If 10 or 20 employees voice their diverse opinions about an organizational issue and in the course of their discussions articulate subtly different information, which one reflects the authoritative statement of record for the organization? The manager or the employee?

The question of where authority resides is an intriguing one. Where is the actual or informal authority? I guess it's up to the listeners or readers to deduce that.

Perhaps that is the threat.

While we wrestle with these issues as we journey farther into the era of social computing, there is one thing organizations can do to ensure accurate information is presented to various external publics: they can communicate more effectively internally, providing accurate information and access to details that will help those employees who blog (or otherwise engage in the great conversation) avoid making any mistakes.

In other words, internal communications is having a greater and greater effect on external communications.

Internet IS the Intranet. Internal perceptions IS the external message.

Given that, how much additional emphasorganizationsations need to place on employee communications, and where should it reside? Too often, the answer comes down to politics.

Wherever your internal communications department sits in the org chart, though, you'd better make sure there's a strong tie to the external team and that messages are clear, consistent, accurate, thorough and candid.

If not, this new era of social computing could reach up and bite the organization in the backside.

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