It wasn’t too long ago that the typical company was somewhat of a benevolent dictatorship.
There was a CEO at the top, who told direct subordinates what to do, who told their managers what to do, who told their line employees what to do.
All communication flowed downhill. The only time the higher-ups heard from below was at review time or from the suggestion box — if they had one.
But things have changed big time at a rate that is increasing.The November 2012 McKinsey Quarterly noted that “it took 13 years for commercial television to reach 50 million households and three years for Internet service providers to sign their 50 millionth subscriber. Facebook hit the 50 million-user mark in just a year and Twitter in nine months.”
Today’s employees have the Internet in their pocket and are always connected. For the first time in history, managers can choose to communicate to their employees at work, at home — anywhere really — and to hear back from them. Workplace communication has gone from one-to-one, to one-to-many, to many-to-many.
For companies that embrace it, this new collaborative world can have real, positive financial effects. Just when some were predicting that productivity gains had been maxed out in the U.S. and the only way to squeeze out more was to outsource to China, there’s good news. That same McKinsey report noted that use of these new techniques could raise workers’ productivity by 20 to 25 percent.
Problems have always existed in companies. It’s just that, until recently, there were no good ways to dig them out and fix them. They just remained and festered, causing organizational issues that lasted for years or even decades.
Now, through use of technology, we can collaborate as never before by using social network tools within the workplace. But along with the benefits come the learning curve and inevitable problems.
For example, every company has a percentage of workers who don’t like the managers or the way things are being run. Do managers really want to hear that? How are they going to react to criticism from those reporting to them? How will they turn negative feedback into positive strategy?
It’s important to have a structure for the information flow so that it’s smooth, while being summarized and categorized in a way that managers can digest and use in a useful organization-building manner. In the case of workplace communications, transparent doesn’t have to mean free-wheeling, chaotic information ricocheting throughout the organization. It needs to be organized so that managers can make sense and react to it to attain the productivity gains.
The first step is not to open the spigots and let everyone comment on everything. It is to identify how to share company information and put in place methods to systematically collect, classify and report on responses to it.
The transparent organization is upon us. Managers can attain significant benefits if they embrace these ideas, clearly communicate to all employees and most importantly, listen closely to the responses.
Frank Kenna III is president of The Marlin Co., The Workplace Communication Experts, 10 Research Parkway, Wallingford 06492-1957. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted from The New Haven Register