Move Your Organization into the Communication AgeFor the last several decades, we have all been working hard at helping our company become a fast and agile information age organization. We’ve found new and better ways to distribute and display data and information. We now have 24/7 access to email and web sites via a multitude of devices, such as Smart Phones, Smart Tablets, laptops, and desktops. In fact, it’s hard to find any area in an organization that doesn’t provide access to information.

Yes, we’re definitely in the information age, and therein lies the problem.

We have more email than we can keep up with; we have numerous collaborative tools we’re trying to interact with; we’re members of multiple groups and associations that provide information; we’ve subscribed to paid and free e-newsletters, newsfeeds, and RSS feeds; we’re subject to mobile advertising and a barrage of information every day. Add to this the fact that people within the organization are constantly sending out plans, imperatives, directives, goals, strategies, and tactics, trying to get people at every level to take action on them. We are literally drowning in information.

So while the information age is wonderful, it has also become a problem.

What’s the solution? We need to propel our organizations into the communication age. Only then can we reach the next level of organizational excellence.

Informing Versus Communicating

There is a big difference between informing and communicating. Informing is one-way, static, and seldom leads to action. Communicating is two-way, dynamic, and usually leads to action. Realize that the information age is not our friend; it’s our enemy in disguise.

Ask yourself, “In our organization, are we better at informing than communicating?” For most people, the answer is “yes.” And if you can’t communicate internally with your staff, how can you communicate externally to customers and shareholders? This is not to say that you should stop informing people. However, you do need to tap into true communication. When you focus on maximizing two-way communications, you can create a communication age organization and cause positive change much faster.

Now here’s the interesting thing: Even if we embrace the communication age and go full force into it, the information age doesn’t go away. Informing has its role and can be useful. So you don’t want to erase the past; you simply want to move forward into the future.

In other words, when something new develops, the old doesn’t go away. The new simply gives us more options to innovate and lead. Previously, we jumped into the information age and have since done a great job of being information age organizations; the benefits of all that work don’t go way. However, in order to get rid of some of the negatives of the information age and accelerate growth, we have to move forward into the communication age.

The Right Tool for the Job

Ironically, we have all these fantastic communication age tools, but we’re using them in an information age way. Why? Because we still have an information age mindset. Therefore, it’s time to learn how to use the tools currently available in a way that will advance the organization and promote both internal and external communications. Following are some suggestions that will help you move your organization into the communication age.

Know how people like to communicate and learn.

Not everyone communicates in the same way. For example, in some cultures it’s common that people don’t return voicemails, but they do return text messages. Likewise, people in different generations prefer different communication tools. The key is to understand how people like to communicate. Therefore, before you use a certain communication tool with an individual or group, ask yourself, “How does this person (or department, company, etc.) prefer to communicate?” If you’re not sure, look at how the other party regularly communicates with you. People tend to use the communication tool they’re most comfortable with. Better yet, ask the other party how they prefer communications to come to them. If your goal is to elicit some sort of action, you have to communicate in the manner that will get the other party to respond.

Just as people communicate in different ways, they also learn and absorb information in different ways. For example, some people would rather listen to a book than read it. Knowing this, do you think that people who would rather listen to a book than read it would also prefer voicemail over email? Probably so. A person’s learning style usually mirrors his or her communicating style. Therefore, if you’re trying to communicate and get people to absorb information, wouldn’t it make sense to deliver the message in a way that ties into their learning style?

With the communication tools currently available, you can tap into someone’s preferred style. Today, we have the technology that enables you to leave someone a voicemail, but they receive it as a text message or read it as an email. Or, you can text someone and the receiver gets it as a phone call. The ability to have a sender send something in the format they prefer and the receiver receive it in the format they prefer is here now. You simply have to use it. When you do, you’ll be maximizing communications internally and externally.

Get social inside the organization.

Social media is all about communicating, not informing. That’s why it’s been so widely accepted. Before social media, the internet was a giant tool for informing. Now it has shifted to become a giant tool for both informing and communicating, and that shift has been rapidly embraced by young and old alike. But are companies using these communication tools internally? For most organizations, the answer is no. However, many social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, are great ways to connect employees across departments, regions, and countries. You can even have your own internal version of these popular social media platforms.

The fact is that by reframing the use of social networking technology, companies can increase communication, collaboration, problem solving, and competitive advantage with little cost. And since many of these tools are free or nearly free, they are accessible to organizations of any size. The sooner you embrace these tools and put it to work for you, the faster you can enhance your ability to communicate information in a way that generates action and response in your people.

Create community.

Two types of online communities exist: communities of interest and communities of practice. A community of practice may be all the salespeople in a company or industry, or a group of cardiologists. It’s a professional type of community where members share their knowledge and best practices.

A community of interest may be people who love dogs, sailboats, or even motorcycles. It’s an environment where people share similar interests or passions. You can even get granular when it comes to communities of interest. For example, you can narrow down your motorcycle community to one that only includes people who drive a Harley Davidson Heritage Soft Tail Classic. The more granular you get, the more targeted you can be in giving people what they would like rather than the junk they don’t want.

In your organization, you can set up electronic communities of practice in order to get people communicating ideas and sharing knowledge. You could have a community for your salespeople, engineers, HR, marketing, IT, etc. Then, consider expanding it to gain a greater level of communication. For example, what if you established a community of practice for all the CEOs in your industry? Now you’re going outside the organization and aligning the practice. You could even do one for all CIOs of Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 companies. The possibilities are endless and they open up the communication channels for enhanced dialog and innovation companywide.

Embrace the Future Today

All of these suggestions are aimed at improving communications rather than merely providing more information. Therefore, you need to ask yourself how your organization can use these tools not only internally, but also with your trading partners and customers to enhance information and add communication.

No longer can you think of yourself as simply a CEO, CIO, CFO, VP, or department manager. You also have to think of yourself as a Chief Communications Officer. Remember, the past doesn’t go away and your current role is vital. But you also need to look at what your organization is trying to accomplish. Data and information are great, but if you want people to act on that data and information, you have to use today’s technology in a way that opens a meaningful dialog. When you do, you’ll move your people to action and will advance the organization to new levels of success.

Daniel Burrus