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How Different Communication Channels Can Improve Your Business

Posted on April 23, 2015

In the days of the Roman empire, it took about 4-6 months for news in Rome to reach the furthest outskirts of the empire. Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15 and Roman citizens in Syria didn’t likely know about it until September.

It was much different from our modern era. The best example of how quickly news travels today was the news of Robin Williams’ passing. News of this tragedy happened almost the instant someone found his body. My Twitter feeds was overrun with an outpouring of emotion from all over.

Never before in human history has there been this many tools for instant communication. Email, Google, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, and others have stitched together a connected network out of billions of people.

Horizontal vs. Vertical Communication

These social networks are superb at spreading information horizontally. From peer to peer, information travels at the speed of email. This has facilitated tremendous collaboration among peers and brought a very effective team dynamic to organizations.

But what about information that needs to travel vertically - information that needs to travel up the organizational hierarchy? Are there good channels for that?

Part of the problem with vertical communication is sorting through the glut - finding the good information that needs to be relayed upwards. How best to separate the wheat from the chaff? A manager who has ten reports who have ten reports each needs a way to find good information from 100 collective individuals. Hopefully the manager’s ten reports are good filters and know which information warrants being relayed to the boss.

Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way.

As the TV show Undercover Boss demonstrates, good information is not always relayed upward to people in power and can lead to organizational blind spots. On Undercover Boss, the boss has to go in disguise for a week to talk to front-line employees. In doing so, various inefficiencies and blind spots are revealed. Sometimes these blind spots can undo entire companies. What this shows is that often failure is not as much a competence problem as it is the result of a structural weakness in communication.

The Solution

Companies need better ways for workers and managers to communicate -- not just peer-to-peer channels like Slack or IRC.

One solution is employee suggestion programs. A good digital employee suggestion program is built to give managers the ability to sort good ideas from the bad and make sure good ideas are not lost in the process. A good one functions as a tool for vertical communication to complement existing collaborative communication tools. It provides a proper channel for employees to communicate valuable information to people with more power in the organization - ie. the people with the power to make things happen.

The key is usually the interface. In a good system, ideas can be submitted from any employee and are then put in an open forum for comments. Ideas can be “liked” by others and these are put in highlighted positions on the general viewing board. These are all tools and concepts familiar to anyone who has used social media. Good software, in general, is designed for ease of use for employees and managers alike. Further, a good suggestion program has reporting tools to provide managers insight into which employees submit the best ideas.

The ideal digital suggestion program also opens up a channel for managers to communicate directly to employees. Using this software, managers can issue challenges to entire teams and offer rewards to participants. This is also known as tapping the Wisdom of the Crowd which can lead to awesome results.

Separating the Wheat From the Chaff

With a good suggestion program in place, no longer do good ideas sit dormant in employees’ minds. The right internal communication strategy and the software to support it provides employees with a channel to communicate their valuable insights to others, both horizontally and vertically to themselves in the hierarchy.

How does your organization handle vertical and horizontal communication? Tweet us @_vocoli and let us know!

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