Soldiers get their marching orders by email
The news that 38 army personnel were told that they had lost their jobs by email made front page news in The Sun. An internal message – dubbed the “burning platform” memo – communicated in the form of a blog posting from Nokia’s CEO has been read by millions of people around the world. And horror stories of redundancies announced by text message are all too common.
All of these incidents highlight the danger of electronic communication when the message really matters. Digital communication is alluring: it’s quick, timely and efficient in terms of time and money. But it’s not always the best solution.
Electronic communication can feel cold and impersonal, and unintended meaning can be taken from it. Messages can also be saved or forwarded so that they reach the eyes of people for whom they were not designed. And electronic communication also reduces the potential for inter-action and feedback from those on the receiving end.
Whenever possible, important communication should be conducted face to face. It shows you care and it allows your audience to fully absorb and understand what is being said, and to ask questions. In large organisations this may require a cascade briefing: this can be a good solution as research shows that communication from one’s own line manager is usually the most trusted of all. Just make sure that all managers tasked with this responsibility have received communication training, a thorough briefing and are equipped to deal with likely questions.
When there’s major news to communicate to employees, it’s important to do it well. Electronic media when professionally employed can be a valuable part of change communication. But as a blunt instrument, they have the power to create problems and resentment rather than deliver the understanding and engagement that you intended.