How Much are Good Workplace Communications Really Worth?

Sure, you’ve heard all the clichés about what good internal workplace communications are worth. That the resulting heightened engagement will improve almost everything, that turnover will decrease, waste will be lower, blah, blah, blah. I don’t mean to put down those findings, after all, clichés tend to be based on real trends. But is there really more value in better communications? History shows an emphatic “Yes!”

Let’s look back at some examples from outside of the workplace world.

• In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. Bell offered to sell the patent outright to Western Union for $100,000. The president of Western Union rejected it, saying that the telephone was simply a toy. Two years later, he told colleagues that if he could get the patent for $25 million he would consider it a bargain. Today, a patent like that would be priceless. Why? Because it enabled people to communicate easier and faster than ever before.

• When television became popular in 1947, it made instant celebrities – and some millionaires – out of the stars from programs like The Ed Sullivan Show, Howdy Doody and Milton Berle Show. This was because TV had tremendous leverage, creating a one-to-millions connection that gave advertisers unprecedented reach to potential customers. And those advertisers were willing to pay for it; they could now communicate their brand messages in ways never before possible. That’s why today’s average NBA player makes about $5 million a year and the stars of The Big Bang Theory make $1 million an episode.

• In the early 1990’s AOL came on the scene with a product that easily allowed people to communicate with each other, regardless of physical location. The demand was so enormous that by 1997 AOL had signed up half the households in the U.S. and three years later sold to Time Warner for $160 billion.

• Facebook started out in a college dorm as a way to compare photos of Harvard students. But it was the social communication aspects of it that eventually caught on, and today the company is worth about $300 billion.

What all of these examples have is common is that they allowed people to communicate with each other in new, connected ways. And they all unleashed unprecedented demand, resulting in astounding wealth creation.

What this tells me is that people crave connection and information and will automatically migrate to new, easy-to-use means of communication. And it shows that, when these connections happen, they release real value that companies can put to use in their organizations.

So, to calculate what this means for your workplace, you first need to think about what your level of current communication is, for example telephones, email, bulletin boards, etc. Then think about what would happen if you could connect people in a new way that everyone used and wanted to be a part of. Would the before-and-after comparison create value on the scale (modified for your size company) of an AOL or Facebook? You and other company managers are the only ones who can make that calculation, but it’s big. Typical ways to do this today include digital signage and tablet & smartphone products that allow employee/management communication.

In a future blog I’ll cover the main value-creation areas, which are personal connection and ‘slipperiness’ of messaging content, or how fast and easily content gets distributed.

Frank Kenna III
January 19, 2016

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