Multilevel Communication: “Please don’t forward my forward!”

Has the traditional multilevel communication finally gone bankrupt? When we ask managers of large organizations why they use social communications inside their sales networks, we generally get an answer that’s surprisingly simple.

Find below the video transcription:

By now it is common knowledge that internal social communication has many benefits. Among the most commonly listed are: supporting open corporate culture, meeting the needs of Millennials or building the image of a friendly employer. But for many sales managers the reason is much more mundane. They simply want to have better control over how they deliver the information to the sales people. And for most of these managers, implementing social communication inside their organizations means to finally have direct contact with the front line people who interact with customers.

Here’s how communictions work at a large sales departament (such as a bank). First, somebody at headquarters carefully prepares information about the changes to a product, process or procedure.  This information is sent via e-mail to the directors of the macroregions.  They forward the information to a local group of regional directors, who finally send it to the branch managers. The branch bosses pass the information to the advisors during their regular staff meetings, generally once a week. In case you weren’t counting, the information is forwarded four times before it reaches its final destination.

When we ask the managers what they think about this multi-leveled form of communication, they say, “That’s how we’ve always done it, and it works pretty well.” This would only be correct under one condition: that no one  involved in this communication chain decides to add to, spin or interpret the information in any way and simply forward the original message. Unfortunately, this never happens and in practical terms, it’s not even possible? In most cases, the original information is edited, interpreted, massaged, colored and skewed by the subjective opinion of each “translator”. By the time the information reaches its final destination, it is often not what the author intended to say and sometimes it no longer conveys the intended business objective.

Take, for example, a sales contest among the in-house agents of a large insurance company. The contest is meant to support a new product being launched by the insurer. The campaign has the attention of the entire company and millions are spent on TV and other media. Although the contest had been introduced weeks ago, the sales results are lukewarm. Why? It turns out that many of the agents (even ones in  leading positions) have no idea that the contest is taking place. The announcement had never reached them.

Countless good initiatives intended to support sales efforts fall to the wayside because of the archaic information distribution system, which relies on a traditional organizational hierarchy. Some of the information is practical and extremely useful, like a new sales application module or an innovative, simplified way to activate an investment product. The customers would really appreciate knowing about such products and perhaps there could even be an increase in sales as a result. However, the salespeople never get the memo. And so, the activities envisioned by the managers at headquarters don’t get implemented into the field. Not because the ideas are poorly planned, but because the old information delivery method is not working. Hundreds of hours spent on planning, market research, focus groups, budgeting, presentations, forecasting, approvals, updates, status check-ins, … all  gone out the window! Instead of projected results, the managers get frustrated, disappointed and resentful towards the sales network who appears not to take the information seriously, lacks engagement and shows poor teamwork. These managers feel that they cannot trust their people and start to question their own ability to have an impact on the organization. But rarely does anyone say, “Hey, maybe it is our poor info delivery system.”

The weakness of our traditional multilevel communication system was first recognized by the managers of large sales organizations. It is no great surprise that these managers are now the most grateful beneficiaries of the new internal social networks, which allow them to not only reach their salespeople directly with company information, but also without delays or messages lost in translation.

Magdalena Rogoża, Social Enterprise Consultant

Check out our previous video about the enterprise social networks >>>

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