The Covid-19 pandemic, as we all know, has forced many organizations to transform their business digitally. This seems to be the push we needed, even though it was not under the best circumstances. This acceleration into our digital transformation is forcing us to use more digital tools that will enable us to communicate but, more importantly, collaborate more efficiently. The keyword is enable, as using these digital tools does not automatically make us communicate and collaborate any better.
Also, there is a difference between communicating more effectively and having us collaborate more effectively. They are definitely coupled, but for us to reach the level of collaboration we are envisioning, we will require a different mindset and need to change many of our communication strategies.
Changing the Mindset of Communication
If you look at the traditional way we used to communicate (and in some cases still do), we had a manager or a single key person “the elder” who was the center of all this communication. The communication was in one direction and could be considered a pushing of information strategy. This makes this person crucial to the organization, which is good for that single individual, but from an organization’s perspective, it is not ideal. A single person hoarding information at the center of the whole system does not allow for the best use of this information. However, we must understand that some people’s tendency is to hoard information as this is what can make an individual valuable to the business. If there are no strategies to remove this type of hoarding, it will continue, and your enterprise will suffer for it. It will not go away by itself.
Great ideas can come from anyone within the organization, and having a strategy that liberates information throughout the organization will allow others to take advantage. Having a way for that information and the ideas that come from this information to be more broadly disseminated to the team would support a more innovative business. Also, there would need to be a strategy that lets any team member pull information when they need it (very important), allowing them to process that information effectively. This is not the same as sharing all information with everyone all the time. That would be way too much noise. It is about sharing high-level, essential and critical items, but making the other information available when it is needed. Available information means the user knows where to get it, not just that the information is accessible. Even if they have access to it, they might not know where it is.
This improved communication is not a software problem. Current software makes communication much easier, but to get the communication level that your organization is looking for, you may need to change the way you think of communication.
An Example of Old Mindset in the New Digital Age
Many departments are improving how the information they generate flows to downstream teams and activities. However, there still is the feeling that they need to control the information that is passed downstream as they fear it will be misused. For example, preliminary information shared too early and not used as the intended “preliminary view.” The incorrect use of this information causes us to revert to the old mindset and seek control of the information we share.
I think we all can understand this point of view as I am sure many of us have had experiences sharing unrefined or incomplete information, only to have it misused.
This emotional baggage is why an engineering team did not want to pass preliminary information to the planners (downstream activity). However, the previous problem with the planners using preliminary information from the engineering team was not intentional; it was simply because the planners had no idea that it was preliminary. With the tight deadlines that we all have, there was no reason the planners would want to use the preliminary information as it significantly slowed them down and meant they had to redo the work with the final version.
With today’s tools, the information we share can explicitly specify the state of the data. In this example, the planners would know the information is in a preliminary state and take an appropriate action (move on to another task, communicate with engineering on their estimates, use the preliminary data to identify any potential issues, etc.). The addition of today’s digital tools does allow us to communicate information that was not easily communicated before. This shift requires us to re-evaluate many of our old emotional considerations when deciding how we want to communicate in the future.
The Darkside of Digital Communication
The digital tools we have available to us today enable us to communicate and eventually collaborate better; however, as with every technology or strategy, there is something for us to be aware of so we can overcome it. With communication tools, it is noise.
This is something every company will encounter, as well as overcome. Tools are not always 100% aligned with streamlining communication. Currently, they are more focused on sharing an increasing amount of information than they are on sharing only what is needed. This is not an easy problem to solve, and the solution involves both software and a different mindset from the entire organization. For example, most people tend to follow more streams than necessary and want to get notified when information is shared across the organization. This is because of the “worry of missing out” and is why social networks like Facebook have done “well” at taking many mindshare hours from their users.
Today many of our digital transformation initiatives are accelerating, enabling tools that will allow us to communicate and collaborate better across our enterprises. However, these tools will not necessarily result in better communication unless we change our mindset of how we share and disseminate information across our business.
The manager or leadership role has changed from a push style of communication to a more open style, allowing individuals to self serve and have available to them the information they need when they need it. Having a single person holding information hostage will not support the new level of collaboration we require in the future.
Changing the organization’s communication and collaboration style is very difficult, but it is what we must do. The external factors of today’s environment might force us to change before we were 100% ready, but now might also be the easiest time to implement the changes that will allow us to support the future we want.
Today’s tools will not force us to communicate and collaborate in a particular way; however, they will enable any strategy your company decides to use. Let’s embrace the current possibilities and attempt to get rid of our old emotional baggage. The opportunity to change our communication and collaboration strategies has never been better than today.