Thursday, 18 September 2008

Whipping up a storm with disruptive communications

Posted by Lee Smith, co-founder of Gatehouse and chair of CIPR Inside, in his blog Talking Internal Communications

September 17, 2008
Whipping up a storm with disruptive communications

I've been reading Leandro Herrero's latest book, Disruptive Ideas, and he's got me thinking about the potential we communicators have to transform our organisations from the inside-out.
This book, which I highly recommend, builds on the thinking and methodology outlined in Leandro's earlier work, Viral Change, which I've discussed here before. It proposes a menu of simple ideas which could, if implemented in the right organisation and the right way, fundamentally change the fabric of organisational life - by changing the behaviour of individual employees.
Like Viral Change, Disruptive Ideas is built on the premise that at the heart of every organisation is a small group of highly networked people (change agents if you like) who hold the key to spreading change virally - like an infection. He sees organisations as non-linear and argues that small interventions (disruptions) can have a massive impact. Butterflies and hurricanes. Leandro also believes that the only way to change an organisation is to focus on changing individual behaviours; there is no culture, only behaviours. It's fresh and extremely compelling stuff.
The book itself proposes 30 such small interventions - 10 relating to structures, 10 to processes and 10 to behaviours. They are all extremely powerful yet exceedingly simply ideas.
Here are a few of them that relate directly to our own area of focus (you can read more about these in the hard copy or web-based open book):
Team 365: the team that (almost) doesn't meet - create teams that are 'always on'; that get things done without waiting for the monthly team meeting; that collaborate, share and take action in real time. Use meetings instead to create social glue - to talk strategy, to talk behaviour, to celebrate success.
Face it, don't email it - encourage face-to-face interaction; reduce email clutter; use emerging channels like blogs and wikis to encourage collaboration and reduce email traffic. Stop emailing people who sit a few desks away.
Less Powerpoint, more stories - switch from presentation to conversation mode; kill the slide deck; identify, capture and share real stories about real people doing real things
Go to source (and turn the volume down) - stamp out rumours quickly and decisively by going to the source; decrease the noise coming from the negative, vocal minority; listen to the grapevine; use facts to tackle half-truths.
These four suggestions will give you a flavour of Leandro's thinking and approach, which I'm right behind.
So what else can we as communicators do to 'disrupt' our organisations? If we are the butterflies of the corporate world (excuse the metaphor), how can we start the flapping that will trigger an internal hurricane?
The four ideas above are a good start - hinting at the massive potential we have to revolutionise the workplace. And there are many more of these communication-related interventions that we can drive and influence and that could, collectively, turn our organisations upside down.
I was interviewed recently by Sean Dodson at The Guardian and we got talking about social media as a disruptive technology. I hadn't given the subject much thought at the time, but I have done since. I have no doubt that social media channels - blogs, wikis, social networking sites, etc - can be used to trigger deep and fundamental change inside organisations. They can bypass the hierarchy, boost transparency, stimulate grassroots conversations, identify issues, give the silent a voice, reduce email traffic, trigger action. What's more, if adopted and championed by those all-important change agents, these tools could help spread the virus of change at lightening speed.
Building on Leandro's point about storytelling, I would also argue that injecting more emotion into internal communications has hurricane potential. Much of what gets communicated inside organisations (at least formally) is hard, rational and emotionally hollow. But that's not what how we operate as humans. We think, feel and do - and our communications should reflect this by ensuring wherever possible that it has a rational and emotional component - and, where appropriate, prompts action and behaviour change. Hearts, heads and hands.
Likewise, visual communication is hugely powerful and under-utilised in internal comms. The use of colours, icons, photographic images, charts, visual metaphors and learning maps can get messages through quickly and clearly, cutting through the jargon, gobbledygook, clutter and spin that too often dominates communication at work. Yet all too often we fall naturally into the habit of churning out more words, more bullet points.
These are just a few top-of-head examples, but I'd love to hear your thoughts....
PS- if you'd like to hear Leandro speak, why not book a place at the CIPR conference on Monday 29 September - see my calendar for booking details.

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