The Goal's the Thing: Technology Is a Means Not an End

By Ethan Yarbrough posted 03-08-2011 13:33


What is the intersection between new, social technologies and the established practice of internal communications? Why discuss technology with internal communications people? I will be speaking to a group of internal communications practitioners here in Seattle next week, so these questions are on my mind.

The answer, I think, is because technology is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. It is a tool available to any group within the company that wants to make a positive impact on the bottom line. How it is applied from department to department will be different depending on the function and goals of that department. But no department can separate itself from technology considerations in today’s work environment.

I was asked by an internal communications pro once to help them solve this problem: the home office would compose messages for their subsidiary branches and send them out via email and then find that very few people would read them. How, they asked me, could they guarantee that what they were sending out would get read?

The short answer is that there is no way I know of that technology alone can guarantee readership. They will need to institute some new business process requirements if they want an iron-clad guarantee.

But even without major process overhauls, there are ways to increase the chances that your content gets read: deliver your content in the manner your readers are most comfortable with. This underscores again a point that I and others have made here before: choosing what technology to use should be the last thing you do. First you have to talk to your people and find out how they are working and then choose the technology that meets them where they already are and matches behaviors they already have.

The tiny cynic that sits on my left shoulder grumbles that this is unnecessary hoop jumping by the corporate side and that employees should adapt to the conditions they find when they come to work. But the more forward-thinking angel on my right shoulder points out that if we went to another country we would learn the language so that we could be understood. Getting the message across is the most important thing. Let’s not get hung up on who’s doing the adapting.

The fact is, we may not be traveling to another country, but a new country is forming around us.

Just as an example, take texting. Mitchell Cuevas points out in this Salty Waffle post (“Did Twitter Kill the Phone Call”) that “texting overtook calling sometime in 2008.” That “43% of the young demographic that is driving cell phone sales report that their main reason for getting a phone is to be able to text.” And that “teens send an average of 6 texts for every hour they are awake.”

And if that isn’t enough indication that the people who will inhabit our businesses create and consume communication differently, how about this fact reported by Newsweek in June 2010: “By (2011) Apple’s revenues from the iPhone and the iPad will more than double its revenues from the entire Macintosh product line.”

The approach for the communicator who asked me to solve her problem involves accepting that the peoples’ habits, they are a changin’. Her reaction to that fact shouldn’t be to throw out all other communication tools already in place, but to supplement them with newer technologies like texting if that’s how her people operate. And then, once the spectrum of communication choices has been expanded, to strategically choose the right communication tool for the right circumstance.

Keep the goal in mind. If you aren’t achieving the goal to your satisfaction, assess the technologies in place and the alternatives available. Pick the technologies that get you to your goal.

#mobile #demographicchanges #texting #internalcommunications #SocialBusiness #communication