Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful modern organisations. According to the Towers Watson Communications ROI Study Report, in times of change, companies that keep the lines of communication open to engage their employees are able to retain talent, provide value to clients and deliver better performance to shareholders.
These companies educate their employees about organisational performance objectives, culture and values while at the same time collecting their opinions about the company.
Based on the findings from my paper How does online social networking help leaders communicate? Evidence from the Fortune 500, an open, supportive environment has to be established through traditional face-to-face communication before companies can expect opinions and ideas to be shared online. Participants of the study comprised 190 directors, managers or team leaders holding positions in the Fortune 500 list of the largest global companies in 2013. Leaders were asked to evaluate organisational communication in relation to several areas of the business, including: understanding the business; organisational performance; organisational culture and values; and integration of new employees and customers.
The importance of trust
One of the key findings was that online communications were significantly more effective when a code of conduct was in place (in 84 per cent of the Fortune 500 companies surveyed, a code of conduct had been established). This is not surprising given that the purpose of an online social networking tool is to share knowledge – and for knowledge sharing to take place, managers and employees need to feel they can do so in a safe way. By delivering a code of conduct, companies can enable privacy by providing users with control and security on the platform.
Inevitably, many questions are raised – especially at the senior level – about how the data obtained through social networks will be used, and it is important for managers to know which topics can be safely discussed online.
Opening the lines of communication
Once a company has made the decision to adopt an online social networking platform, senior managers’ support is critical because of their role as influencers in the organisation.
However, even with a code of conduct in place, managers must show they are willing to listen to others. This needs to happen before an online tool is ever implemented. Internal meetings and brainstorming sessions are all useful techniques to establish trust between the manager and his or her employees so that online dialogue becomes easier. If employees are sure their managers are listening offline, it is easier to overcome misunderstandings that may happen online where information can be misinterpreted and emotions do not come across so clearly.
Organisations with an open culture in which employees are encouraged to express their opinions and listen to others’ views in traditional offline settings are better positioned to make effective use of online communication. Leaders who demonstrated a more supportive style of leadership rather than a directive style enjoyed a positive effect on their communication effectiveness. Those asking questions, giving feedback and leading their teams to reach conclusions through online dialogue benefitted most from social networks because they were effectively developing good relationships and supporting teamwork.
Quality, not quantity
The amount of time spent on internal and external platforms is not necessarily associated with the managers’ communication effectiveness. Rather, it is a question of wise use of time and knowing when it is appropriate to communicate online. Leadership style is an important consideration, but so too is knowing when face-to-face communication cannot be replaced.
Pawel Korzynski is a visiting scholar at INSEAD and an assistant professor at Kozminski University in Poland, where he teachers leadership and online influence