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THOUGHT LEADERSHIP

Improve Corporate Communications with a Culture of Innovation

Innovation pushes business into phases of continued growth, allowing new ideas to become a reality. Without an innovation strategy, companies can’t modernize or adapt to change in industry trends and consumer behaviors.

Consumers, executives and employees all feel the effects of successful innovation. For example, 69% of customers surveyed by Edelman agree that brand innovation should help improve society, either through the products they offer or the services that can help make life easier. Internally, 93% of business executives agree that “organic growth through innovation drives the greater proportion of their revenue growth.”

For many businesses, a dedicated innovation team will develop new ideas and products utilizing the latest technologies and can help solve systemic problems. Within corporate communications, however, innovation serves a broader role. Innovation can be the catalyst for influencing processes, culture, and overall policies that have a presence in every department and employee within an organization.

To begin using innovation, it needs to become a fundamental discipline within your company that’s embedded into you culture and influences the way your company is organized, the type of office environment you provide, and the processes that you use to communicate internally.

 

Organization

Determining the best policies for an ecosystem of innovation needs to begin with understanding your organization; your company demographics, job functions, and individual employees’ needs all inform the processes and environments that encourage innovation.

First, consider the demographics within your industry. For example, in the retail industry, there is almost a 50/50 split between millennial workers and those aged 35+. The differences between millennials and their older counterparts have been conveyed again and again in recent years, with almost everyone remarking on differences in values, technological preferences, and work-life balance. This contrast in personnel illustrates that methods for internal corporate communications should bridge a gap in demographics rather than trying to force everyone to fit into a specific mold.

To begin bridging demographic gaps, identify the ambassadors or “team leaders” within your company who seem to be setting corporate culture. These ambassadors are rarely involved in office conflict and help bring employees together both inside and outside of work. As you’re looking for ambassadors across your company, they should come from a variety of teams with differences in background and demographics. They’ll be able to communicate better than upper management, who aren’t always readily available for employees.  

Your ambassadors should become mentors in helping employees meet halfway between their desires and your company’s needs. For example, younger employees may be more comfortable with email and instant message communications, but older mentors could help lead training for the proper phone and meeting etiquette.  To meet halfway, younger employees could also help train older employees with new project management and communications software that they may not be familiar with.

Identifying and leveraging these roles enables cross-communication between teams, which encourages inclusivity and fresh perspectives. Providing pathways for growth in these roles will also maintain motivation and morale since it encourages employees to work toward a higher responsibility.

To gain more insight into current best practices, we surveyed our colleagues in communications roles within the U.S., Australia, and Russia. According to their feedback, they’ve asserted that the more face-to-face interaction there is, the better the relationships will be throughout an office.

Encouraging cross-communication also requires companies to rid their organizational structure of unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape that might stifle innovation. A core tenet of innovation means breaking orthodoxy and exploring the freedom to abandon anything that isn’t working. Office politics forces communication to move in strict paths, while innovation instead relies on a steady flow of communication – in verticals between management and employees as well as horizontally between teams. This ensures everyone has the chance to contribute, and no one feels the inability to speak up when he or she has a new idea.

 

Environment

Providing the freedom to collaborate pushes employees to continually ideate. This type of office environment offers a sense of safety, which allows employees to speak up and share their ideas without fear of repercussions or failure. A creative process shouldn’t deem ideas as “right” or “wrong,” but instead allows everyone to get all of their ideas out in the open so others can build upon them and continue to create. By using open and transparent processes for communication, there isn’t anything holding your employees back from developing a disruptive idea. 

According to our surveyed colleagues, employees need to feel safe before they can get excited about change – and that’s all about openness, transparency, and trust.

A standard office tends to separates teams behind closed doors and relegates employees to different areas. Naturally, it is necessary to work near the people whom you collaborate with most often throughout the day, or from whom you have immediate needs. However, employees shouldn’t feel tied to their desks or discouraged from reaching other teams throughout the office.

Communications departments should encourage open-door policies and less stringent rules about moving throughout the office. Instead of employees relying on answers from management, an innovative office environment will foster horizontal communication among peers, where they can source unique answers, insights, and help each other grow regardless of their differences.

Specifically, this could look like designated areas for collaboration in the office. Here, employees are encouraged to move around, come together and present their ideas for feedback or brainstorming. It may not feel intuitive to bring together a member of accounting with a member of design, but innovation is most prosperous when it isn’t used inside of a vacuum. If possible, an innovative environment could also include flexible working hours for employees who operate better at certain times of the day, or whose job functions allow for unique schedules, such as customer service.

It won’t be possible to accommodate everyone’s needs, but an office environment that provides more choice for the ways employees work throughout the day will encourage more collaboration. You might be surprised at the ideas that come together with a combination of small changes to both organizational structure and office environment.

“Employees need to feel safe before they can get excited about change – and that’s all about openness, transparency, and trust.”

Process and Technology

Your organizational structure and office environment provides a foundation for innovative processes to follow. Depending on your business needs, there are a variety of tried and true methodologies available that you can test within your company. These methodologies include frameworks for meetings, processes for moving new ideas throughout your company, and different steps you can follow to determine if your processes are truly innovating.

Innovating involves breaking out of the norm to introduce something new. It’s normal for people to have adverse reactions to change, so be sure to keep this in mind when you begin to innovate your communications processes. This is why methodologies are so valuable, as it allows your teams to go through an established set of steps rather than jumping straight out of their comfort zone.

Adjustment to change will also come easier if you’ve already established a culture of openness and transparency. Feedback from our colleagues shows that communicators need to make sure their cultural foundations are sound before they start to move into bells and whistles.

Bringing teams together organizationally and physically also means communications will increase overall. You’ll see happier employees as everyone is kept in the loop about what’s happening within the company at a higher level. Furthermore, allowing team members to communicate more means their goals and strategies will become better aligned. Day-to-day work will become streamlined once everyone has the information they need to actively contribute. Encouraging communication will also restrict gossip and misinformation from being spread throughout the office.

The technology you use to communicate will impact how easy it becomes for your entire company to share news and ideas. Ideally, it should make your processes easier instead of complicating things. However, choosing a technology that fits both your company and employee needs can feel impossible, even with the multitude of software to choose from in the digital age.

When choosing a technology or communications process, take your employees’ needs into consideration first. This comes full circle with adjusting your organizational structure to include mentorship and training across demographics. If some of your employees prefer a new software for their communication and project management needs, it’s ostracizing to expect other employees to conform with the change without having the same desire or fundamental understanding.  

Instead, ensure training is in place to make sure everyone is on the same page, and so you don’t have groups of frustrated employees. Frustration with the technology will only be compounded when employees can see that their colleagues are given preference while they’re left to struggle.

If possible, technology should be used to accommodate a variety of working and communication styles. Identify several different channels you’d like to use that can reach all employees regardless of preference, and that will also encourage feedback:

  • Social media
  • Email newsletters
  • Office flyers and posters
  • Webinars
  • Mobile apps
  • Meetings
  • Company intranet

Depending on your resources, you can use as many channels as you see fit, as long as your messaging stays consistent. The key here is to make sure your process for internal communication emphasizes a two-way feedback loop where employees can receive information while also voicing their opinions and concerns.

Conclusion

Innovation should be utilized as a key component of corporate communication and policy in order for businesses to reap its full benefits. Instead of relegating innovation to a specific team and using its processes for ad-hoc updates, weaving innovation throughout your internal communications can lead to higher productivity across all teams and departments.

When it comes to innovation, you don’t need to start making big changes to your organizational structure, environment or processes all at once. Instead, you can choose to innovate one step at a time or focus on a specific methodology that you’d like to try.

The bottom line is that before you start thinking about innovation in format, and you need to cover factors the lead to employee satisfaction, like trust, openness, and safety. From there, the difference between success and failure is measured in your employee engagement and their feedback about what works and what doesn’t.

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