COMMUNICATION IS KEY: HI-TECH, HIGH TOUCH
When hierarchy and bureaucratic processes are removed from the scene, the new structure of an organization is the culture — and internal communication paves the road. But it is a transformed internal communication
BY FABIO BETTI SALGADO
Fabio Betti Salgado is a partner of Corall Consultoria and Coral Comm, graduated in journalism and specialist in network communication, transformational leadership and cultural transformation. He is also a professor at Fundação Dom Cabral and FIAP.
Disclaimer: I have posted on Facebook and Linkedin a request for help in order to identify stories of communication between companies and its employees in extreme circumstances, as well as crisis these companies need to manage and M&A projects. Silence. Or communication is not actually making a difference in these situations as to have good stories to tell or it is preventing from telling them. By using my contacts, I have discovered that there are, indeed, interesting stories about the strategic role of the internal communication area — as it is still called the area responsible to communicate with employees in most organizations. However, there is a subordination of the internal communication to the external communication area, which was the one who ultimately shied away from my requests.
The official reason? Not associate the company’s name with problems. (Please reader try to imagine the rationale behind such logic, to the extent that the companies at hand have their names already associated with the respective challenges, and the all-seeing eye of Google does not let them hide it.). The anti-transparency behavior is a clear symptom that these companies are still stuck to an old-fashioned management model, tied to the principles of modernity, especially regarding to comand and control. Post-modern companies acted in a very different manner: these companies would make use of extreme circumstances to reinforce a culture in which employees are really relevant, acknowledging them as their most precious asset. These companies would do so adopting a position of transparency — the opposite of what companies practiced by not accepting my invitation to dialogue.
Internal Communication (IC) is no longer a generator of official releases for a company. The IC area has transformed into an articulator of conversation’s networks. The main objective before was basically inform, and now extends to strengthen and evolve the organizational culture. How does it do it? By using tools it is still getting used to: combines the high-touch communication face-to-face and “hot” media messages, like video, with the high-tech from the “cold” digital platforms. The new role of the internal communication area is to build the culture, and is crucial for the post-modern management, once culture has replaced the hierarchy and bureaucracy as the foundation of an organization.
Evidences of this role may be found in a study conducted by Alessandra Almeida and William Cerantola at the end of 2017 with a group of companies that have adopted a communication network platform for its employees. As the researchers reveal, “the communication unification in a friendly platform has stimulated the exchange of ideas and sharing between employees and teams, giving visibility to people and areas that had little or no interaction before”. The effect on the culture was sensible, according to the study: the decentralization of communication has stimulated collaboration. One of the researched companies by Almeida and Cerantola was the shoes e-commerce company Netshoes, which provides a simple episode that I can share to illustrate this change.
On a given day, a cleaning employee posted on the internal digital platform that she would clean a given floor at a certain time, and requested the collaboration of everyone to remove their personal objects from their desks. The result was that every employee from the floor really left their desks organized. Besides the collaborative environment, this was a clear example of the empowerment tha emerges from the base. “The identified cultural changes”, conclude the researches, “further tend to reach a new level in the relationships between leaders and employees in terms of dialog, decision-making process, autonomy and delegation levels”. In other words, the more democratic communication system provided by the platform allows the organization strategy to be translated into action for employees in a direct flow and without intermediation. The cleaning lady perceives the changes and so does the CEO. The CEO from retailer Pernambucanas, Sérgio Borriello, says that the digital platform is the right patch to build a strategic agenda: “A good strategy is the one everyone knows. And the digital natives are the first to know given their great adhesion to the platform. There is an explosion in participation from them in the company”.
CEMENT BETWEEN TWO FUSED COMPANIES
The internal communication area provided the “cement” for the fusion process between Zap Imóveis and VivaReal, the two major digital real estate adds portals in Brazil. Since the announcement of the fusion in November 2017, communication is doing a crucial rule not only by informing everyone about what is going on, but also, as explains Vice-President for People and Management, Renata Lorenz, to specially deal with doubts, uncertainties and insecurity characteristic of a M&A. “We have created a closed group in a social media network to quickly disseminate the information and we use a digital tool for collaboration in management projects”, explains, observing that the most important communications are still performed personally or through webinars. Lorenz further mentions that ZAP Viva Real Internal Communication area also stimulates cascade communication, normally started by her, another VP or by the CEO, covering everything that may impact the life of employees and the organization: from businesses to the integration process, moving through eventual resignations. A simple message structuring model based on answers to four questions is a principle always followed in the company — “What happened?”, “Why did it happen?”, “What does that mean to me?” and “Now what?”. These are questions that are an integral part of the classic book of good journalism and serve to structure the first paragraph of a given article, also referred to as “lead”. For the executive of Zap Viva Real’s People and Management, the internal communication role today is much more to define the message strategy, organize them and make them operational rather than the old role of writing the messages themselves — inclusively, because those that must dominate the most relevant messages, for example, is senior management. “This is how we have been doing since the beginning of the M&A journey and, in a very short period of time, we can say that we have all teams integrated and the 850 employees working together under the same brand and in a single organization”, she adds.
CEMENT IN A CRISIS
Do you know what the change in communication had to do with Starbucks’ decision last May to shut down all its 8,000 stores in the United States for a few hours? Everything. That was done in order to provide training regarding racial discrimination — after a server called for the arrest of two black men at a store in Philadelphia just because they were not consuming anything, which generated heated protests. Even if the reader observes that racial discrimination is not eliminated with training, the strategy to align on the matter so rapidly with over 175 thousand employees was only possible because since January 2017, Starbucks uses a digital platform to speed up daily communication between executives and store managers and, above all, to facilitate communication of these store managers with their direct employees.
Comments made on the platform not rarely make the marketing team at the headquarters’ office to adapt the menu, incorporating innovations suggested by those at the front line in the business, with direct contact with customers. This same logic of capturing suggestions from employees came up in one of the most acute moments of the crisis experienced by BRF during the “Operação Carne Fraca” (‘Weak Flesh’ Operation) coordinated by the Federal Police Department in 2017. Soon after the Federal Police announced that was investigating the company’s packing plants for alleged bribes to inspectors with the objective of approving the sale of meat with problems, employees began spontaneously posting on open social media photos of their refrigerators at home full of BRF products, with messages saying that the product the consumer had at home was the same as the employees consumed with their children. This movement made the company release a campaign with photos and the text: “We only produce the food we put on our family’s table”.
ON THE CHANGE AND DAILY ROUTINE
The company Mercado Livre, representing the largest e-commerce ecosystem in South America, wanted to broaden the collaboration and entrepreneurship culture among its employees. Then, it created a specific recognition program in its internal digital platform to allow employees to recognize their colleagues in relation to parameters aligned with the company’s culture and mission, with a special emphasis on the promotion of entrepreneurship in all levels.
To boost the program, the company even included a chatbot on the platform. The impact was massive. Internal communications works as cement also on a daily basis, as illustrated by a Coca-Cola subsidiary in Vietnam. The Human Resources department wanted to implement a consultation management system for their services, used by 2500 people distributed in three factories, both in Vietnamese and English. But could not find anything that was effective and interactive at the same time. Until it discovered the possibility to integrate a chatbot to the communication network platform, allowing the employees to access, in their own language, information regarding vacations, medical insurance, payroll, leaves, among other information. With that, it has reduced the enormous amount of consultations received everyday and plans already to implement new modules, such as training and integration, besides satisfaction and engagement surveys.
FACEBOOK GIVES THE EXAMPLE
A company that seems to masterfully combine high-touch with high-tech techniques in internal communication is Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg himself uses the platform to post messages, make quick inquiries and demonstrate, with his own example, that leadership can not distance itself from the front line. One of the most interesting uses of the digital channel is precisely to amplify the impact of the dialogue. On a weekly basis, the internal communication team posts an event entitled “Q&A with Mark” (a “ping-pong” with Mark, in free translation), which occurs every Friday, with live broadcast, directly from the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
Any of the more than 25,000 Facebook employees may not only participate remotely but is also encouraged to post questions and even vote on someone’s else question. The most voted questions appear at the top of the search options, allowing Zuckerberg and other members of the organization’s leadership to regularly feel the company’s pulse. And every Friday, at the scheduled time, there he is, the all-mighty Facebook boss, to answer the questions from the employees and to make sure that every one is aligned with the company’s main mission, which is “to give people the power to build a community and bring the world together”. In fact, facing successive crisis, Facebook is one of the organizations that most understand the strength of internal communication in today’s postmodern days, even if their stories are not amongst the easiest to tell.