communication philosophy


I was quoted in a recent article entitled, “Corporate intranets are in deep trouble, expert says“. Don’t worry, I am not the expert in the title, so this post is not a big pat on the back for myself. However, it did prompt me to share something that has been incubating for a while in my communicator brain — the intranet spectrum.

I have tried this concept out on two different seminar audiences and received good feedback. The best feedback, is of course, when your ideas are integrated into the way someone talks about a subject. And “the intranet spectrum” seems to do just that. It gets people talking about the intranet with a unified vocabulary and a vocabulary we are all familiar with.

I will be talking more about this spectrum in reference to the tools I feature here on my blog, so let me introduce you to the concept. Talking about the intranet (the intranet’s primary purpose is to distribute information effectively) using an analogy of government systems (a government’s primary purpose is to distribute resources) allows organizations and communicators to place their own intranet and intranet tools along a continuum which can be easily mapped to culture development within the organization. So just as government systems use varying methods and political ideologies for distributing resources, so can organizations use varying intranet tools and communication philosophies to distribute information to employees.

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In my seminars, I have asked participants to place their own intranet on the spectrum. When doing this, the most important thing to keep in mind is that none of the points on the intranet spectrum are “bad” or “good” — where your intranet falls on the spectrum should relate directly to the kind of culture you are trying to develop inside your organization. And remember that the spectrum can also apply at the tool level. Your overall intranet might be “democratic”, but you may have some tools that are still “autocratic”. For example, perhaps  you have instituted forums with anonymous comments for employees to engage in dialogue, but all of your corporate articles are still vetted through an approval process through senior management.

The spectrum can also give you a strategic roadmap for convincing your leaders to share in your vision for developing your intranet. You can bridge their plans for development of the business culture, by using a shared vocabulary for talking about your plan for the intranet and how your communication strategy can help them achieve their vision for the organization.

Helpful tip!

Don’t feel tied to using the political system labels if they might turn off your leaders. Some leaders may not be able to see how an “anarchic” tool would work in their organization. If you are concerned about the labels, use the descriptions to guide your discussions with your leaders about intranet vision. However, I think a good shock to the system a la anarchy might be just the jolt corporate leaders need to get on the bandwagon for the intranet of the future!


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One of the greatest things about running your own business is the ability to have some choice over the kind and variety of work you get to be involved in. My most recent project is a great example of this. While presenting in Dallas about the great advancement of interactive web tools in the past decade and how company intranets need to come out of the dark ages of 1995, my fellow colleagues at Blue Hill Solutions were busy working away on a client’s external website.

Yes, my friends, it’s important that one who teaches also do. So, while my passion is internal communication, I keep my web brain sharply tuned to the trends of the capital “I” Internet by managing external web projects in addition to my work on intranet tools.

queen_bee_screenshot.jpgJust today, Blue Hill Solutions, the company my husband and I founded in mid 2006 launched a brand new shiny e-commerce site for a local accessories company called Queen Bee Creations. And the amazing part is that we all (clients, design firm and Blue Hill) worked together to pull this off in 8 weeks. Now I am not one to toot my own horn, but I am sure you are asking yourself, “How did they do it?”

There’s a magic word that I spend a lot of time thinking about when I am at work, trying to understand the person at the drive-through window or just asking my husband what he’s thinking about when we are both silent while riding in the car (I will give you a hint…I am not thinking about rockets, but he is!). Anyway, the word I am talking about is C-O-M-M-U-N-I-C-A-T-I-O-N!

A successful project will always come down to a bit of a hard work and a LOT of communication. And communication comes in many forms. There are the typical ways: face-to-face meetings, phone calls, an e-mail or a hundred here and there. But what I found really helpful with our project was the use of this online tool called Basecamp. We use it inside of our company for our internal projects as well, but what really made Basecamp a critical business tool for this project was that it brought together people (clients, designers and our software project team) who worked in different locations under one roof so to speak. If we needed to track a conversation on an issue we could without digging through e-mails and forwarding them on. We tracked milsetones and we were able to share images, documents and screenshots whether we were in Portland or not — all through the cooperative power of the Internet.

And this is what I mean when I talk about utilizing the power of the Internet to transform your company’s intranet. Your intranet should be a place that employees come to get information that helps them get their jobs done or make decisions or find the right people to involve. Using Basecamp for our project is just an example of the kinds of tools that are out there waiting for you. I will try to continue to highlight Internet tools here in this space and help you relate them to communication challenges. It’s time for the intranet to be more than just a company newsletter…let’s build that vision together.

Rob Abramovitz of Skutt left some great questions in the comments section of my Web 2.0 workspace entry, but I wanted to make sure that everyone had access to my response. In his comments, he mentions some work issues that he struggles with (scheduling meetings with colleagues with opposite schedules, tracking projects and tasks and linking those to good tools and then finally, he asks how to keep track of the strategic plan and how Chatter Mill can contribute to achieving the goals of this plan. My thoughts on his last two points are below:

Regarding your final two questions about strategic goals and how Chatter Mill plays a part — I think these are linked. It’s all about communicating strategy to employees and then making sure they have a way to funnel information back to you. It’s about the two-way conversation. Have you made it easy for employees to know how the company is doing on the #1 priority? A dashboard with performance metrics that is posted online or on a bulletin board is the best way to make sure employees can stay focused on the goal. Make sure it’s not too many measurements or a thick report. It’s about priorities — no one can prioritize successfully if everything in a 20-page report is a “#1 priority”.

Finally, Chatter Mill provides the channel for employees to dialogue with management about the business. First and foremost, it is a communication tool. The rating system, though, allows you to get a Snapshot read of the pulse of the organization. The reports can then help you drill down into the problem areas or even help get people past a particular area of pain so they can get focused back on strategic goals. Or even better, Chatter Mill helps illuminate employee ideas on how to meet these goals.

I return to the age-old adage that employees truly are a company’s greatest asset — if that’s true, how come we don’t listen more to what they have to say? When you do, you will see employee engagement increase, retention improve and if linked with a clearly communicated strategic plan, Chatter Mill helps employees tell you immediately and directly when something hasn’t gone according to plan (not weeks later as it makes its way slowly from the water cooler to your office). Chatter Mill isn’t a silver bullet — think of it more as a silver tongue…for your organization.

As I wrangle my way through launching Chatter Mill, I have been thinking a lot about how Blue Hill Solutions can contribute to the future of the employee workplace. The more I think about it the word “workplace” is part of the issue — “workspace” seems more appropriate. More and more, people are working from home or remotely. And that trend will continue as the traditional top-down corporate structures are further flattened by access to information and technology.

But companies don’t need to fear those days — they need to adapt to them. Web 2.0 is the near standard on the internet and it’s slowly edging its way into internal communication strategies as well. But no one has really put the whole package together. I am interested in what people think are the key headaches when it comes to your every day work tasks? Is it getting good up-to-date information? Is it finding the right people in the company? Is it understanding certain operating procedures and processes? Is it knowledge management in the ever-revolving door of today’s corporate careers?

What do we need to create a workspace for the future? The generation that has never used a typewriter is coming soon to an office near you.

No, this is not a reference to a no longer relevant early 90s R&B group (good song, though), nor is it a nod to that famous line in Field of Dreams (good movie, too). Rather, it is my philosophy when it comes to internal communication. In my experience, many executives and managers spend too much time worrying about what not to communicate, while the corporate masses are so desperate for information, leaking information is the last thing on their mind. So, terminally, we find ourselves in a situation where management, doing what they think is their best to protect the company, are unkowingly doing their best to keep vital information from employees.

Having spent the last 5 years as a communicator in a corporate environment, learning the ins and outs of working within a global organization, I decided last spring that more people needed to experience the words, “free your information”. And I say experience, because it’s all about action. When employees start understanding the whole picture, your company’s greatest asset moves into high gear. I am excited to share more of my ideas about internal communication and would appreciate anyone who wants to add to the discussion. So, post a comment or send me a mail. In the meantime, start talking about what information needs to be free.