This is the final part of The Business Communication Revolution. The full series can now be downloaded as a free eBook.
Over the course of this series we’ve seen the challenges in improving the efficiency of communication in a rapidly evolving business environment. The way we work is changing with an increasingly mobile workforce more widely distributed than before, and business processes spread across a more complex B2B ecosystem or supply chain.
For many years email has been our primary business communication tool, and it has served us well. But the limitations of email, and in particular the inherent lack of accountability it provides means that email’s faults now outweigh its advantages. Quite simply, email is no longer good enough. Many corporate intranets have also failed to provide the vibrant community for knowledge sharing they promised, and are now often described as “where knowledge goes to die”. We need a new set of communication tools for the 21st Century.
But it would be wrong to blame email and intranets for all our communication problems. The information overload many of us suffer from is not just an overflowing email inbox; it seems that every application wants to send us endless notifications and pop-up messages. If we are to succeed in making business communication more efficient, we need to take more responsibility for our own behaviour – both how we consume information, and how we communicate with others.
The rise of social networking in the consumer world provides the most obvious direction for the future of business communication. But the promise of enterprise social networking remains largely unfulfilled; initiatives towards creating a cross-department platform for sharing knowledge have been hampered by poorly defined projects, often lacking management support and without measurable relevance to business objectives.
We also need to exercise caution in selecting new tools – the internet is awash with startups providing new web services, and even those from large, established suppliers can be shut down without customer consultation. The temptation to adopt new tools with consumer levels of usability instead of creaking old enterprise systems is understandable, but can fragment and endanger corporate knowledge.
Most of all though, we need to recognise that the greatest challenge in implementing more efficient communication practices is the inherent resistance that people have to change. The ongoing upheavals at Yahoo have provided an interesting case study for many aspects of business communication, and again highlight the level of challenge involved. Earlier this year, they asked all employees to stop using Outlook as their email client, and switch to Yahoo Mail. Only 25% of employees actually did. This was not exactly a communication revolution being proposed – simply changing from one way of using email to another, and to the company’s own product at that. While it’s tempting to conclude that this says more about Yahoo than anything else, I believe that most companies would have similar results from any non-mandatory initiative.
For change to succeed, management need to lead by example and carry their staff with them. The tools deployed need to benefit the company but they also have to appeal to the individual employees. They have to protect the security and integrity of corporate knowledge, but need to be as intuitive and easy to use as consumer applications. And any deployment of such tools needs to be accompanied by a clear explanation of the objectives of the change, and guidance on how to ensure bad habits are left behind.
It would be wrong to suggest that this change will be straightforward. For many organisations, it will take several years to evolve from the chaotic, overloaded, unaccountable mess of email communication. But every journey starts with a single step, and the time to take that step is now.