CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS: CREATE, MAINTAIN, AND USE
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And it is precisely intra-corporate communications that are the "cornerstone" that is necessary for the full exchange, dissemination, constant circulation of corporate knowledge and information. And, it seems, they become the "stumbling block" when it comes to effective knowledge management and creation of the new.
Corporate communications are channels of interaction, opportunities (organizational and technological) for unimpeded communication, "overflow" and mutual exchange of knowledge and information.
Management of corporate communications - creation of preconditions, when communication, interactions, exchange of professional knowledge become profitable not only for the company, but also for the employees involved in them. It is providing such conditions, when, on the one hand, artificial barriers for communication and knowledge exchange are eliminated, and on the other hand, additional opportunities for beneficial interactions are created.
The problem of ineffective intracorporate interactions can be solved with the help of those methods and tools (organizational and technological), which we traditionally use for corporate knowledge management.
Creating a communication environment
Effective communicative environment solves the following tasks: creating and maintaining the necessary corporate culture, professional communication and interaction for growth and development, revealing and sharing of "hidden" knowledge, as well as direct collective solution of the company's specific business tasks. A variety of tasks corresponds to a variety of methods and tools. Gone are the days when companies could develop effectively without using technological solutions which create the basis, the "skeleton" of the communication environment. It is hard to believe that not so long ago in the Ritz Carlton hotel chain, famous for its special attitude to clients, information technologies were not used, and all information and knowledge about the tastes and habits of clients was filled in by staff in little notebooks. This was once the case in some other companies that later became famous for the effective use of knowledge and information, such as the printed encyclopedias "Who's Who" at Centrica .
Now, most communication tasks can hardly be accomplished without an effective and appropriate technology solution, like alert notification system. Technology solutions are designed to perform the three "K's" in companies: coordination, cooperation and communication.
For these functions to be truly fulfilled, it is important to keep the following in mind.
1. Technology contributes to successful problem solving. For a technology solution to be beneficial, it must meet the real needs of the company. What tasks are planned to be solved?
2. There are two types of corporate communications: people to people and people to information. Each type of interaction corresponds to different technological capabilities. For example, in the second case the need for powerful databases of information and knowledge, a "user-friendly" interface, an effective search engine, clear taxonomy , the possibility of customization of information flows (from customize - to order) is obvious.
3. To make technologies work, they should be consistently and effectively implemented. The right sequence of actions during implementation, effective pilots, involvement and participation of end users in the processes, motivational games - these are the third condition for success.
4. No one can be made rich and happy against his will - the old truth says. So it is here: it is necessary to see the benefits of working in a new environment for themselves. Therefore, motivational mechanisms must take into account all three main components of motivation: material interest, non-material motivation and the factor of production necessity - when it is impossible to work effectively without the use of technology.
5. Finally, the fifth condition for the success of technology is effective internal PR, demonstration of opportunities, training of employees. This means that employees should know about the new tool, understand its usefulness and be able to apply it. Therefore, the implementation process should be accompanied by training programs and navigation tools, such as knowledge maps, knowledge packages, user manuals and special trainings.
Let's say a company has already created powerful technological channels for communication. To avoid a situation of information overload, it is necessary to properly fill these channels. To solve many business tasks it is necessary to connect people and information, i.e. to solve two problems simultaneously: to save the gained corporate experience and knowledge for their reuse, and to provide users (employees) with access to the information they need. This is especially important when a company has representative offices in different regions or countries and solves similar business problems (builds gas stations, opens restaurants, etc.). The same "knowledge sets" need to be regularly transferred to groups of employees.
The main products of knowledge and information customization are traditionally considered a variety of directories, knowledge maps, knowledge packages, as well as resource catalogs. The results of information customization create the opportunity to link groups of employees with similar professional responsibilities and interests, although it is not necessarily the case that different users will know who else is accessing the same sources. When information and knowledge is customized, the company's past experience does not become "dead information," it is constantly used, updated and replenished. It is necessary for solving strategic and tactical business tasks of the company, for efficient and comfortable work of employees.
A complete catalog of knowledge and information resources allows you to see what formalized expertise already exists in the company. Since each resource has an owner (the department or office that created or received it from outside), other interested parties can always turn to the primary sources of information - its owners. Therefore, directories become comprehensive communication channels.
Directories of needed (useful) resources usually include external (Internet resources) sources of knowledge and information and most often unite the professional interests of small groups of users - HR employees, marketers or others.
Functionally similar to directories are so-called knowledge packages - a set of thematic links to internal and external resources necessary for solving certain problems - working on current projects, searching for training programs or new employees, etc. Examples are various "red buttons", "sets of primary information" and other tools used in companies.
Taxonomy, a hierarchy of relationships and interdependencies, plays a special role for the listed customization products, which will allow both adding and finding the necessary information unit.
There is another tool that combines navigation and communication functions - knowledge maps, which are a visualized set of relationships of units of information and knowledge objects, as well as their carriers, presented graphically, usually in the form of pictures. As maps are supposed to do, they answer the question "where is the right knowledge contained?" and also indicate the way to access it (contact phones, addresses, business alerts software, links to resources).
Forums and other means of informal or relatively formalized (with a moderator) communication are a stepping stone from connecting people with information to connecting people with people. Unfortunately, many forums turn over time into an information dump. To prevent this from happening, it is important to remember the following:
1. What are the goals and objectives of the forum - what were they organized for. Perhaps they have already served their original purpose, and it is necessary to "repurpose" or even eliminate the forum.
2. Who is the owner of this resource. The owner is the guarantor of the tasks. Often the owner of the forums is considered the company as a whole, in practice, this means that the owner is absent (remember "all around the collective farm, all around is mine").
3. Formal presence of the owner usually does not guarantee the order and usefulness of the forum - appoint a responsible (or a moderator). A moderator will ensure compliance with the "rules of the game": compliance with topics, objectives, corporate culture norms, etc.
4. Clear structure - the taxonomy of the forum is also an important element in its success. First determine the initial thematic structure of the forum, then get the opinion of the focus group of users and ask them to test the forum. If possible, incorporate user comments and suggestions - after all, they are the ones who will bring content to the structure you've created.
5. Delimit the rights - to add and edit content. It is also important to ensure that there is a function to end the discussion. You can give this right to experts, managers, especially respected persons.
6. Why will users come to the forum? Here is an example from a large cheese company. The executives wanted to develop a forum in which employees would discuss new technologies for making cheeses. Several thousand dollars were spent to produce the forum, but within six months, not a single employee ever took advantage of it because it didn't align with the employees' real professional and other interests.
Panelists must have some interest in order to participate in the forum. For example, professional interest - learning, gaining new knowledge in solving problems directly from more experienced colleagues, doing their job effectively. Perhaps users are interested in expressing their opinions, getting their assessment, becoming an expert, a high-level professional. If a company is particularly interested in the active work of the forum, you can develop and use the mechanism of special motivational actions to encourage employees to visit the forum. There are also ways to identify and evaluate the ideas and knowledge expressed at the forums. In many companies managers at all levels have participated in discussions from time to time, which stimulates the activity of rank-and-file employees and managers.
"Yellow pages," "profiles" and encyclopedias are tools for connecting people with people. In some cases, the use of such communication channels becomes the only way to introduce and unite employees in a company - for example, in mergers and acquisitions, with a large number of offices and representative offices in different regions.
The most famous example is the development of the "Connect!" (Connect!) at the merger of British Petroleum and Amoco, which was a network of employees' personal web pages. The employees of these pages were the owners, so they could self-present themselves and their experiences. The principle of ownership and responsibility for the content was a major impetus for the development and prosperity of Connect!
Many companies abroad create similar tools, such as the People Net developed when Shevron and Texaco merged. We recommend creating such networks in small companies as well - let the employees post their photos, tell them about their interests, hobbies and professional experience, as you never know what knowledge will be in demand in a company in the near future.
Communities of practice can be considered the top of the pyramid of tools for communication. A community of practice is a group of people united by professional interests. They exchange knowledge on a certain topic, communicate, solve problems together and find new approaches to solving business problems, give each other valuable advice.
In order for such a community to form and work successfully, it should be beneficial both for the participants (help, belonging to the group, assessment of their knowledge, etc) and for the community as a whole (access to expert knowledge, help in creating tools for communication, etc). And the company should also benefit from the work of the community (necessary knowledge, important experience, "not reinventing the wheel", expert opinion when solving problems, etc.).
The work of the community should be accompanied by technological support, because in the process of work a serious experience is usually accumulated in the form of documents, manuals and methods.
Technological support helps to keep this experience in a compact, easily accessible form, so that one can refer to it when solving similar problems and in case of other business needs. Usually, the following types of "units of information" are important for participants of the community of practice: people (experts), "best or good" practices (a kind of "success stories"), resources for training, policies and procedures, technological documentation, useful articles, news and events, industry and market overviews. Although it is possible to use different categories in each situation.
Taking advantage of established communication opportunities
Sometimes in companies informal collectives of interests and various communities form spontaneously. Or rather, such associations are almost always present in every team, you only need to look closely. Jim Botkin, a renowned practitioner and expert in professional communities, recommends that when managers discover spontaneously formed communities, they should not prevent them from developing, but rather support and...use them for the benefit of the company. This is how communities are born "from below," i.e., spontaneously.
Storytelling: a way to build corporate culture and share the "hidden" knowledge
When it is important to connect people with information, it is necessary to capture knowledge (which in isolation from the situation and its carrier usually acquires characteristics of information). As you know, knowledge can be present both in explicit form (in the form of texts, pictures, graphs, etc.) and in latent form. "Hidden" knowledge is difficult to express and transmit. But there are some methods to help identify them, including the method of storytelling.
The concept of storytelling (telling "how it was") is simple and effective: employees describe their experiences and opinions in the form of short, succinct interviews. The results are recorded in a knowledge base. Each following employee performing similar tasks can read the interview, and most importantly, communicate with a colleague who already has experience. This method is particularly effective in companies where work is associated with business trips, contact with different people. The method of storytelling is often used in foreign companies. It may have different names: "Traveler's Tales", "Stories from the Frontline", etc.
Storytelling is also widely used in the creation of corporate myths and legends, the characters of which are usually the founders of companies and top managers. Professional writers or journalists are usually involved in writing corporate myths and legends.
No matter how hard we try to design and build a system of effective communications, the result may be formal if the company lacks a corporate culture of trust. As the illustrious Robert Bookman, founder of Bookman Laboratories, noted, three-quarters of the effort and cost of effective knowledge sharing is the cost of creating and maintaining a corporate culture of trust. Employees are unlikely to share effectively if they don't trust company management and each other. Therefore, "playing by the rules," openness, respect, and reasonable information transparency are the most important elements of effective corporate communications.