Increasingly when asked to speak to groups, the focus of the request falls into the “social media” or generational differences categories. Without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges facing many organizations is internal communications.
Oh, surely every organization now understands that social media tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are here to stay. Fewer comprehend the value of Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram. But the value of knowledge is less about the specific tools of social media and more about realizing the implications of these tools.
Gone are the days of “knowledge = power.” C-suite execs are rarely able (and even less frequently advisable) to hold onto information as a source of their authority, preeminence, or status as leader of an organization. It’s those organizations that continue to hold onto the hierarchical “smartest person in the room” management approach that will struggle the most.
Here’s the ugly (yet staggeringly accurate) truth in today’s organization…..are you ready for it?
Employees talk! Students gossip! Coworkers interact!
The difference now, though, is most of those conversations are not taking place around the water cooler or in the break room. Increasingly, the passage of knowledge (and organizational rumors, gossip, and bellyaching) is taking place through informal social media channels.
I’ll give you an example of this….
For those of us with a foot in the academic realm, the student communication undercurrents can be frustrating. No matter how many formal channels a professor builds to allow students access to him or her, many students will opt out of those channels. Instead, they’ll set up their own email chains, text groups, Google+ circles, or Instagram networks (to just name a few). And within those underground channels, information flies….sometimes more quickly and effectively than through formal channels.
I post video updates, hold online “virtual forums” for each of my classes weekly, send out announcements, place directions in online forums, and meet and converse with individual students daily. Yet, it’s the underground channels where most of the students seem intent to access most of their information about my class.
Do I like that? No, primarily because the information circulating within this informal channel isn’t particularly accurate much of the time. But it’s real, and as a leader (in the classroom), I’d be a fool not to both recognize and acknowledge it.
But I do better than that. I feed it. Yes, I’m getting better at tapping into that informal, underground communication channel and influencing it. Where I hear consternation, I attempt to assuage concerns on an individual level, then encouraging that student to pass along that information. As a leader, I do the same thing. Heck, even as a parent, I use the same strategy.
Do we always get it right? Do I always stave off negativity in my organizations? Absolutely not…I get it wrong plenty of the time. No one’s perfect. But that doesn’t mean we don’t continue trying!
The point here is that the rise of social media should first of all be viewed by organizations as not a flash in the pan trend, but a fundamental shift in the way organizations (and those making up the organization) communicate. The most successful leaders will be those who understand they no longer control a majority of the messages and “chatter” going on in their organization, nor the flow of sometimes vital information and knowledge. There are ways to leverage the informal networks, however…both to become a stronger emotionally intelligent leader and to increase the level to which your leadership is tapped into and leveraging BOTH the formal and informal communication networks in your organization.
So, embrace Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, if you haven’t already. But even more so, embrace the lesser known tools and the informal network around you. After all, your employees already are….