How many times have you received multiple emails that are annoyingly similar, from different team members, that reference different versions of the same project? GROAN. Or how about wishing there was a better way to corral all those employee ideas and requests? Social technologies are generally thought of as communication tool to aid us in expanding our reach potential and in a timelier manner, but what if the target market is down the hall? Wouldn’t it be great to improve internal communication in the same manner as with strive for with our customers?!
It’s no secret that employees ARE the company, right? Ask any CEO and if they disagree, well…read on. Employees know how the company is run, from the books to the processes, products and services to the customers’ specific needs. Companies need to tap into the potential ideas that are lurking beneath the surface. How can they accomplish this? Let’s look at three different methods of improving internal communication by using social technologies.
The best example of an impressive, internal social community is Best Buy’s Blue Shirt Nation. Started by two corporate marketing employees looking to gain insight into advertising effectiveness, this social network grew into something much more. At first they had no participation, but after some promotional giveaways their “chalk talks” gained some feedback from other employees. A year later, it had grown to 14,000 employees logged in each month, mostly Sales associates at 85% (groundswell, 2011). As stated by Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson, a legitimate groundswell guru, they saw their employee base as a “natural asset” with ideas of “authenticity” that could more easily “develop a community” (Hirshberg, 2009). But, these ideas are also used to help each other. Think of the masses of products sold by Best Buy and a technical issue might get resolved more easily and quickly if posted on the network. Or what about a human resources issue? Employees can converse on suggested improvements that Management can review. The five strategic objectives for working with the groundswell can be applied here as well. Listening, to the employees and product issues. Talking, by communication any corporate changes on policy or goals. Energizing, by finding the most enthusiastic employees and encouraging them. Supporting, by mentoring one another within departments. And finally, Embracing, by meeting with the RIGHT people and gaining insight from them.
Another type of internal communication tool is the ever popular Wiki. Why not have a single repository for the company’s project documents, and processes, especially if they are in development or evolving. Even with Gmail’s impressive search function, I would still rather NOT have to filter through numerous emails on each project. Instead, you can review, on separate Wiki pages; live project summaries, roles, notes, documents or deadlines. It’s more conversational than email (groundswell, 2011) and did I mention the entire company has access to it? What a thought! Now the only requirement with an internal collaborative tool like this is…PARTICIPATION. It can’t be stagnant, or it will not fulfill its purpose. It has to be a constant part of each employees’ day; reviewing, updating, commenting. One addition that Organic, an advertising agency in New York, made was adding a social network to improve the participation of their Wiki. They encouraged everyone to have their own profile and share their work, supported those looking for certain expertise and connect with each other. They essentially combined the elements of a social network, collaborative software and corporate intranet, and it worked. They learned that the relationships are more important than the technologies (groundswell, 2011).
What about really tapping into the employees’ idea generation? If you’re going to go for it, you might as well jump right in. That’s what Bell Canada did. With the American Idol voting in mind, they decided to let their employees submit ideas and then…simply vote on them. They launched “ID-ah!” and within the first year, there were over 1,000 ideas submitted, over 3,000 comments made and 6,000 votes. Over a 6 month period, they had 27 top ideas that were gathered, leading to 12 being implemented overall (groundswell, 2011). Who knows, maybe that’s how they came up with gems like their Let’s Talk Campaign, bringing awareness to mental health.
By involving the entire company, you’re increasing empowerment and accountability allowing employees to feel more important and part of the team. The one hindrance that can play sabotage is lack of participation by leaders or management. They need to lead by encouragement and really get involved. At Best Buy, they soon learned that Management needed to have the “curiosity to listen” to the ideas generated by these employees to continue to be motivating leaders (Hirshberg, 2009).
Are You In?
Participation can’t be forced. Any form of punishment for suggestions or requirement to join in will only push your employees further away from sharing. It’s best to simply encourage participation and generate a positive word of mouth that will entice employees to join in. This will be easier if the culture is already a positive one that relies on a Listening strategy or management style. Just like the Best Buy geniuses, look for the “rebels” in your organization. Those that are already trying to find new ways to improve processes and are keen to try new things. Provide them the tools they need and you won’t regret it. And be ready for change. Without buy in from the top none of the strategies will be effective. They need your support! Let’s communicate and collaborate!
Bell Canada. (2014, 12 22). Retrieved from YouTube: https://youtu.be/cnVZCnotBi4
Charlene Li, J. B. (2011). groundswell. Forrester Research, Inc.
Hirshberg, Peter (2009). Retrieved from Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/2085435
Photo by: My Life Through A Lens, https://unsplash.com/search/together?photo=bq31L0jQAjU