Many companies invest in internal communication technologies simply to "keep up"—to make sure they’re offering their employees the same new digital tools introduced in that "best practices" workplace across town.
In some ways, they’re on to something. Employees do increasingly expect their offices to offer the same kind of social media tools that help them navigate and arrange their personal lives. After all, for those who grew up in a virtual world that allowed them to set up birthday dinners with just a few Facebook clicks, a workplace that runs on email and newsletters can feel downright draconian.
But changing employee expectations does not mean companies should feel obligated to invest in every shiny new social media platform marketed to internal communicators. In fact, just like every other infrastructure investment a company might make, any new communication technology should offer measurable value and be part of a larger communication strategy driven by distinct business needs. Remember: these tools aren’t solutions looking for a problem. They’re a means to an end, whether that end is increasing speed-to-innovation, enabling more efficient collaboration, driving culture change or deeper employee engagement, or helping colleagues become stronger brand ambassadors.
Just as importantly, new technologies must be consistent with—and not too far ahead of—the company’s unique employee culture. Nothing creates more cynicism than a corporate investment in an amenity that feels gaudy, insincere or completely out of place. And if a company installs a new online tool for its "cool" factor, you can bet that no one will think it’s cool—unless employees have long ago bought into the idea that the company they work for is, in fact, cool.
Perhaps most importantly, employees value most what they help to create and shape. Communications technologies rarely take fire by following the "if you build it, they will come" strategy. Rather, companies need to align executives and managers around a technology’s purpose and value, urging leaders to become early adopters and demonstrate the tool’s power and potential. They need to equip their most eager users with the training and resources they need to become evangelists for the technology. And through the entire rollout process, implementation teams need to set up two-way feedback loops and other infrastructure for direct employee comment and contribution.
As the chosen technology evolves, constant attention to employee feedback and buy-in will not only help improve communication flow, but will ensure that these once-new tools continue to build and enhance the company’s distinct culture.
One last cautionary note: organizations should never turn to new technologies in an effort to fill gaps in executive and leadership communication skills. Gagen MacDonald’s field research shows that despite the distinct and measurable value that technology can offer, employees still place more value in the behavior of their leaders and in the quality of communications they receive from managers and executives. Technology can amplify and "scale up" leadership communications, but it should never become a replacement for good, old-fashioned dialogue between employees and their leaders.