Facebook Fail: Internal Communications Strategy

screenshot of Workplace by Facebook article linkSurely Facebook didn’t intend to put the internal communication discipline back 20 years, but they did a mighty fine job focusing on outdated tactics.

The headline on a recent “Workplace by Facebook” piece was: “A 9-Step Strategy for Connected Communications,” which certainly perked up my ears.  Alas, the piece focused more on improving internal communication with tactical ways to connect employees to each other than it did on connecting people and what they do to create a better customer experience.

Their focus on tactics overlooks the significant progress internal communication practitioners are making to improve business results and add value to their organizations. Communication needs to be managed among an organization’s people so they deliver results and services that keep customers coming back.

The Facebook piece gushed over communication vehicles such as collaboration spaces, posts, crowd sourcing, town squares, file sharing and video which they say is “the most engaging and authentic way to communicate company updates while encouraging real time feedback,” the authors said.  But in the end, does that improve results or add value?

Why trot out an internal communication approach that resembles those that existed many years ago when you can celebrate communication people today who are improving results and value in their organizations?  For instance, communication leader Kristin Kelley improved productivity by 8.5 percent while saving $737,400 per year and generating a 700 percent ROI at one of her company’s operations.

Internal communication leader Dave Jackson helped his company improve the total incident rate from 10 to 2 within one year. Costs associated with workers compensation and lost productivity dropped by $150,000. He managed communication better so it had an important impact.

The 9-Step Strategy called for deepening “employee engagement by making sure people only see the information and updates they care about.” But they didn’t say what employees need to be engaged to do. Should they be engaged to serve customers faster, sell more of something or reduce workplace accidents? Or should they just sit around and look engaged, whatever engaged looks like? Nor did they say what they did with information employees don’t care about. Throw it away even if it helps serve the customer better? If you think this is a little bizarre, so do I.

According to the piece, the most important measurements are the number of people who have “read, liked, commented on or shared a post” which “can make a huge difference when it comes to measuring every day impact”. But using numbers that don’t relate to the end product or service is precisely why contemporary communication practitioners are focusing outward. They’re adopting business measures such as quality, service delivery, net promoter score, productivity, revenue growth, net profit margin, operating income and other measures that contemporary internal communication practitioners are using.

As an example, internal communication practitioner Anna Roach helped employees improve their product yield rate by 18 percent in one of her organization’s bread baking facilities.

Of course, we do need to connect internally, but it’s merely a step toward driving financial and operating results at a price that’s smaller than the gains it creates. When you do that, you add value. That’s what many contemporary internal communication people are doing; moving from a cost center mindset to a value creation focus.

That’s not what Facebook seems to think internal communication should be about. “When people are connected,” the strategy piece says, “you can deliver a truly effective communication strategy that enables collaboration, builds culture and gets the right message to the right people at the right time.”

The right message yes, but what about information people need to improve business results and add value? Is that job something we outsource because we don’t know how to move information that has a positive business impact?

Bob Kula, vice president of communication at Kiewit, reduced damage in a large distribution center in Indiana by 65 percent while improving productivity by 16 percent.

And Terry Simpson and her FedEx communication team improved US exports in their Los Angeles operation by 23 percent while generating a 1,447 percent return on the investment.

The point here is that the Workplace by Facebook strategy should be more contemporary, less focused on what some internal communication practitioners were doing 20 or 30 years ago.

The 9-step strategy plays loose with numbers.  I question their veracity because I don’t know how they defined profitable, productivity, turnover and all the other things they say they measured. Given their dated thinking around communication management, I wouldn’t trust their data, not because they’re being sneaky, but because they don’t know any better.

Here are some of their stated “research results,” with my reaction to each.

  • “Connected organizations are 21% more profitable, 17% more productive and have 40% less turnover.”

What qualifies as a “connected organization?  How is profitable measured? There are multiple ways to measure productivity.

  • “77% of communication leaders agree that their company is more efficient when people are more connected.”

How did they define connectedness and efficiency? There are multiple ways to measure efficiency. Did the authors know this?

  • “60% of communication leaders aren’t measuring the impact on their work.”

I’m not sure the work isn’t getting measured.  I just doubt that the 60% know the right things to measure.

  • “30% of IC professionals admit that employee trust of senior management is a problem.”

What does the heck does that mean?

KEY TAKEAWAY: Contemporary communication practitioners are focused on what matters most to improving organizational performance. Dwelling on outdated metrics that don’t directly improve company profit hampers internal communication professionals trying to take their organizations (and their careers), to new heights.

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