swirlOver the last ten years, the processes and tools for distributing communication within organizations have completely changed. In the ‘old’ world, communication was cascaded top down and shared in a controlled manner. The informal debate took place by the water cooler or as the tea lady passed your desk.

In the new world, with the arrival of social tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Weibo and Glassdoor and the adoption of internal collaboration and communication technologies tools such as Jive, Chatter and SharePoint, communication is no longer a top down process. We now live in a world of “swirl communication” where there is fluid distribution of corporate messages across an organization, and lone voices can be amplified both within and outside of the organization.

Think of recent examples of high profile public resignation letters or shocking revelations of internship working practices on social media. Both instances show how voices that previously may not have been heard at all now can have a powerful impact on the organization – positive or negative.

The knowledge that employees’ voices are critical both within and outside organizations is demonstrated in this year’s Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor (KLCM). Employees were ranked as the number 1 most credible source of information. To put this into perspective, the CEO was only the 6th most credible source of information, and other senior management ranked 7th on par with the media.

As the lines between external and internal communications blur, and employees become the voice of organizations, what does this new topsy-turvy world of fluid communication mean for the C-suite?

Is top down communication a thing of the past?

Our view is that top down communication is still essential, particularly during a crisis or large transformations, but in day-to-day communication it is necessary to actively support and encourage communication from the metaphorical tea lady.

Why should we embrace ‘swirl communication’?

Employees can now casually drop in on colleagues, friends and customers even those who are hundreds of miles away – all at the tap of a keyboard or click on an iPhone – immediately sharing their working experiences, their views on products, their opinions on the latest company announcement and more.

How do you align external communication with internal communication?

For organizations today, it is essential to align employees’ experiences at work with the external experiences of their customers and their brand promise – the behind closed doors mentality will no longer work.  It is also vital to tap into this collective energy and the voices of your employees. One way to achieve this is to establish informal hubs of the ‘socials’ in your organization – those who are sharing the latest news, views and opinions about your organization.

How should companies be approaching their employees? 

Finding the natural communicators and engaging this group in a two-way dialogue will result in more successful distribution of messages across the organization and will also provide the C-suite executives with much needed feedback. Everyone benefits when ‘socials’ share information widely across the company through informal dialogues. This gives employees time to digest, discuss and make sense of messaging.

As organizations embrace their ‘socials,’ they should provide employees with good guidelines to follow, and, then trust and empower them. At the end of the day, and our insights show this, the best organizations rely on strong company culture and wide understanding of company values to ensure that employees stay on track.

In today’s world, instead of trying to control messaging from the top down, embrace your internal ‘socials’ and watch as your most credible sources of information share messages effectively both inside and out!

Photo credit: www.123rf.com

Jane Adamson is a Director for Ketchum Change, London, Ketchum’s change management, employee engagement and workforce communication consultancy.
Jane has over 17 years of consulting experience specialising in communication, employee engagement and delivering effective organizational change. Jane has worked extensively with global organizations to deliver lasting change.
Jane started her career consulting at PriceWaterhouseCoopers and has since undertaken senior change management roles across financial services, oil and gas, media and retail. Jane also has a Masters of Organizational Psychology.