Reducing off-the-record business communication

I am from Germany. People take privacy and data security very seriously over here. At the same time we all feel the need for more transparency, collaboration and real teams in companies, both with our German and our international customers. This blog post wants to encourage you to reduce "off-the-record business communication". It's about your bottom line.

A lot of business communication is still “off-the-record”. That has dramatic downsides in lack of transparency, reduced options to synchronize and communicate, and less common ground for decisions. Hoarding information is the usual practice in companies and teams that I encounter. It's not only driving up obstructive politics but creating toxic environments that nobody wants to work in. There are, however, well known activities that reduce these problems:

  • Send less individual email.
  • Kick out status meetings that take longer than 15 minutes altogether.
  • Grow the habit of publicly documenting decisions and thoughts for your employees.
  • Share ideas early and allow open and honest discussions without punishment for opinions (no group think).
  • Have people create public documents live.
  • Stop making decisions in meetings
  • Offer full traceability for all (!) employees, from the CEO to the blue collar worker on his smartphone, from idea, to discussion, concept, and tasks, all the way to implementation, testing and delivery (I do not mean only software). This is applicable to all industries in my opinion.)
  • Advanced: Record and publish meetings internally.

All of this isn't really complex to do. If you feel that it is right to do so and your coworkers feel the same, even recording meetings and publishing them is possible and feasible today. The complex part is getting alignment of the necessity of this level of transparency in your company. Do you need it? Could it harm you, if all this information was freely available to all? These seem to be tricky questions in most 'traditional' companies that I meet. By the way: At //SEIBERT/MEDIA we do all of the above. It can be done. And I feel, that it has a lot of upsides.

But I am writing this blog post, because I think we can go a little further. Here are the three things that I am trying to implement at //SEIBERT/MEDIA right now:

  • Educate customers to use digital and real-time communication more than phone. We are trialling Intercom on our website and extranet for that purpose.
  • Start recording and live broadcasting internal review meetings to our own employees to give them the opportunity to watch from their desks or watch in “fast-forward” mode later, or to archive the recording for later reference. We are using YouTube live here. Biggest advantage: robust technology, no cutting and publishing afterwards, live participation from employees out of the office is possible.

I think we also need measures to make up for the reduced social interaction:

  • Have a rock star summer party: In preparation.
  • Go on a skiing trip together: Done in February.
  • Fund joint sports activities for internal groups: We do play soccer weekly. A lot of colleagues jog and work out together.
  • Encourage teams to spend money on team events: We have team events. But it's not regular or commonplace yet.
  • Have better coffee, water and drinks. We have made all types of drinks available for free in the last months. There is a high-end coffee machine, a barista style model, and a high end water cooler. I was pretty surprised to learn that they cost over 5k Euros! #yuck But we have better water now. Consumption has actually skyrocketed.
  • Make meals for free or very very affordable. Still working on this. At this point we pay 50% of the cost.

Intercom for real-time and asynchronous conversations with customers and prospects is pretty high on my list to get more communication "on-the-record". I have written a German blog post about an experiment with our central phone number. In a nutshell: Everyone calling +49-611-20570-0 is no longer serviced by our team "Ponyhof" but now routed to a call center. The idea is that we turn the call into a digital communication (on-the-record) and work on it directly with exactly those people that are needed to help the customer.

After 2-3 weeks I can say, that the Intercom part works. Most awesome is the ability to contact sales people digitally. The part where a customer calls and just wants to be forwarded to another employee is 'bullshit'. We do not satisfy the need to be a valued business partner by encouraging customers to speak to a human, then force them to be hung up on and responded to in an email afterwards. No positive feedback came back from this experience. We're not "Google" or "Amazon" (yet). 😀 We'll most likely pick up the phone again ourselves in the future, but we will maintain the digital processing part.

What do you do to get more "on-the-record business communication" in your company?