an Australian Government agency, responsible for providing safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible services to the aviation industry (e.g. air traffic control, airways navigation and communication facilities, and airport rescue and fire-fighting services) within the Australian Flight Information Region (FIR). Airservices Australia has international partnerships with ICAO, CANSO and IATA. The agency also maintains a close relationship with Australian Defence Force.
We have special insights into the company as Candice, one of my team mates has the pleasure of working there. So if you want more details on Airservices check out her blog on this. After you’ve read and commented on my post you can also check out the posts of my other team members: here, here and here.
When I sat down to write this post I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to write: a short outline of how enterprise 2.0 tools and especially blogs could be used to allow managers to disseminate information more effectively throughout a company. Then I realised a very important thing: to make this post so interesting and useful to people that they would consider following my strategy it wouldn’t be enough to merely write how these tools could be used but also discuss the why.
It’s just as Ron Williams (the former CEO and Chairman of Aetna Inc., who completely turned around their business) emphasised in his guest lecture “Leading Change” at MIT (check it out online, it’s long but definitely worth it): To jumpstart change, one of the most important things is to communicate the need for change (paraphrased, starting ~11:25 min).
Interestingly enough, this doesn’t only reflect my approach to this post but more importantly demonstrates how important good tools for company-wide communication really are: If you want to lead an organisation effectively, you have to communicate effectively.
To understand how effective communication can be achieved, we should understand what communication really is and what the pitfalls of communication are. A widely recognised model of communication was developed by Claude E. Shannon (1947) and later refined by Warren Weaver.
The Shannon-Weaver model of communication splits a communication process into 8 different connected elements (Source, Encoder, Message, Channel, Decoder, Receiver, Noise, Feedback). A source encodes a message, sends it through a channel to the intended receiver, who in turn has to decode the message and if necessary can restart the process with himself being the source, the so called feedback. The gist of this model is that no communication is perfect as there is always some kind of noise interfering during the transmission of messages. So, what does this mean for company-wide communications?
The best message is not good enough if there is too much noise during the transmission and nobody hears or understands the message. To create effective company-wide communications the reduction of noise has to be a paramount objective. But what is noise exactly? How can we reduce it? Don’t worry, I will apply the Shannon-Weaver model to our case study organisation Airservices and explain exactly what noise can look like in a real business context and how we can reduce it.
At the moment company wide communication at Airservices relies heavily on email. Employees get emails for every company wide announcement, leading to a flood of emails. But there are also moves to change things up by using video message delivered through the intranet and a recent trial of yammer – an enterprise social network. However, the trial of yammer hasn’t been a success as adoption is marginal at the moment and email still the preferred form of company-wide communication.
If the trial of yammer failed and email seems to more or less work fine, why do you need change you might ask? Communication via email can be a great way of communication but as to any communication channel there are some drawbacks associated with it. Lynette Spicer from Iowa State University summed it up quite nicely in a blog post. Email is a great tool, which allows the documentation of communication and instant notification about new messages; is widely accepted and easy to use. These characteristics, however, often lead to overuse, which in turn creates a lot of noise, distracting employees from the contents of the individual messages and even other work tasks.
Let’s take a company-wide announcement from the CEO as an example: it’s just not effective to stop working on a task to read an email regarding nothing important to my actual work task. Furthermore, if the announcement actually interested me and I want to give feedback, I can just hit reply and do that – like all of the other 1000 employees who had exactly the same idea and send the same feedback… or even worse because I’m too scared to reply to the CEO directly, I just don’t reply at all and my valuable feedback is lost forever.
This is where enterprise 2.0 can step in to save the day. What if a blog would be used to gather all of the company announcements?
- Tagged and categorised by the company as well as through a folksonomy created by the employees. It would make it easier to find relevant announcements because you had one place to look for them.
- Employees would actually look for them when they have time for it, it’s still legally binding because it is a documented form of communication and daily checking of the blog could be mandated (eventually just becoming part of your daily routine).
- Feedback could be gathered in a meaningful way: One employee could write a feedback statement, others from then on out could just vote it up or down, tearing down a barrier to engagement and leading to a more accurate view of the company. Visible feedback for all employees also enhances the possibility of cross-pollination of ideas and shows that top management is not afraid to discuss shop. Leading to a empowered workforce that’s more willing to accept these announcements.
- Blog posts can be easily referred to in yammer opening up the possibility of traceable feedback discussions through more informal microblogging. Maybe even leading to an increase in adoption of yammer.
- The video announcement made by managers could be integrated into the blog and profit from the enhanced exposure and the opportunities created through employee feedback.
These are just the benefits I can get off the top of my head and there probably some more. However, I think this already demonstrates how the use of blogs can really help to facilitate company-wide communications in Airservices – and many other similar organisations out there.
As a last note I want to talk about the risk of opening up your communication to feedback from employees. All of the benefits and a successful implementation of this blogging strategy are highly dependent on the attitude of the top management using this approach. Benefits of employee engagement won’t be realised if the interest in it is not conveyed clearly and explicitly. A blog is not going to gather any relevant feedback if the content on there is not asking for it. The use of feedback also needs to be clear to everyone. If feedback influenced a new policy it needs to be clear that this is what happend. Only then will empowerment and engagement spread throughout the company. Walk the Walk by Alan Deutschman might be a good book to read in this context. I haven’t read it myself yet but its premise sounds good and the reviews on amazon aren’t to bad either. Let me know if you have read it!
I know this was once again a pretty long post, but I hope it was interesting and helpful to you :). I love to discuss my posts and have had great comments before so don’t be shy and give me your feedback, I know you can do it! Also if you have good idea for another post or even a special post request, I would love to hear it in the comments! I promise I will read all of them 😉
Cheers, Alex aka inn346qut!