Two-way internal communication is dead. That may sound like a radical and provocative statement, and it is.
But it addresses a gap in the thinking that implies that interactivity and dialogue can somehow be confined to a closed loop, even in the face of always-on smartphones and social platforms. It challenges the still-grudging recognition of the role of informal influence networks and word of mouth in organizations. And, above all, it reflects the generational recognition by millennial internal communicators that we no longer operate in a two-directional but a multi-directional world.
Two-way internal communication was born with the best of intent. At a time when nearly all internal comms were top-down and one-way, the desire to make things “more two-way” represented a desire to humanize, to engage and to drive a degree of collaboration. The belief that such interaction and engagement could take place in a ‘sealed’ environment was often necessary to get management to cooperate.
Of course, it’s a myth that it’s ever been possible to fully “seal” an internal communication environment at all.
Even before online platforms, the offline platforms of “community” and “word-of-mouth” have always been rife with conversations about the inner workings of companies and their implications for individuals and their families. But until online platforms made some of these conversations visible and accelerated their spread, it was easy not to see them, or at least to ignore them,
Many organizations are still slow to recognize multi-directionality as the nature of today’s organizational playing field.
Some still talk about becoming “more two-way.” Others may recognize multi-directionality in principle, but actively resist doing organizational network analysis (ONA) or looking consciously at the impact of internal communication on external audiences. Still others seek more to focus on controlling and suppressing messages, instead of having IC provide a lighthouse to help employees navigate through messages and demands coming from multiple directions.
Organizations that choose to recognize multidirectionality will be able to differentiate themselves as more open, dynamic, and responsive relative to their competion. They will also have greater ability to target messages more precisely and support faster and sharper alignment than more traditional organizations. Yet many of those traditional organizations will try to get by by being “more two-way,” at least until they are forced to give way.