Organisations are often plagued by problematic internal communications. For us communicators, this causes a huge difficulty for our work, because without content – especially content coming directly from experts – we are stuck. So how can we go about resolving sub-par internal communications?
Why do we always have issues with internal communications?
Before we get to the possible solutions, we must find the root cause of bad internal communications. There are many, but most of the time, it is because we are humans, and humans do not always get along well with one another.
1. Working in silos
Organisations are divided into teams, and naturally, this structure pits one team against another. It often occurs when teams are led by strong, individualistic personalities who seek to use the structure of the team to shine. This is very counterproductive, because not one but all teams should shine if the organisation wants to do well.
2. Bad management
I was put in the position in a few roles that I have had, to literally ‘beg‘ for content. So instead of the CEO or Managing Director obliging content contributions from teams and also rewarding quality content by them, the head of management put the responsibility on me, the Director of Communications, to check in with teams and interview teams for new content.
This was such a bad idea.
First of all, people do not see the value of internal communications not just towards the Communications Team, but also towards other teams, because of the silo complex. The Director of Communications is also pitted against the heads of each team, who harbour resentment when a report is submitted to the CEO that their team is not contributing or if their content is not prioritised in the eventual publication.
Secondly, if the Head of Communications has to go around to ask for content, that means there is no smooth-flowing internal communications process already built in, and that the free sharing of data and content is not part of the company culture.
When people tell you they expect you to function in a “highly matrix-ed environment“, it is often a big red alert sign that their internal communications are in shambles, because people have to go to different feudal lords of every department to get the big picture.
This can only be blamed on bad management style and low levels of leadership, which is unfortunately rampant in our society.
Considering that you are a forward-looking CEO, what can you do to foster great internal communications?
1. Change the culture
Your organisation cannot be doing well, if silos and feudal kingdoms are allowed to thrive. Allowing ‘highly matrixed’ structures to exist, means allowing confusion to reign. Ideally, business information and data need to be freely available to anyone in the organisation, so as to be able to use the data for their work and to contribute to a transformation of their work and the business. For example, sales and customer data from sales people should be shared with marketing and communications people, so that they can generate good content that appeals to your target audience. The analytics from marcom and customer service data should also be shared with product development so that this will help them better develop products that suit customer needs. Marcom data should be shared with public affairs people, so that they can provide essential information to convince public authorities. So if everyone is keeping ‘their’ data to themselves, how can the organisation thrive?
How do you break up silos then?
Get rid of individualistic heads of department and hire collaborative, respectful and empowering people to lead teams.
People are your most important and precious assets.
Skills can always been learnt and picked up, provided that the person you hire has good character, a history of and yearning for lifelong learning and shares the same life values as the organisation. Credentials on paper alone do not prove much. This is the reason why hiring needs to focus first on personality and attitude, and then on work experiences and skill sets.
2. Digital Transformation
Undergoing a digital transformation is a profound change for any organisation that needs to get rid of its silos. Through digital adoption, that is by making sure that all data are centralised and formatted into business intelligence analytics, organisations are able to cut out the non-sharing behaviour perpetuated by silos.
But digital adoption is only step one of digital transformation.
The transformative element comes when the data is able to create new opportunities for every single person and every single team. With the easy access to data, and the analytics of those data, everyone who wants to help shape the business is able to have the information he or she needs, to propose new ways the business can grow. That is the real transformative part of digital transformation!
3. Go AGILE
One of the reasons why forward-looking CEOs find it difficult to get rid of silos, despite getting rid of individualistic power-hungry people, is also the fact that human beings like to gather and feel a sense of belonging. It is a positive human behaviour, that should not be geared towards the negative result of silos.
The best way to remedy this is to go AGILE.
I have successfully applied AGILE to many of my projects and clients. They really work in giving a sense of belonging to people and at the same time, a sense of responsibility and pride for one’s work. AGILE initially started as a project management methodology for IT projects, which is why I used it for my web projects. But AGILE can really be applied to all projects.
This brings me to my next point: AGILE rewards collaboration!
In AGILE: When you change and allow every single member of a team to lead the team every day, you are sending the message that everyone is equally important in the group. Also, the focus on short-term tasks and having everyone chip in to help someone with difficulties with a particular task, takes away the opportunity for some individuals to skive or to take credit for others’ work. A lot of the usual workplace politics is taken out of this dynamic, replacing them with the focus on the tasks at hand.
I also want to point out that AGILE works especially well in organisations that are not organised traditionally.
When an organisation is divided into departments, it often lapses into silos and tiny kingdoms. Some tech companies have changed this into: teams and tribes.
Teams are based on projects while tribes are based on expertise.
So as a digital comms professional, I am sometimes in several project teams in which I take part in projects that require my skills. I am also placed in the communications tribe and the digital tribe, where people with the same skill sets work together on something else.
Internal communications is indicative of the general health status of any organisation. It is also the first step towards being a successful organisation, under the leadership of a forward-looking true leader.
Do you have any thoughts or experiences about this topic? Let me a comment below!
Eureka Moments are not so much moments of sudden realisation or enlightenment like Archimedes. They are moments while I am in my commute when I get to reflect on things that someone mentioned to me, things that I am confronted with, things that I or others have sought a solution for. They are more ‘oh I get it’ rather than ‘I have discovered it’.