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Include Employees in Your Company Narrative

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Fri Jun 08 2012

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(From Fast Company) -- Inclusion draws upon the two-way nature of real human conversation. Yet inclusive communication goes a crucial step further: It extends the practice of back-and-forth interaction in a way that entitles people to give as well as take--to provide their own ideas, and not simply to parry the ideas offered by others. Within an organization, the practice of inclusion enables employees not just to interact with managers and colleagues, but also to serve as frontline content providers. In recent years, as that practice has taken hold at many companies, the overall structure of how organizations develop content has undergone a noticeable shift.

Corporate communication professionals, working with other leaders, used to create all or most of the content through which an organization told its story--to internal and external audiences alike. Those professionals developed static messages and built carefully structured campaigns around those messages. By and large, they viewed communication as a control function, and they kept a tight rein over what people wrote or said on any of a company’s official channels. When employees read a company newsletter, or when they listened to speakers at a company event, they became members of an essentially passive audience. What’s more, because employees were consumers rather than producers of organizational content, the scope of employee communication remained fairly narrow, and so did the purpose of such communication. That purpose, for the most part, was to deliver information and instruction that would help employees to thrive in their functional role.

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More recently, a different approach to content development has come to the fore. The old emphasis on producing carefully framed messages has given way to a more fluid and variegated style of communication, and the campaign mentality has yielded to a preference for collaboration. Most important, employees are becoming an integral player in that collaborative enterprise. “Communication today is really about establishing and maintaining a relationship with employees, rather than top-down command and control,” says Nora Denzel of Intuit Software. “It’s about participation and contribution as much as it is about information sharing.” Leaders, in other words, have come to take the process of communication as seriously as they do its product. More and more of them recognize that including employees in that process sends its own kind of message, not least to employees themselves. The term employee communication has thus acquired a provocative new meaning. Where it once referred primarily to communication aimed at employees, it now encompasses communication performed by employees.

A give-and-take model of communicating with employees, as we’ll see, can follow a variety of patterns. It can focus on internal matters, or it can involve aspects of a company’s external communication. It can result in the creation of a standard media product (an article, a photograph, a video clip), or it can exhibit the dynamic and spontaneous character of spoken conversation. The common denominator in all such practices is that employees don’t rely on authorized communicators to say what needs to be said, or to tell them what they need to know.

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