Dethroning the Cult–Liberating the Manager–Turbocharging Internal Communication

Mike Klein – CommScrum Brussels

One of the most pernicious myths that are taken as articles of faith in the internal communications game is “employees prefer face-to-face communication with their line managers.”   Aside from the fact that credible research, such as recent work by Angela Sinickas (one of the smartest people in the industry), indicates that this maxim is just plain wrong, with employees showing preference for online or print communications, particularly when the content is informational and lacks much ambiguity.

According to Sinickas, 85 percent of studied employees preferred publications or electronic sources as primary communication channels, and they preferred publications or electronic sources on 9 of 17 topic areas.

To be sure–there are areas where line managers can add value to internal communication–such as providing context (and employees often hope) reassurance about issues where the core messages are ambiguous, and in supporting communication where team members lack ongoing access to electronic channels.  At the same time, reliance on managers as primary communication channels–and on the cascades they often employ–often acts as a brake rather than an enabler of effective organisational communication.

Nevertheless, and despite the research, the cult of the manager as primary communicator is alive and well.  Its persistence represents an obstacle to further exploitation of online delivery–and particularly to the spread of social media and the embrace of informal and lateral networks as drivers of more rapid, powerful and interactive communication.  It also represents a misuse of the real value of the manager–as a mutually trusted if time-pressurised resource capable of handling big issues while leaving basic information-sharing to more efficient channels.

The time has come to dethrone the cult of line-manager as an all-purpose broadcast channel, liberating managers to manage, and setting the stage for a turbocharging of internal communication.

Kevin Keohane – CommScrum Stockholm (via London)

We live in a world where sound bytes and the “voice of the pragmatist” combines with our seemingly inherent attraction to the “debunking Maverick” who bravely faces off against conventional wisdom to get attention (I see him shaving in the mirror some mornings).

As such, of course there is a new trend debunking the “manager-led communication” brigade.  So now we have some “Hey it isn’t all about the manager” momentum building.

Well, no shit, Sherlock.

Sometimes the channel and nature of the question determines the nature of the response (but let’s save that debate for my upcoming frontal assault on the cousins of the “Manager Cult” …  the “Measurement Mad”).

To me, the answer is: “It depends”.  Manager-led communication is one of the tools in the arsenal.  It is used in certain circumstances with certain organisations to solve certain problems at certain times.  While we should never abdicate communication to “non-professional” communicators and simply hand the keys over, in my experience sometimes getting the “professional communicators” the hell out of the way is the best thing you can possibly do to inspire authentic, credible, meaningful dialogue about important issues such as engaging people in vision, values, sustainability efforts or branding from the inside out.

Dan Gray – Commscrum London

Is the exalted status of the line manager as the sine qua non of the comms mix overstated? Almost certainly.

But I wonder whether you’re being a smidgen heavy-handed – in tone, if not in content – by relegating them to mere ‘contextualisers’ of information.

Since, “It depends,” is the favourite stock answer of all MBAs, it won’t surprise you to learn that I’m in total agreement with Kevin on this one. He’s far too modest to plug his excellent book, The Talent Journey, but I think he’s spot on when he writes:

Don’t select a channel or an approach because you can, or because it exists. Select it because it is the approach that your audience trusts, uses and resonates with.

Just as it’s overstating the case to say that face-to-face communications via line management is always the best way to communicate with employees, it would be wrong to suggest that it never is as well.

There are certain situations – particularly those requiring significant behavioural change – where the line manager’s role would seem to be critical as the person most likely to be able to connect organisational and individual goals and address the all-important WIIFM? factor.

To my mind, the issue lies less with whether or not line management deserves to be regarded as a/the critical channel in employee communications than it does with how we equip them to communicate when we do use them – avoiding the terrible ‘cascades’ that you rightly criticise and making much more effective use of their audience insight.

Believers and non-believers in the cult of the line manager run the risk of making the same mistake, by viewing them as a homogenous group for disseminating to the masses what has already been decided by the few. Instead, we should be evaluating on a case-by-case basis how some of the good ones might add value to the process of strategy formulation.

Lindsay Uittenbogaard- Commscrum The Hague

Are they or aren’t they?  It depends / maybe?   The angle in this blog on the relevance of Line Managers to communication has the wrong starting point in my mind. 

Line Managers are in one way or another,  ‘leaders’ of people with whom we are communicating – as well as being participants themselves.   Keeping the Line Manager out of the loop is like sending out a book without a cover.  

1) If your Line Managers don’t at least know what’s coming – your whole leadership team looks disconnected, which undermines the credibility of your leadership communications. 

2) If your Line Managers don’t get the chance to input in advance – where possible – your messages may be off track / and they themselves will be less involved. 

3) They are people, they have mouths and ears, they do talk and listen.      They have deeper relationships in the business than leaders or communicators do.

4) 60 percent of workers who are kept in the dark by their bosses plan to leave within the next two years (source: CHAPR research report linked via http://www.changecommblog.com/2005/11/30/importance-of-line-manager-communication/)

Line Managers will inevitably do what they are motivated to do with the messages and feedback they are in the middle of.  Let’s not think of them as channels but as precipitators.  If they are any good at their jobs, they will add value to the business communication process and the meaningfulness of the content within it.  Yes, it is a myth that “employees prefer face-to-face communication with their line managers” – but we don’t need to liberate them so that we can turbo charge our communication, we need to turbocharge them in the communication process.

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56 thoughts on “Dethroning the Cult–Liberating the Manager–Turbocharging Internal Communication

  1. As always, you guys got me going… I agree with Lindsay that this discussion may have started from the wrong place. And with Kevin and Dan that it depends.

    Since we also know that at least 80% of a manager’s job is communications [Mintzberg and others]. And assuming at least some of that time is spent in face-to-face communication [I’d like to say conversation] with employees,then what’s going on here? Is it time to eliminate the manager? I don’t think so.

    I think what this really says is that internal communications today is generally badly done – with or without managers. And that employees who:
    – don’t trust leadership – and we know from other studies that they don’t – would not surprisingly prefer to see things in black and white.
    – don’t have time to waste – and we know they don’t – want to control when and how they get information.

    I wonder if you asked the same question in great and engaging organizations if you’d get the same answer? If internal communications is about strengthening and enriching the relationship between employees, the work they do and the organization’s mission then it’s hard to see how you do that without face-to-face conversations with direct supervisors playing an important role. That we’re not there yet, well that’s why there’s CommScrum. Thanks as always…

  2. commscrum says:

    No, having started this discussion, I don’t think it’s started in the wrong place at all for several reasons:

    1) In many organizations, internal communication is either manager-dependent (eg, if the manager doesn’t do as asked, the communication won’t happen) or manager-centric (where managers have to be seen as an authoritative voice).

    2) Management is one of the greatest personnel expenses in the vast majority of organizations.

    3) Communicating through managers tends to be slow, and if cascades are used, accuracy can bleed from each succeeding step

    But let’s go a step further. There’s an implicit cultural trap involved in having a manager-dependent slant to one’s internal communication.

    It involves requiring the manager cater to staff, and staff shift accountability for being aware and informed onto their managers.

    If 80% of a manager’s job is communication–and assuming those managers mostly work in organizations with this traditional view of communication roles–can we get by with fewer managers by shifting an appropriate share of accountability for communication and knowledge sharing back onto the staff?

    Mike Klein, The Intersection, Brussels

  3. “Turbocharging Internal Communication” – I may have heard that somewhere before Mike (LOL!).

    I don’t doubt Angela’s research although in these Survey Monkey days there’s a lot of “research” about and it’s sometimes fairly contradictory). I’m also less than surprised at the stats regarding people’s purported primary ports of communication and that these are principally written channels.

    However, I am a strong supporter of the notion that line managers are the communications pivot (or at least should be). This does present a number of challenges however:

    1. It pre-supposes that organisations truly value line managers and prioritise their communications role by supporting them with skills development or whether they prioritise communication competence as a key selection criteria.
    2. The term “manager” is increasingly outmoded and unpalatable and suggests a superior/subordinate relationship as well as implying that the “manager” is part of the organisational establishment.
    3. In times of economic downturn, all but the most doe-eyed of zealots appreciates that far from being the organisation’s greatest asset, they are, in Demming terms the most likely “drivers of non-conformance” and in an employer’s market are very dispensible. It’s difficult for “managers” to retain a sense of authenticity in their communication with their staff when they disagree with the messages they are being asked to cascade and the manner in which they are being asked to cascade them.
    4. The past decade has seen increasing levels of line management responsibility pass to old money “supervisors” (largely thanks to the call centre culture). Managerial assets are being “sweated” like never before for less reward.

    Nevertheless, line managers/supervisors/coaches/mentors should be the primary communications pivot. After all, in the main, they decide what their staff do; appraise how well they do it and have a significant input to their reward for doing it. They are at least theoretically figures with whom the average employee can have some form of face to face relationship and therefore stand some chance of putting their individual contribution to the wider world of work in context.

    Sure, I understand why people would claim to prefer to study and read comms material in their own time. But in my view this is largely because great face to face line management communication is still a relative rarity. But having spent years working in this area, when it happens there’s no substitute for it.

    In my view, employee engagement isn’t just an internal comms challenge. It calls for partnerships to be struck between the internal and external facing elements of the business; must involve close attention to culture change and organisation development and must involve the brand.

    The issues I’ve pointed to above re the role of line managers is as much a culture development challenge as it is an IC issue (as Deborah points out). Of course writing has its place. For me, however, there’s something deeply worrying about implying or even accepting that IC Nirvana rests on the crafting of better written communication.

    In my view, line managers/supervisors have never been more important than they are now. But I wonder whether organisation’s appreciate this. I also believe that gen X has been much maligned in recent debate about the importance of gen Y to the future of our leading brands. What lessons can one generation pass onto the next about communication as a core competency? Relationship management has been a very under-rated competency in recent times. I wonder when we’ll start to realise this?

  4. Sean Trainor says:

    When it comes to measurement it certainly depends on WHAT you ask and WHO you ask. The majority (including managers) will always favour quick communications that they can ignore, delete, forward on than sit through a ‘cascade meeting’ Especially when the content is “informational and lacks much ambiguity” and especially in time precious roles. We didn’t need a survey for that gem. Even Detective Holmes would be too embarrassed to declare that as an insight.

    I wouldn’t confuse command and control organisations (that see employee communications as cascading the corporate message) with more mature organisations that invest management time and effort facilitating discussion and dialogue, engaging their teams and involving them in decision-making. The most effective leaders do this anyway and, as Kevin implies, they tend to get on a hell of a lot better without the interventions of HQ (at least I did!). I think these managers would have strong views on being labelled a ‘channel’

    And isn’t that the point? surveys amongst office-based employees have shown email as the preferred channel for information sharing for many years. But what about employees who don’t have access to email? What about those inspiring conversations that Kevin references (and the more sensitive conversations around redundancy) I think you’ll find a different answer.

    In classic Columbo style, “one more thing” – aren’t managers employees as well? The most effective way of involving managers in your brand vision is to help them explain it to others, and there is no better audience than their internal teams. I used to call this cascade.

  5. Susan Walker says:

    re the manager as communicator – I don’t want to ignore new findings but I find it hard to believe that people prefer electronic comms to f2f, particularly with their manager. Any survey I have worked on (and it must be c200 by now) show the line manager as the main source. Now I agree that just asking what people “prefer” does not reveal what is most effective – and that’s why I cross analyse to find out the most effective (and trusted) and again line manager comes top. This also ties in with listening (you can make views known online but not the same as real listening), feeling valued and having info focused to your needs. However, have also found in times of change senior management becomes more sought after – usually because employees think they must know what is really going on. Agree that different info may need different channels-there may be some topics where people want on the intranet etc. And there will also be priority – I always say, if you are handed two envelopes, one with your salary increase (in the days when there were increases!) and one with the strategic plan for the next five years, which do you open first?

  6. Indy says:

    Having spent the day discussing approaches with a medium-size multinational, it’s interesting to come across this tonight…

    Drawing on today – with the caveat that it always depends, as others note – I think there’s a few key points:

    1) There are simple things and complex things – simple things often don’t really need the human touch in communication and I can well believe Mike’s contention that plenty of organisations waste human resource using “cascades” (or whatever) to communicate simple things that other channels can do as well/better.

    2) Complex things need the human touch – if you actually want to change complex behaviour (as oppose to incentivising people to drop paper in the recycling bin rather than the general rubbish bin) then people need to discuss and reflect. If your organisation is large, then that work has to be delegated/decentralised.

    3) Does that mean it has to be “cascade” and “line managers”? Not at all… evidence is all on the side that peer discussions are more effective… champions etc.

    If you have a large, geographically, demographically and functionally diverse organisation then the most effective way to communicate complex things is to set the issues out clearly, provide guidelines and resources to help people in local settings do the communication.

    Realistically, one of the main routes you have to kick that off with are the hierarchies in the organisation – social media is another route… but many organisations have lots of people who don’t work at computers… and while story circles/campfires are effective, if you’re starting from scratch then how do you start some conversations in these arenas? The Mark Earls (Herd) lesson IMO is “total war” you have to attack as many vectors at once… that means line managers as well as champions. And once you have campfires, you may not be “cascading” to managers, but there’s always going to be an element of delegation, giving some people some resources and asking them to spark some discussions… because you need local interpretation to keep complex discussions authentic.

    Of course, the caveat here is that while I’ve talked about the complexity of message as driving the need for a human touch, the reality is that all of this toolkit approach relies on choosing issues that mean something to people “out there” in the organisation – pull rather than push. If whoever is supposed to spark the conversations, start passing the stories around, doesn’t believe in the initiative, then they aren’t going to bother. Thus, finding ways for “business” people (rather than HR or IC people) to own the issue is critical.

    One big challenge for IC in the future is to both admit to itself and be honest with the top brass that you can only communicate so many complex things effectively in a calendar year.

    Re-reading this… I don’t think I disagree much with Mike… except that I think part of the emphasis is not just using new channels to communicate less through time-pressured managers… but also asking questions about how much we’re communicating in the first place.

  7. I’m very glad to see all this discussion! To clarify the research, I ask employees to choose their top two preferred information sources for each of 10-15 topics. Supervisors or staff meetings are in the top two on topics that relate to employees’ jobs (how I contribute to reaching company goals, my business unit’s goals and plans) and, if it’s on the survey, any chanage management initiative. On all other topics, like company goals, financial results, company news, competitive information, customer satisfaction information, policies, benefits, etc., formal written sources are preferred by almost all types of employees.

    In the same surveys, on average just under half of employees say they receive too little face-to-face communication.

    The take-away of the research for me is that they don’t want to hear it FIRST from their supervisors, but they do want to discuss it with them afterward. From write-in comments and focus group, the reasons become very clear: when supervisors are supposed to broadcast new information, many never do or do so long after others do. The result is that most employees end up hearing this type of information from colleagues whose supervisors did conduct a meeting–in other words, they’re hearing it as a rumor, which is their least preferred source. And they have no written information to refer to for the accurate informatin.

    To read the research for yourself, here’s the original article:
    http://www.sinicom.com/Sub%20Pages/pubs/articles/article113.pdf

    There’s a part 2 to the article that does discuss differences in the overall results in different types of companies, such as those where most employees do not have access to electronic channels:
    http://www.sinicom.com/Sub%20Pages/pubs/articles/article114.pdf

    I’ll be interested to see more reactions to the actual research.

    Angela

    • Kevin says:

      Great clarification – and insightful as always.

    • debhinton says:

      Thanks Angela for this clarification. Makes much more sense than the ‘headline’. Will read the research reports with interest.

      Also reminded this week in some work I’m doing for a global engineering firm that as soon as you’re not talking about desk jobs the role of the manager gets a lot more critical.

      And yes overloading front line management with irrelevant news – unhelpful. Not providing them with the training and support to know when and how to translate important corporate news for their people – unhelpful. Not making great communications a clear management objective and providing regular and direct feedback on how well their doing – unhelpful.

      Really enjoyed/enjoying the discussion.

  8. Sean Trainor says:

    I’m a big fan of peer discussion, less inspired by engineered ‘champions’ networks. In my experience, the same people who volunteer for first aider, fire warden and car park monitor put their hand up to become ‘champions’ and if they are any good they end up getting promoted to line-managers; back to square 1.

    Either way, why would you want to bypass line managers? If there is a problem with their competence or confidence, then fix it. With the right training they become the best facilitators of peer discussion.

    Tom Peters would support this, as one of those little BIG things in pursuit of excellence…
    http://www.tompeters.com/dispatches/011473.php
    and watch his 3 minute rant…

    I agree.

    • commscrum says:

      @sean: Why would you want to bypass line managers/first line supervisors? My reply–why wouldn’t you want to ask the question first?

      Even the best managers can become bottlenecks, and there are plenty of good strategic reasons to at least question the need for heavy manager involvement in every initiative, every outcome, and every stream of messaging.

      A few basics include assigning accountability more appropriately, stimulating a new generation of leaders from the bottom up, allowing networks on specific issues to grow more organically or naturally, and about the relative priority of each initiative or theme.

      I don’t disagree with Peters’ rant at all, but I think organizations can improve the line manager-staff experience by taking as much stuff off managers’ plates as feasible.

      Concurrently, becoming smarter and sharper about how to harness the power of peer networks will allow organisations to effectively handle broader agendas while keeping the line manager relationships well-focused, and perhaps streamlined as well.

      Mike
      http://intersectionblog.wordpress.com

      • gutsyandgrounded says:

        I’m all for increased involvement, clear accountability, and streamlined priorities to help managers focus on team relationships. I think this reinforces Kevin’s original point – sometimes just get the ‘professional communicators’ the hell out of the way.

        If your point is that managers shouldn’t become’information bottlenecks’ or ‘guardians of the message’ I think the ‘manager cult’, the ‘debunking mavericks’, the ‘pragmatic voices’ and the ‘measurement mad’ are all in agreement with you on this and that Dr Watson isn’t falling off his seat.

        I suspect most line managers who have contributed to numerous staff surveys (and are often expected to encourage their teams to do the same) must reflect on the results and agree with your point about “taking stuff off their plates”.

  9. I’ve heard nothing here which convinces me that line managers/supervisors aren’t the most important communicators in any business. Whether people would prefer to read things first, (and I wonder, based on my own work, how many take the time and trouble to do so), is a red herring.

    For me the real debate should be about whether they are appreciated/recognised and supported adequately as a result. Given that the first line supervisor in these days of devolved process management is increasingly becoming the pressure point around which most employee engagement pivots I don’t see communication skills being afforded the development time they warrant.

    • Mike Klein says:

      @ian=Interesting point about the development of communication skills among managers.

      Whether one agrees on the “importance” and the “centrality” of managers as communicators (and the intent here is to prompt questioning of whether and when managers are to be relied upon as communicators rather than seek their overthrow), clearly there is a skill gap–communication training for line managers is rudimentary in all but the best of cases.

      But I would stipulate that communication skill training include guidance on filtration, delegation and support for peer communication as opposed to just the basic presentation and feedback collection offerings that tend to be meat and drink in this area.

      @all=I commend you an excellent piece by my CCM/Communitelligence colleague–and Lean Communication guru Liz Guthridge on the distinction between “Lean” managers and “Modern” managers, directly pertinent to the issue of manager overload and how managers prioritize their activities. You may find this here: http://bit.ly/cj9xiE

      Best from Brussels,

      Mike Klein–The Intersection
      http://intersectionblog.wordpress.com

  10. You know as well as I do Mike that the type of skills development I’m talking about embraces the full range of IC skills, starting with the basics which are very often taken for granted.

    The most effective communication training is integrated with the mainstream line management performance management and development programme and is reinforced through core competencies and the appraisal process.

    A relatively simple concept but one which is seldom implemented, largely because organisations largely take communication skills for granted.

    Perhaps we’ll evetually start to see a new generation of HR directors who are liberated to think holistically and proactively, working with their Brand management colleagues in both marketing and internal comms to bring brands to life from within by creating cultures that reinforce rather than counteract the brand.

    • commscrum says:

      I may know well what you envisage as the right kind of communication skills development for manager-communicators, but I also have a good idea what cash-strapped in-house training departments are serving up these days.

      “Monsieur, another serving of death-by-powerpoint, peut-etre?”

      Indeed,if I take your following point literally–that the likelihood managers are going to become more reliable, effective and value-adding communicator is dependent on the emergence of a new generation of HR directors: you strengthen the case for a more balanced, rapid and resilient approach to internal communication that is less dependent on manager skill, interest and good will, and makes better use of technology, peer networks, and personal accountability.

      Mike Klein
      http://intersectionblog.wordpress.com

  11. kevinkeohane says:

    Corporate Leadership Council have also done some research that highlights the fact that communication preference is related to the content; so for some content it’s the manager, for some it is the intranet, and for other content it’s a CEO video, etc.

    I agree with Ian though – ultimately organisations need to help managers fulfil their role as communicators far better. Not always easy … I recently had feedback from a client-side manager saying “Great, but don’t ask me to communicate it, I’m too busy.”

  12. commscrum says:

    Kevin/Ian: Kevin’s quote is excellent–let me hang it out for emphasis:

    “ultimately, organisations need to help managers better fulfill their role as communicators.”

    Whatever may be the case “ultimately”, here’s what I see the case as “immediately”

    1) We live in a far-from-perfect world at the moment, particularly in terms of the training, development, and investment priorities of large organizations. Despite our belief that it is the case, we have yet to see a compelling case made for an upgrade of managers’ communication skills compared to all other investment priorities at this time.

    2) For all of the value added to communication by line managers, some value is subtracted because at least some managers don’t effectively prioritize, deliver or confirm understanding/acceptance of some important content

    While the internal communication profession can stamp its feet and demand better and more holistic communication training for the great mass of line managers, I’m far from convinced this is the only viable option.

    Indeed, I see a strategic effort to reduce the over-dependence on line managers as communicators as both a difference-maker in its own right, and as a basis for future efforts to strengthen and sharpen the communication efforts line managers will remain responsible for in the near future.

    Mike Klein–The Intersection
    http://intersectionblog.wordpress.com

  13. Sean Trainor says:

    I made the point earlier – if the issue is line manger competence and/or confidence then fix it. Functions can never be too close to the business and can never support line managers enough, I think most organisations are better at this than perhaps is suggested. Come and see how O2 do it
    http://seebeyondtherhetoric.eventbrite.com/
    Sean

  14. We always live in a far from perfect world Mike – it just so happens that in Maslovian terms organisations aren’t doing “higher order” stuff and are focused on primary survival/basics right now. It’s frustrating for all of us.

    This isn’t an either/or debate though. Organisations should embrace the gamut of traditional and emerging channels for their message management. They should embrace the emerging trends in social networking etc to increase engageent levels. But there really isn’t any substitute for the core skills, the basics and I often think that these are overlooked either in favour of the shiny new gimmick but more realistically, because leaders are ashamed to admit that they still aren’t embracing communication as a core competency.

    First-line managers/supervisors have never been as important as they are right now. I firmly believe that the banking crisis which got us all into this mess was largely the result of a breakdown in relationship management both within and outside organisations which was replaced by short termism and “up or out” so called performance management inherited from investment banking. This has had a disastrous impact on customer and employee confidence which has undermined our relationships with many brands and can only be adequately addressed at a “hands on” line management level.

    As HR functions have been replaced by processes and the Board has to devote most of its face time to external stakeholders, line managers have to bridge the external and internal worlds; make sense of goals and objectives and performance manage. Yet training budgets are most likely to be lower than ever and line management responsibility is unlikely to be rewarded appropriately. I predict a bizarre new recruitment drive aimed at mentors (we all live in hope LOL!).

    Of course there’s a strategic role for IC professionals, especially those who are able to retain sufficient autonomy and objectivity to challenge as well as “do”. Again, there has probably never been a time when IC professionals have been able to add more value to employees, line managers and the wider business. But the biggest contribution they can make is to campaign for greater skills development, not push for a larger internal press office.

    I can’t agree with your “strategic drive to lessen the dependence on line managers as core communicators” Mike unless it’s to revert to command, control and spin, which with cynical and well informed audiences would be disastrous. Line managers are going to be the creaking cog in the modern business model for some time.

    • Kevin says:

      Hmmn… interesting debate. I think there is a perspective that the “traditional old school manager as communicator” model is in fact still very much a command and control approach.

      From that angle, it’s indeed not about lessening the dependence on line managers as communicators. Instead, it is clarifying and focussing when the manager is the best “communicator”. By the same token, as Sean says, there are equally times where manager is “facilitator” of conversations, or indeed a participant as an equal with his/her team. This is the world we are living in, though some companies haven’t figured it out yet!

  15. Sean Trainor says:

    Communication skills for managers is up there with sexual prowess and driving skills. We could all do with a bit of coaching but would never admit it!
    @Ian I love your point about HR being replaced by processes, which in turn have been automated withsystems like SAP, Oracle, Peoplesoft, which, in some minds is the panacea of HR management. God forbid “social media” becomes the new “Enterprise solution”
    And another thing – is there any media out there that is anti-social?

  16. commscrum says:

    Two things (from a Starbucks in Bonn):

    1. Powerpoint can be anti-social

    2. I’m adamant that the role and centrality of line managers not be taken as a given, or, worse, as sacred. In honest inquiry, it’s legitimate to remove certain variables and see what would exist without them. Moreover, despite Ian’s protestations, a post-managerial world is emerging in some enterprises already.

    One airline I know well has a manager staff ratio of over 1-100 in a key part of the business. Seeing if sharpened communication can reduce manager-staff ratios represents legitimate-and potentially powerful new ground for the communications pro.

  17. I’ll be surprised if the claims about increasing staff to manager ratios isn’t more about semantics than a self-managing team nirvana and if you aren’t talking about Virgin will be very interested in outcomes. Egg, for example, made a huge deal about flat strutures but the results were consistently poor. Would the stats bear close scrutiny and are you confident they won’t reveal the displacement of the term manager for “supervisor” or “coach”? Interested to hear more.
    I’m not hung up on the terminology personally.I’ve always defined the first line manager or supervisor role as the person responsible for carrying out appraisals and facilitating development. Organisation Design fundamentals give optimum ratios of “doers” to “orchestrators”, leaders to followers and not everyone is cut out for the leading or orchestrating role. But communication skills should be a primary recquisite of climbing into the hot seat (and this doesn’t imply command and control).

    • Sean Trainor says:

      Ian, your definition of line manager is exactly the same as mine – and, by definition, will include the CEO. I agree communication skills should absolutely be pre-requisite and absolutely doesn’t imply command and control.

      5 years ago I designed a leadership communications programme which involved 6,500 line managers completing a 2-day residential course focussed on personal effectiveness and facilitation skills, not Mike’s “meat and drink”

  18. commscrum says:

    Do we focus in making line managers more effective as communicators, or do we focus on making them less important? The question is ideological, practical and most importantly, a function of the outcomes we seek to achieve.

    Let’s take a step back. Over time, there have been three main paradigms of internal communication:

    1.0: It’s about what people know. It’s about print, distribution, and rigid cascading.

    2.0: It’s about what people do. It’s workshops, behavioral change, “employee engagement” (and the kind of high-touch but manager-centric comms Sean and Ian defend so intensely) and continued central message control.

    3.0: It’s about what people say. It’s social media, tribal leadership, self-forming convesations. Its about engaging stakeholders in addition to engaging with one’s own official tasks.

    1.0 and 2.0 are not going to go away as long as there are tasks to do, projects to run and resources to allocate. These things are no less important today than they were in the 90’s, 70’s or 50’s.

    But they are going to have so share some bandwidth. They are going to have to release the grip management has on the real leadership and real conversations that will drive and preserve value in the 10’s and beyond.

    Managers are not the only important communicators in organisations. People are.

  19. “Shared bandwidth”……….this is post Orwellian technical double speak for what is also known as “the grapevine”.

    When individuals come together for a common purpose there will always be “sanctioned” and “unsanctioned” communication.

    As we all probably appreciate IC professionals are usually tasked with the former but the most effective find ways to tap into the latter.

    But both sanctioned and unsanctioned are authentic in their own way are they not? The Monkeys were one of the first plastic pop bands invented by “the man” to compete with the Beatles. They may not have been able to match Lennon’s anarchic style but both The Monkeys and The Beatles found a market and both made money for the record companies at the end of the day?

    In IC terms, formal channels (whether controlled by “the man” or not)have their place and at their best reflect some of the prevailing informal culture and will doubtless evolve to reflect and shape more effectively. But there will always be a place for the maverick operating at and exploiting the fringes.

    And who said “managers are the ONLY important communicators”? And did anyone imply they aren’t people?

  20. Holy smokes, what a conversation.

    There’s another angle here that got a bit of short shrift in the early comments: Internal communicators have to do a way better job of prioritizing content.

    We tend to have a HQ-centric, staff-functions-not-line-functions view of such matters. We want “everyone to be on the same page” even if they’re in reality reading different books. We want “people to know the strategy” even if their relationship to it is tenuous at best and irrelevant to their work at worst. We want “employees to know our X strategic drivers” even if they’re written in corporate jargon and management-speak. (these are actual HQ leader quotes, btw.)

    The facts are that as we get farther from customers, our content gets increasingly irrelevant to the majority of employees. The use of manager cascades is largely to “check the box” so we can claim communication has occurred. It’s self-preservation. It’s a lot easier to do cascades than post-communication research to determine whether our communication made any meaningful difference to the enterprise.

    People have always self-selected content — even in the days of three TV networks, there always was an “off” button — and they always will. Our content is in competition with everyone else’s, and social media is going to increase that competition.

    So where does that leave us green-eyeshaded internal propagandists? The same place it always has – we need to use our not inconsiderable skills to be the internal experts on communication itself (including offering training) and tell stories — both roles need to help the organization realize its objectives.

    And, despite Kevin’s crack about the “measurement mad,” we’ll need to be able to explain clearly how our work is doing that.

    That means asking, “are employees getting the information they need to do their jobs? Do they understand how what they do helps us attain our objectives? Are they advocates for our organization with external stakeholders? Do our leaders of all stripe understand how to use communication effectively?”

    Sometimes managers need to be the channels. Sometimes the programming, sometimes the source. But we need to be the sane, professional voice that helps them, and our organization, navigate the waters of communication.

  21. Mike Klein says:

    @SeanW (and by extension @SeanT)–appreciate the lucidity about where communicators fit in the big picture, and about the questions internal communication need to continually (not continuously, but continually) need to be asking of ourselves.

    As for the comment managers being the “channels, programming, or source”, though, we need to look beyond internal comms being inextricably linked to management. Managers may play key roles a lot of the time, and some organizations may try to force-fit them into a role as the only acceptable leaders.

    But we know better. Much important communication–internally and externally–already occurs outside of the direct involvement of line management. Guidance, resources, stories and support will be required to maximize the effectiveness of that communication–and much of that will have to be delivered directly to the individuals who are taking the initiative to communicate.

    Are we here to support managers? Or are we here to support organizations in meeting their objectives?

  22. Mike, thus lies the challenge, politically. Sr. leadership often thinks we should be their mouthpieces – their thoughts, desires, needs and commands to come first. This places us in the position of mere order-takers, not “primarily a management function” (as Drs. Grunig write). In discussing measurement, I often say that we’ve traditionally been the only organizational department which could say, “trust me” when talking about our work. That’s over (and then some).

    There are participative cultures, flat organizations, etc., which lend themselves to self-direction in communication. It is, however, a leap of faith for managers steeped in systems theory to accept the idea that managers facilitate and lead by example rather than set the agenda and drive their employees toward the organizational vision (that leaders set, usually in isolation).

    I have always thought that I could literally work myself out of a job — to so thoroughly prepare the organization to communicate effectively and arm its employees with the skills and tools they needed to succeed that I’m no longer necessary.

    The path to that sort of organizational enlightenment is a long one, and there are milestones along the way that need intermediate steps to pass by. It could be that social media will prove to be such a step, but the jury is still out (apologies for the metaphors…)

    Sean

  23. I like your use of the phrase ” I could literally work myself out of work”. It’s what every “enabling” function should have pinned to their wall.

    You’ve put your finger on the key point Sean. When you mention, in rather fatalistic terms, that cascades or manager led Team Briefs become ineffective (I liken the worst versions to Chinese whispers), the problem seldom lies with process or content but engagement and skills at managerial level. It never ceases to surprise me when I am asked to help untangle these channels, the invitation is normally made on the basis of re-designing the process yet it’s normally the basic behaviours driving the process that need to be overhauled.

    First line managers are undoubtedly critically important and should be priority stakeholders for the Internal Comms function. By supporting them, the IC function is enabling organisation effectiveness. And in my view we’ve only scratched the surface of the role we can play in enabling managers to become the communications pivot they increasingly need to be.

    I would like to see this debate move away from what I believe to be a given and into the thorny territory of the future for Internal Comms.

    As you very astutely point out, the struggle for real credibility at board level hasn’t been won. Many IC functions have become so embroiled with the culture and politics that they have become part of the problem rather than the solution. We’re currently witnessing a great deal of what I call foie gras communication (i.e. shoving messages down people’s throats).

    If what I’m alleging is to be believed, this should, theoretically, leave a great deal of the “creative” and “catalyst” space for the external consultancy market. But with the increase in locum, short term placements (where the incumbent has to struggle just to keep the plates spinning); massive loss of HR-related discretionery spend and few M&As and innovative restructures – where are the mavericks and provocoteurs? Is their job done? Have they worked themselves out of work? Or perhaps executive boards aren’t too keen to front up to the unpalatable reality or don’t really have to care about employee engagement in an employer’s market?

    Funnel anyone?

    • Sean Trainor says:

      ‘Funnel’y enough, I think this debate has gone into the territory you suggest Ian.

      In the context of the future of employee communications and engagement I think the role (and added value) of the the IC professional, the HR professionals, the line managers, the senior leaders and the consultants have all been touched on.
      The boundaries between these are becoming increasingly fuzzy. I’ve fulfilled all of these roles and I can understand why. What is interesting is the amount of prejudice that exists between the camps.

      You’ve held them all before:-
      “Consultants borrow your watch, tell you the time and sell your watch back to you for more than you bought it for”
      “Middle managers are the treacle layer in organisations, the bottlenecks”
      “Senior leaders are all hard-nosed and apathetic about the softer side of business”
      “Supervisors are promoted/recruited for their technical skills and lack comms skills”
      “IC pros are the corporate mouthpiece that Send Out Stuff (SOS)”

      I sense the “horns and halos” will become more prominent in difficult times, as each of the camps feel increasingly insecure.
      I wonder if the adoption of social media will make people even more vulnerable?
      http://bit.ly/9GJiSa

  24. Adam Hibbert says:

    Well, Mike, you’ve touched an existentialist nerve, if nothing else. Rightly so: vital to remember that, *in an ideal world*, no organisation would need the intervention of organisational therapists like us. Our profession is largely a *substitute* for best practice. But for now, at least, that world is not ours.

    It’s nice to get some balancing insight from Angela, but it’s overstating her case to claim that the ‘prevailing wisdom’ around line managers truly stems from the methodological flaws she has exposed in a commercial survey. It comes from far deeper, more robust work such as, eg, Larkin & Larkin, the heavy academic back catologue of evidence into how *upward* information flows operate from folks like Athanassiades (which imho haven’t been adequately represented in the assumptions made in the debate above about what communication *is*) and from insights such as Pat Jackson’s comment that “the leaders who really matter are the sergeants. They run the show. Generals wade ashore for the TV cameras in a symbolic charade – but the sergeants led the troops that took the beach.’ (from a Therkelsen/Fiebich piece in ’03)

    To my mind, front line supervisors are the lab technicians of an organisation, mediating between the CEO’s fine theories and brute reality, possessed of a much finer sense of what works than we can claim. Why them and not the employee? Because, unless you’re in a particularly exalted line of work, the employee is unlikely to have acquired the necessary experience. The point of building IC around line managers is to help them behave as the linchpin of information flows that they are, ie, to capture their insight for the organisation, not at all to bog them down in handling the mail.

    If there’s an app for that, I’ve yet to see it.

  25. Sean, the Larkins’ book on Change Communication was not based on any original research. They directly quoted the original IABC research that asked the wrong question. We’ve spoken about this after their Harvard Business Review article, and they completely agree that the original research was flawed. They no longer say supervisors are the most preferred information source on most topics. However, supervisors are preferred on a number of topics that directly affect their jobs–which does include major organizational changes, which is what they consult on. Their ideas for helping the supervisors do this communication role are brilliant.

    I absolutely agree that supervisors may be the most important communication medium for employees for many, many reasons. The key points I hope communicators remember are that:
    1. Employees do not want to wait to hear most company information until their supervisors get around to telling them about it. They all want to hear the same information at the same time.
    2. Employee preferences aside, it is simply a dysfunctional business process to cascade new information down a management chain because it automatically creates and feeds rumors as soon as the first meeting is conducted. While employees may trust each other and might find each other credible as sources, they do not prefer to learn company information from each other.

  26. Adam Hibbert says:

    Ahh, right, Facetime, nice one. I think I heard something about that … doesn’t it only run in the First Life environment, though?

    Angela, no-one’s going to question those two key points (I profoundly hope). But I still think the methodological flaw you’ve identified only knocks out a small fraction of the assembled evidence for line manager as linchpin. In my company’s IC survey, the qual is bulging with demands for salience, relevance, practical implications, and the quant demonstrates that responsiveness to upward feedback is our one big gap. These are areas that only an overhaul of what we demand of our line managers can address.

    So there’s a leap, from your quite reasonable premises, to the implication of Mike’s argument that clunky formal cascades of top-down news distribution are what any of us would want to use team leaders for. If that were, in fact, anyone’s objective, well then, Go Mike!

    The point the Larkins make, I thought, is not that the frontline supervisor in their iconic mineworks is going to get his mechanics together for a weekly ‘team meeting’ and share with them the thrilling news that some jerk in head office has cashed his pension. It’s that when one of his team says, ‘Hey, Max, what’s this it says in the paper about the boss getting the chop?’ Max has been equipped, thoughtfully, with just the right info to ensure that (a) he doesn’t appear “out of the loop” to his team, and (b) he has something constructive to offer on the topic, which his team members might accept and even repeat to others (because they trust it from him).

  27. Perhaps I’ve done too many focus groups and become a bit jaded, but in the majority of companies in departments where the employees don’t have access to most other information channels and would theoretically need to rely on their supervisors for this type of behind-the-scenes information, this is the range of what I usually hear:
    1. My supervisor is never available. He’s hiding in the supervisors’ office behind the locked, key-carded door. He sends out the leads to give us instructions.
    2. My supervisor is a fat-headed jerk. Last month he was one of us; now he thinks he’s better than all of us and is just lording it over us.
    3. I don’t know where they got this supervisor from but he doesn’t have a clue about what it is we do around here.
    4. The last person I would trust around here is my supervisor; he doesn’t know how to keep anything confidential.

    While I have heard good comments about supervisors in rare manufacturing/working outdoors kinds of companies, they are very rare.

    This doesn’t mean the supervisors are all fat-headed, no-nothing jerks. When I do focus groups with them, they are so stressed with doing all the paperwork and computerwork that clerks used to help them with that they don’t have time to be on the work floor, let alone talk to anyone there. They are being threatened by their managers that if they don’t keep production up, they will lose their jobs. One recently told me he was more stressed in his job than he was while on active duty in Iraq.

    Before we can expect first-line supervisors in non-office environments to become linchpins of communication, they first need training in employment law, company policies, and basic people management skills. They need training in conflict resolution. They need to be told what is expected of them in their jobs.

    When it comes to trusted information sources, these production employees are far more likely to prefer hearing from their location or department heads, which are selected as preferred sources on surveys far more often than supervisors. Why fight this? Why not make more use of the managers a few levels above the line workers? There are fewer of them to prepare for communication, and they’ve generally picked up a few more people skills already to have the jobs they do.

  28. Adam Hibbert says:

    Why not rely on superiors?

    That’s kinda the default position we have, isn’t it, and it’s not getting the results it should. I think that’s because (a) they’re not to hand – you’re instantly into set-piece conversations, not spontaneous, immediate, integral-to-the-work stuff, (b) because in most units you don’t have to go too far up the chain to find leaders whose brief covers wildly divergent specialisms. It’s tricky for them to interfere in what their subordinate managers ‘own’, in terms of mediating strategy into task-relevance, so they stick at the high level and talk over the heads of most employees, & (c) they’re just as maxed out as their subordinates. Not saying don’t do it *at all*, just that it’s no substitute for talking it over with your immediate ‘boss’.

    Agreed, we won’t reach line manager nirvana by bulldozing extra tasks into their in-tray, which already towers between them and full contact with their people. I do think companies which claim to want engagement from their employees need to understand that this demands a re-configuration of what their line managers are invested in doing … who knows, perhaps we can make a business case to get the clerks back in?

    I’ve recently come across a plausible five-part model of what we’ll need to tackle, including:
    1. Comms process – the assumptions we ourselves make which cut managers out of the loop.
    2. Accountabilities – the way organisations bully for $ performance, and neglect to include engagement as a factor in that.
    3. Co-creation – getting team leaders established as a special category of employee, valued and involved in the design stages of major projects.
    4. Training – tackling those simple skills you mention, and helping managers appreciate the role they play within the strategic picture.
    5. Tools – stuff that empowers managers as communicators

    For me, 9 tenths of it is about 2 – managers are, as a you say, quite often pretty decent people, once you understand the pressures they’re under! Change the pressures, is my advice.

    • Indy says:

      Adam, perhaps you’d put it under (3) – cocreation, but I think your 5 points misses out on something you raised in an earlier comment.

      A lot more attention needs to be paid to the upward flow of communication.

      In too many organisations, the second half of the loop is ignored, which reduces even the most well-crafted, thoughtfully measured, efficiently implemented communications programs to little more than propaganda campaigns. Conversation is a prerequisite for engagement and the flow of communication back from the front-line is still too often, IME, the missing piece.

  29. Adam Hibbert says:

    Indy, good call. Yes, the only allowance that model overtly makes for upward would be under 3 (though if we get 4 right, good stuff can also start to happen there). Perhaps there’s a case for a 6th pillar …

    I’d go further than saying it’s a prerequisite for engagement – if you take Karl Weick seriously (as I do) or dip into the guru wisdom of Peter Block (as I admit to having done last year, with not too much shame) conversation’s a prerequisite for anything making any kind of intelligible sense whatsoever in the organisation.

  30. Indy says:

    I think my argument for making it a pillar would be that the content of 4 (training) is guided by the other pillars…

    I do take Weick seriously – in fact one of my hobby-horses is that “upward communication” is taken for granted in business, it doesn’t belong to IC, maybe IT is responsible in some “plumbing” issues – overall I suppose it is assumed that the “design” of the organisation automatically ensures upward communication…

    Strategic agility is becoming the new fashion… (death of strategy, operational agility are other coming memes) but they all rely on information flows in the organisation – up as well as down. It seems odd to me that IC hasn’t developed more on the “up” side…

  31. Adam Hibbert says:

    Taking it back to Mike’s original point, then, the question for me becomes … to what extent can organisations accept self-organisation in their midst, and to what extent does information have to travel within credentialled channels?

    I’m a big advocate of peer-to-peer and unleashing all that good stuff. But to adopt Morgan’s organic metaphor for a sec, lines of authority are an organisation’s DNA. They’re there because they evolved that way to meet fitness conditions, and when we suggest ways to circumvent them (because we’ve seen how amoebae can form up into a grexx and thus grok the amazing potential of self-organisation) we need to be damn sure we also know how we’re going to manage the risks of cancerous growth that are inherent in this manouver.

    Unless of course it’s our intention to break up the big organisation, by getting blocs of employees to organise ’employee buyouts’ of their area of work …

    • Indy says:

      Adam – it’s not only about suggesting ways to circumvent lines of authority – although that is often what inspires people looking at the new technologies. And it’s hard to talk about the value of improved lateral communications without slipping into “self-org” territory, so I’ve steered away from that for today – I think there’s important stuff there though that doesn’t just live in “self-org land.”

      Anyway, I think it’s also about coming to terms with the reality that the “org chart” reflects much more about “budgetary power” than communication (or indeed organisational) flows in the organisation – and that’s been true for decades (if not millennia).

      There’s a prof at the LSE who’s done some really interesting network analysis on upward flows – and while the results are not “news” to anyone, when you see some of the diagrams laid out I think the urge to work with the existing conversations is very strong. I think IC might be in a good place to do some of that work – but the “business case” is possibly as much about what can be gained from improving upward flow as “turbocharging” the downward flow of IC.

      Perhaps I need to be blogging more about lateral and upward comms…

  32. I see a role for both, but a different role. The formal (electronic and print) channels are for knowledge transmission. The face-to-face channels, managers or peers, are for shaping attitudes about that knowledge. You need both. Both types of channels can also handle two-way feedback, but again about different types of messages.

  33. If internal communicators do not facilitate communication in their organization, represent for it, help to build its capabilities, encourage two-way (and multi-way, really) dialogue, we are lost as a profession. We’re doomed to the role of the lowly clerk, pounding out whatever copy the Powers That Be deem to bestow upon us.

    Our move from clerk-dom order-taker to business person is fraught. Leaders have their preconceptions about our role, and about us. Systems Theory teaches them that there are inputs and outputs — conduits through which information passes from on high to down low. Many execs are quite comfortable with that system.

    We’re in a precarious position — we need to be more than we are, and we need the organization to trust us to become what we must be.

  34. Mike Klein says:

    “Wir wolle bleiwe wat mir sin”

    These six words, (seven in English: we want to remain what we are)are the motto of the people of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, but could just as easily represent those who think Internal Communication should be about helping supervisors get the best out of their staff.

    Fortunately, we don’t live in Luxembourg.

    Today’s communication revolutions are not merely about changing best practice about communication processes.

    They are changing the internal communication agenda, and they are changing the roles of internal audiences and networks in articulating the overall agenda of businesses and other enterprises.

    I know the pitched resistance of those who see the manager/supervisor as the rightful focus of internal communication (and internal communication spend) speaks to the necessity of having that channel work well when it is genuinely necessary for it to work well.

    But we have bigger fish to fry. And from my perspective, a future where internal communicators emerge as key organizational communication strategists is one that is far more exciting than one where we are measured like poster hangers or stress management counselors for the overworked and under-appreciated of the supervisory ranks.

    It is not that we need to be more than we are–but we need to be more than what we have allowed ourselves to become.

    We need to recognize the value of the boxes and lines on the org chart–but also to maximize–the value and networks to be created in the white space between those boxes and lines. We need to support managers in engaging their staff productively–alongside supporting leaders in engaging stakeholders who may hold the organization’s future in their hands.

    And–most importantly–we need to wake up our colleagues.

  35. Sean Trainor says:

    I am the 50th comment on this post – quite and achievement Mike!

  36. Adam Hibbert says:

    Uh-oh, Mike, I detect the high-octane oratorical whiff of a cult-in-waiting. Mind the easy pleasures of sectarian rhetoric …

    “having that channel work well when it is genuinely necessary for it to work well” could encompass the possibility that the necessary moment is ‘all day, every day’, not just the odd occasion your hair’s on fire. I think we agreed on the risk of atrophy in a different context, a whiles back, and I’d argue it applies here, too. If the organisation isn’t accustomed to making these moves, when you do find you need to pull hard here, the muscles you need won’t be up to it, and you’ll likely end up flat on your back.

    Perhaps we’re talking at crossed purposes, though. I get a sense from your take, and Angela’s version, that when you’re thinking of supervisors @ communicators, you have something different in mind to what that brings to mind for me (and Indy?). To me it’s something much less formal – much more part of a natural dialogue. I certainly don’t think we have the balance of investment right, yet. Supervisors in my organisation are not constituted as any kind of special constituency, with any particular role in / support from comms, and IC spend tends to flow into eye-catching tools and ‘assets’, of unknown value to the frontline. Maybe we’re behind the curve, but I’ve seen little evidence of that.

    For now, the path to the Power and Glory of ‘strategic’ mastery of my little universe is paved with some fairly humdrum spadework, to demonstrate the value we bring in helping organisations become more nimble and effective, and *thereby* earning credibility as a representative of the periphery in the strategic conversations that take place at the centre.

    So I like the sound of your Promised Land for comms, but I think I prefer another route to get there, and I’m sure it’s entirely healthy for the profession that we each chart our different courses. This is, after all, art not science.

  37. Mike Klein says:

    It’s fine to prefer another route to get there.

    Indeed, that’s the reason I posted this item to begin with.

    Given that there are still many in and around communication and management who still see the line manager as the best/only/legitimate vehicle for communication with “the staff”, staking out a belief that an alternative view is viable is radical enough, even for my tastes.

    Organizations are different, managers are different, teams are different and above all, informal networks are different.

    Angela’s research points out that they are more different than conventional wisdom would lead one (and one’s bosses) to believe.

    Bottom line–if electronic communication and peer networks work more effectively than line-management spoonfeeding and cascading in even 20% of organizations or teams, there will certainly be enough career development opportunities for all of us in this conversation, regardless of how they feel about this topic.

  38. @Mike and @Adam — perhaps a bit of clarification regarding the research in this area is in order. If the question is about provision of information, then print, intranets, etc., is the best alternative. If the question is motivating to action, helping people see connections to the broader strategy and their roles in achieving it, then the leadership (and perhaps the skip-level manager) are critical. Frontline supervisors need to understand the material and know what’s expected of them — not necessarily to be the initial source (to the employees) but to be prepared for questions and to manage their teams through change.

    This pulls communication out of a “someone else is responsible for it” perspective and into the skill set of effective supervisors, managers and leaders. Hence my comment about working myself out of a job — if I can make communication better in an organization, I can influence the business outcomes, which is the point.

    Rawk On, Internal Comm Starship!

  39. Sean Trainor says:

    I think this debate started with an argument that social media is a more powerful media than line management for organisational comms. The assertion was based on some research findings that were frankly a bit obvious and taken out of context and an unfounded claim that there is some kinda cult out there which believes line manager is “king of comms”. I dont think there exists such a cult and I dont believe anyone contributing to this debate “sees the manager/supervisor as the rightful focus of internal communication (and internal communication spend)”
    Instead I sense that some concur with my own disbelief that social media will flatten hierachies liberate the manager and get IC an upgraded boarding pass to the top table.
    Mike I like your bold claim: “we have bigger fish to fry”
    But this is an arrogant claim that is often used by those that resist the presence of IC strategists at the top table.
    You are right when you say “we need to be more than what we have allowed ourselves to become” but you need to recognise that a lot of this positioning has come from historically the lack of delivery.
    Adam is spot on when he says we need to “demonstrate the value we bring in helping organisations become more nimble and effective” That has got to start with demonstrating a certain fleet of foot yourself. Paraphrasing Adam’s “spadework” you’ve got to accumulate your airmiles before you can get that prized upgrade.

  40. Adam Hibbert says:

    Sean T – you might appreciate a quote from Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: “In a culture where what I know determines my status and pay, it is naive to suppose that a new computer infrastructure will lead people to start collaborating. It is much more likely to be used in ways that reinforce the existing culture than in ways that change it.”

    So although I’m excited by stories of how collaboration can emerge via new technical capabilities (I’ve just been reading Wanda Orlikowski’s 1996 account of a stunning series of unplanned ‘metamorphoses’ that took place in an IT company’s Tech Support team, following the introduction of Notes, a paper entitled ‘Improvising Organizational Transformation Over Time’) what I tend to read from these is a pre-existing cultural trait coming into bloom, not an all-new cultural trait. As Mike rightly points out, it’s a question of horses for courses.

    Mike, don’t get me wrong. If I’m not the No.1 advocate of peer networks round my way, I must at least be among the runners-up. I just see real political barriers around it, ones which can’t be lightly sidestepped. To quote from Orlikowski, Foucault notes “He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; … he becomes the principle of his own subjection.” Organisations are stuffed rigid with power relations, and the flow of ‘information’, ‘knowledge’, and any other efforts at sensemaking will be marked by that fact. Would that it weren’t so.

  41. Sean Trainor says:

    i absolutely agree with Senge, my copy of The Fifth Discipline is a bit tatty (well it is 15 year old), but the content still holds.

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