The Currency of Conversation in a Diverse Workplace

March 2020
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We live and work in perhaps the most multicultural era ever seen in this country. Whatever the size of the organization you work, you’re likely surrounded by people of different cultures, as well as varying age groups, including baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials and even Generation Zers. And more important, you have to find ways to work together.

Our organizations have become melting pots of diverse ages, genders, races, religions and cultural backgrounds. These varying characteristics and work styles, along with flexible- and remote-work environments, affect how we consume, interpret and share communications within our organizations.  

Given such disparate audiences, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some communicators struggle with their internal communications. We need strategic, thoughtful communications approaches that match the complexity of our audiences.

Many communicators still rely on traditional internal communications methods, such as e-newsletters, posters, digital signage, printed materials, quarterly leadership presentations and downloadable documents. 

Notice any common threads among these traditional internal communications tactics? They’re all one-way vehicles that do not include the employee’s voice. To maximize the efficiency of our communications, we need to integrate traditional methods with new digital tools that let employees communicate with one another in real-time.

Internal social media platforms, also called “enterprise social networks” — such as Yammer, Jive and Tibbr — are an excellent way to complement traditional internal communications, especially for companies whose employees work in different locations. 

Reaching consensus among leaders 

Every organization should be a storytelling organization. To facilitate authentic two-way communication, we must always be on the lookout for compelling, emotive stories about our brands, products, services, customers and employees, among other topics. Enterprise social networks help communicators tell those stories and have relevant conversations about them. 

An enterprise social network borrows from the fundamentals of social media tools. It is a digital medium where people within an organization can connect, communicate and collaborate in real-time, wherever they are in the world.

Sometimes called “working out loud,” this concept is all about two-way communication. With an internal social network, everyone in the organization has an open forum where they can reach and hold conversations with one another. 

Of course, before you can start using an enterprise social network, your leadership has to buy into the idea. The following approaches will help you reach consensus among your leadership team, so your company can begin benefiting from this newer form of communication:

‹Show leaders the need for change by presenting performance data on highly used communications vehicles that are underperforming 

‹Look for insights from employee-engagement surveys that indicate the need to improve employee communication and collaboration

‹Demonstrate to company leaders how an enterprise social network will save time, increase productivity through better collaboration, retain institutional knowledge and help fulfill other business needs

‹Overcome their fears and objections by sharing successful business cases from other, similar organizations that are using enterprise social networks

‹Illustrate how an internal social network can serve as a mini focus group to help you discover the topics, themes, challenges and opportunities that employees find important

‹Outline a strategic plan tied to business goals — with realistic timelines, milestones and necessary resources. (A phased approach will make the strategy more palatable.)

Providing a sounding board

Integrating an internal social network with traditional communication methods improves the reach and impact of our messages. Most important, it allows employees to discuss those messages with one another — providing a sounding board for different perspectives, deeper and more diverse commentary, and repetition that provides clarity and memorability. Among other benefits, an internal social network also gives employees:

• Greater access to leadership, so employees can ask questions, engage in meaningful dialogues and obtain insights on strategy, business ambitions and expectations

• The ability to share relevant business and industry content for continuous improvement and learning 

• Enhanced cross-functional collaboration, especially in multinational organizations whose teams are geographically dispersed 

• The ability to overcome cultural hurdles and create a more inclusive and understanding organizational culture by bringing together people from all walks of life and ways of working 

• The ability to openly converse about important topics, projects and strategies, thus fostering a culture of innovation through increased creativity, productivity and efficiency

Integrating traditional and digital tactics

Digital communication is an extension of in-person interactions and helps maintain conversations and professional relationships virtually. And while digital tools for internal communications can help bridge diverse organizational cultures, traditional communication methods will always have a place within our organizations. Traditional allows us to engage with one another face-to-face and to interact in natural, organic ways. 

To develop strategic internal communications plans that integrate traditional and digital tactics, we first need to ask ourselves a few questions (which will also help us craft compelling messages for our audiences):

• Why should we consider broadening our communications spectrum?

• Will broadening our internal-communications capabilities benefit the business in realistic, measurable ways? 

• Will leadership adopt an internal social network themselves, thus encouraging employees to follow suit?

• How can we tell stories about our brands and customers in ways that inform, educate and incite engagement across diverse employee segments? 

• How can we measure the success of an internal social network and demonstrate its continued value to leadership?

Harnessing the power of storytelling 

Within our organizations, conversations are a valuable currency that can improve learning, connectivity, productivity, efficiency, diversity and inclusion. This currency can be hard to measure, but stimulating healthy conversations directly correlates to the bottom line by advancing employee engagement, satisfaction and innovation. 

By harnessing the power of storytelling across internal social networks, email, town halls, videos, webcasts and more, we can help employees feel more connected to their colleagues and to the organization’s vision and mission. In doing so, we also empower them to create a more inclusive workplace. 

photo credit: digital vision

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