“When no one is doing as you say, is it their problem or your problem?” – leveraging the corporate intranet to communicate bad news
As the economic climate continues to deteriorate and companies suffer blows to their reputation, there is much talk about the role that the corporate intranet plays in improving corporate communications.
Unsurprisingly, ‘industry experts’ urge their clients to open up as much as possible via the intranet: Announce restructuring plans and layoffs. Circulate external news feeds by the hour. Companies that don’t do that (which accounts for a large number of FTSE 100/250 players) are dismissed as bad practice.
But I wonder whether this industry opinion is more knee-jerk reaction than a careful suggestion. Can good and bad practice be summarily defined? Have we considered clients’ business realities?
Layoffs and bail-outs are emotional subjects, and the intranet is too impersonal as a communication vehicle. Not only can messages be misinterpreted; but the whole intranet may be seen as a senior management mouthpiece, which enables the top brass to disseminate anything anytime but does not give those lower down the food chain a level playing field to express their own concerns. The resulting feeling of frustration and uncertainty would be exactly the opposite of what companies aim to achieve with honest, open communications.
I am not saying that negative corporate news should not be communicated internally, but there are many ways to achieve this more effectively, such as face-to-face meetings, and the intranet is not always the right platform if it does not yet have the necessary features or functionality. There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of building the supporting infrastructure (e.g. a responsive and secure bottom-up feedback mechanism) and reinforcing content ownership by other departments (such as HR). Each is a daunting task. Making shallow recommendations without careful considerations on our clients’ business priorities will only undermine our credibility, and theirs.