Regulated vs Open Communication

open communication is the way most people want to communicate
Open communications by now is adopted in most organizations. Learn more about the communication style based on your brand and culture.

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An expert interview with Stacy Wilson, ABC, of Eloquor Consulting

The old communication model hasn’t been effective for a while now. Top-down communication, regulated by the communication team and senior leadership, is often met by employees with mistrust and cynicism. It also limits interaction which makes the business less effective and competitive. In this installment of our Communication and Technology Insights Blog Series, we discuss how social technologies are changing the way enterprises communicate. In order to do this we will focus our conversation on the benefits of open vs. regulated communication. We also address important considerations such as technology, organizational alignment and employee engagement.

To get some expert insight on this issue, we interviewed Stacy Wilson, ABC, from Eloquor Consulting. Stacy is president of Eloquor Consulting and has nearly three decades of communication experience spanning intranet strategy, change management, communication strategy and much more. Stacy’s and Eloquor’s clients include Fortune 500 organizations from a variety of industries.

Greg Rohan (GR): Stacy, thank you for joining us today. Our questions for you today center on the value of open vs. regulated communication; what primary differences exist between the two types of communication and which is preferable considering today’s organizational style, demographics and employee engagement trends.

Stacy Wilson (SW): Thank you for having me to discuss this important topic.

GR: What do you see as the primary difference between open and regulated communication?

SW: Regulated communication typically requires approval and a review process to get that approval. Historically, organizational communication has come through a communication team for preparation, approval and dissemination.

Unregulated communication, what you are calling “open,” is user-generated content. It can come from any employee with something to share, via a myriad of methods or channels. If it is truly open, it is un-moderated, meaning no one reviews it before the post or comment is visible by other users. So, it could be an article, a comment, a presentation, a status update, etc.

GR: Why now is there a shift to open communication today? What in today’s work environment is causing that shift?

SW: The idea that every employee should have a voice is partly grounded in Western individualism and a high tolerance for risk. Geert Hofstede’s research (Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind) helps us see this shift to trusting many more voices in unrestricted exchange of ideas. Technology has enabled the shift to occur faster and globally. Even many Eastern cultures are changing, as can be seen in the Korean data in the Forrester Groundswell research.

Those pioneering organizations that opened up communication to improve collaboration, innovation and productivity broke ground for others. There are decades of research by people such as John P. Kotter that points to communication as a key part of successful business change and business achievement. Communicating openly is good business strategy.

GR: Do you advise your clients to embrace one model over the other?

SW: I advise clients to balance them both. There is still going to be a need for some regulated content, particularly where there is a regulatory restriction, such as financial disclosure and business changes such as mergers. But the regulated content should be a smaller set of material; just what employees must know.

Unregulated content serves a difference purpose for the business, is incredibly valuable, but requires some nurturing. This means that communicators become facilitators and curators of content, not just authors and publishers.

GR: How does open communication benefit the business?

SW: Enabling all employees the opportunity to contribute and share unimpeded delivers several important benefits. Open sharing of information:

  1. Is foundational to collaboration, which drives innovation
  2. Can improve productivity and reduce duplication
  3. Gets employees engaged by allowing them to make a personal contribution and/or equipping them with information they need to perform their work
  4. Ensures fuller use of the company’s intellectual capital – walking around in the minds of employees – toward achieving business goals

GR: How does the choice of communication type impact employee engagement?

state of employee engagementSW: Employee engagement is ultimately all about employee action, whether it’s sharing ideas or getting the work done. If we think about it that way, then the communication type should inspire an employee’s decision to act and possibly direct the action itself. Pushing written content at people doesn’t support retention or action. Engaging people in dialogue improves both retention and action.

It’s hard to get involved with a static article written by an invisible author, with no visible feedback method. Alternatively, if I feel I have a voice and value to share – that the company cares about – I’ll be more engaged. That makes open communication and dialogue tools really important in engagement.

GR: What advice do you have for a company introducing more open communication channels?

SW:

  • Secure executive support; try to get a sponsor to participate
  • Collaborate with Legal and HR to create guardrails that protect all stakeholders
  • Identify champions who will contribute (some who will author, others who will rank/rate other’s content, still others who will comment or post status updates), give them a little extra training and tools, and challenge them to stay involved
  • Find and share stories of how open communication helped individual employees, teams and the business
  • Provide just-in-time learning tools that leverage the stories
  • Trust your employees
  • Be patient

Thank you to Stacy Wilson for joining us today. It really sounds like finding appropriate communication channels for your business is a foundational decision, which can be the difference between a collaborative and nimble culture and one which is much more regulated and restricted. While both models have their place, it is refreshing to see the data and the attitudes toward collaborative and open communication really taking hold in today’s business environment.

For best practices around other important communication and technology trends, check out part one of our Communication and Technology Blog Insight Series, “9 Ways to Leverage Technology to Improve Employee Engagement.” For questions and comments you can always contact Stacy Wilson or the ElevatePoint team to learn more.

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