With high profile elections and their aftermath dominating the news outside the “firewall,” it’s occurred to me that their underlying dynamic – the tension and balance between “authoritarianism” and “liberalism” – also has a huge impact on internal communication.
Part of the problem is that organizations are managed on “authoritarian” lines – evidenced by hierarchies, chains of command, and institutionalized opposition to dissent.
But people in organizations are more “liberal” about who they discuss business matters or whom they decide to trust.
In my view, internal comms has overcompensated in reinforcing the authoritarian side of organizational culture. Overreliance on cascades, the “corporate we,” one-sided town-hall meetings and demands for 100% engagement scores have combined with a trend toward ultra-simplified one-size-fits-all messaging. The result: unbalanced narratives, which stifle discussion and minimize the space for thoughtful engagement.
Is the answer an overthrow of hierarchy and structured communication? NO!
It is not a move to something like “holacracy,” a contrived anti-hierarchical management approach. Holacracy has stumbled as it has replaced chains of command with elaborate and time-consuming committee processes – shifting the organizational balance in the opposite direction.
Instead, it is time that managers, and especially internal communicators, acknowledge that organizations are both authoritarian and liberal in nature, and start adopting practices that build on the strengths of both to work better together.
Time for the Influencer Scan
A key first step in understanding the liberal or “self-organizing” side of your organization is an Influencer Scan – to find the three percent of your people who are currently driving 90% of your conversations. If this is what you want to do, contact me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
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