Power cut to boost internal social media and employee voice

About the author

Kevin is a co-founder of PR Academy and is the author of Exploring Internal Communication published by Routledge. Kevin leads the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma course. PhD, MBA, BA Hons, PGCE, FCIPR, CMgr, MCMI.

Are senior managers holding back the potential of internal social media to give employees a voice?

That would seem to be the case from my discussions with Internal Communication Diploma students. The technology is being adopted by many organisations and according to research conducted by Rachel Miller last year, internal communication practitioners recognise the need to know how to use it. However, many employees are still wary of posting comments and some senior managers simply don’t see the value in getting involved.

Jimmy Huang at Warwick Business School recently found that adopting internal social media enables what is called multivocality, essentially going beyond controlled one-way internal corporate communication. It also leads to a wider reach and deeper richness of information sharing. However, in the analysis of findings at three telecommunication organisations, Jimmy highlights the importance of cultural norms, in other words, the way that some senior managers encourage people to use internal social media to have a say and the way that others do not. The message is that unless employees trust the technology and their managers, they will not use internal social media to express their voice.

So why are senior managers so reluctant to embrace internal social media as a way of encouraging employees to have their say? Perhaps it requires greater awareness that positional power is not enough to engage employees. As John Smythe points out, employees expect managers to be guides, not gods.

Some academics such as Stan Deetz believe that the situation is compounded by the fact that business schools more often require public speaking and presentation skills rather than listening or negotiation skills. This is very outdated thinking. There is now a wealth of evidence for the value of employee voice provided by Engage for Success, IPA and CIPD. Of all the different enablers for engagement that are reported, employee voice is a consistent factor, one that is more highly correlated with engagement than other factors. Letting go of some control and a sense of all-knowing power is the best way to tap into the latent innovation that lurks in many front line employees. The real skill and expertise of a senior manager is to weigh up the knowledge and ideas that exist inside an organisation to make better informed decisions.

As Jonny Gifford, Research Adviser at CIPD says, if employers don’t show leadership in harnessing the power of social media, they risk of falling behind not just their competitors, but their own employees. It is time for internal communication managers to make the case for a managerial power cut and to support senior managers in making the transition to more power sharing. This will ultimately lead to higher employee engagement and better performance.