How the story of a goldfish will change internal communication

1.jpg

During the last ten years our attention span has decreased from twelve to eight seconds, Microsoft argues in a recent study. During the same time the attention span of a goldfish has remained stable at nine seconds. Obviously, the goldfish hasn’t had a bunch of new options like social media and smartphones to entertain itself during the last ten years - compared to us.

Distraction is the price we pay for having all the great digital tools at hand. According to Jonas Bladt Hansen, digital consultant at Danish dairy giant Arla and speaker at the J. Boye Aarhus 15 conference, this has significant consequences for the future of internal communication.

The evolution of digital 

In the last ten years the way we process information, share knowledge and collaborate has changed significantly.

Today, up to 60% use online media as their primary news source  and up to 20% use social media as their primary news source. And in five year’s time 25% of the workforce consist of digital natives who haven’t even experienced a world without the Internet.

As Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO famously said:

The true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention

0.jpg

In a world where human attention has become even scarcer, employees expect information to be short, relevant and easy accessible. And one thing is certain: The way many companies communicate today don’t even get close to deliver what their employees expect. This becomes even truer as the digital natives become a significant part of the workforce.  

In addition to this, the evolution of digital channels has made it easier to collaborate. A recent study by CEB shows, that 57% of employees say that collaboration across locations has increased while only 5% say that it has decreased. In addition, 50% say that the reliance on others has increased while only 9% say it has decreased.

This development is a unique opportunity for companies – and especially for internal communicators. But it requires a significant change in the way corporations communicate, which digital tools they offer to employees, and a reshuffling of focus areas in the internal communication departments.

In the following I will present four areas to you that I think should be in focus if companies want to succeed to have well informed employees that are able to collaborate and to make the right decisions to the benefit of the company.

Exploiting the opportunity: 4 focus areas

1. Network Performance

Recently I heard about a global, fast growing sales company. When they hire new sales persons, the education relies solely on the experience of the sales person’s mentor. The company does not share best practices on how to sell. However, they had some databases with knowledge about their competitors’ products, but they did not know where to find it.  So everyone uses their own best practices and learn from the feedback they get from their own customers. This is not the way to become a top performing salesforce…

The businesses that survive in the future are the ones who are able to create the possible performing network in the company. “Network Performance” is now more than just pure IT infrastructure. It is about using digital platforms to create optimal working conditions for your employees by enabling and facilitating collaboration and knowledge sharing.

2. Facilitation of knowledge 

Many corporations have difficulties in merging the Intranet, collaboration platform and maybe even an Enterprise Social Network into one valuable platform. The main challenge is the absence of a clear business ownership. I think that Internal Communication should play a very active role in this and consider to even taking the business ownership of all three. Why? Because this mainly is what internal communication will be about in a few year’s time.

There will be a huge need for change initiatives, communication and ongoing facilitation. Take the sales company as an example – they would need someone who helps them to identify the work processes where they could benefit from using a digital platform. They also need sales people to use it, and finally someone who help them to communicate the best practices.

3. Infotainment

Today, internal news competes with channels like Facebook, Instagram, Buzzfeed for attention. The great choice of digital channels as made it more difficult to get attention. This is why corporate news and information must be shorter, more visual and entertaining. A lot of the information produced today could easily be converted into great infographics, videos or just photos with a little piece of text.

Recently, we wanted to communicate the global milk intake in Arla. Instead of just communicating the amount in kilos, we created a great infographic that shows that our production equals glasses of milk that could reach 7 times to the moon and 47 times around the world. It was a huge success. People loved it, they printed it out and when I at the same time had a meeting at a transport hub in the UK, this was the news they remembered,

Studies show, that we process pictures 60,000 times faster than text. In other words the extra effort pays out – the message is more likely to stick (and please excuse me for not showing best practice here by writing the blog in plain text).

Take a look at the two videos below to see the difference between information and infotainment. I guess I know which one will catch your attention for the longest time!

  1. This is information: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ts8p6e-uI9w

  2. This is infotainment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBlRbrB_Gnc

4. Authenticity

We are entering an era of scepticism as the youngest generation is significantly more sceptic than older generations (19 % of Millennials say that most people can be trusted compared to 40 % of the Baby Boomer generation, PEW Research Center). We have always had the highest trust in information and recommendations we get from our closest friends, colleagues or closest managers.

The evolution of social media has given us the opportunity to build trustful relationships and changed our expectations to the way even top managers should communicate. The common logic seems to be that if busy Hollywood stars like Mark Wahlberg or Emma Watson can handle their own Twitter account – you would certainly expect your CEO and other managers to be able to do the same!  

Instead of being the spokespersons of the management, internal communication departments should instead focus on getting the management and other key players in the organization to communicate on their own.   

A recent initiative in Denmark, shows how it could look by letting top executives tweet during one of their work days (#dkboz). Politicians are another good example. For Instance, Denmark's new Minister of Justice, Søren Pind (see https://www.facebook.com/vsorenpind), is very active even in the comments field. Why shouldn’t your managers exploit this opportunity on your internal network?

The advantage is that the communication suddenly changes to become more trustworthy, relevant and emotional. That’s what authenticity is about - and you might already have the technology in-house and be able to start today.