How do organizations keep their employees up to date when they don't have an effective intranet?
While thinking about how we can appeal to more customers, I often think about the methods these potential customers use at present to keep employees in their organizations up to date. This is a useful question because most companies don't have a digital solution that actually works; instead, they simply make do with workarounds.
I'm currently reading the book "Und mittags geh' ich heim..." (And I go home at lunchtime...) by Detlef Lohmann and came across the idea of info meetings.
Info meetings: Now let's listen to the company news so that we're all on the same page
On page 108, Lohmann writes:
"So, info meetings with the whole team are vital in order to work effectively. Here, those responsible can inform the whole team about important changes, strategic topics, or specific customer requests. The meetings aren't usually too long and the team's expectations are very clear: 'Let's listen to the company news and then we'll all be on the same page!'"
At this point, I thought of our own intranet solution and felt a chill down my spine. Of course, I know that a book written in 2012 is probably referring to a context in 2010 or perhaps even earlier. I also know that our own Linchpin intranet solution has only been on the market since 2014. We have been using Confluence in this context since 2008 and wikis since the beginning of 2000. And it also is a perfect fit for my prey pattern: companies that use info meetings in place of an intranet. That is info meetings in place of an intranet.
Detlef Lohmann's writing is very authentic and likable. The book is a great read. He seems to be an innovative, open, and future-oriented executive who is quite rightly beloved by his employees. Niels Pfläging, Lars Vollmer, and Mark Poppenborg have all made reference to him as an innovative personality.
On page 113, he explains:
"Until now, I wasn't a great fan of automisation. In fact, I'm quite happy with manual operation and its output. And I don't see why automisation should necessarily lead to more flexibility."
This implies a good dose of common sense and a healthy skepticism towards digitalization, computers, and software as a cure-all.
Even back in 2012, Lohmann seems to be far ahead in his thoughts and ideas on organization than most companies are now in 2019. And then this smart, down-to-earth executive goes on to say that "info meetings" are "vital"?
I must say I was quite impressed. In fact, up until this point, the book kind of pattered along, and most of the ideas weren't especially new to me. Yes, we need more transparency. At our company, bank balances are even displayed for our customers to see in the tea kitchen. Of course, target agreements should be done away with; we haven't had those for a long time. Yes, we display the key figures. All of them. Yes, the decisions are made in the periphery. As the CEO, I often know nothing about them! Yes, most meetings are a waste of time and should be axed. But info meetings, of all things, are allowed to and should remain?
Information should always be transparent and accessible
In my opinion, info meetings are also a waste of time. If somebody has a piece of information, they should make it available to everyone immediately. In a group chat such as Slack, or even better Google Chat, or in a pinch Microsoft Teams, you can talk about it in real-time – and you can also do it on the go from a smartphone.
Although they might not be in real-time, we can also use microblogs (e.g., Linchpin) or even Yammer or Facebook Workplace to discuss ongoing topics in a fast and focussed way.
Moreover, we also publish important news on our internal blog (thanks to its personalization features, Linchpin is terrific for this), just like a newspaper. I don't even know which platform could be considered an established alternative here. Large organizations often use botchy, self-made SharePoint solutions that might have been a perfect fit once but are often hopelessly behind the times by now, and (among, employees at least) widely detested.
Ultimately, wiki pages have the highest level of persistence as they can be continuously adapted but primarily serve as a reference point and form of documentation. The value as a news source might be low, but if used extensively, the trove of knowledge there grows similarly and is immeasurably great.
An evergreen: communication channels in organizations
We started writing about communication in organizations back in 2010 when we also came up with this graph, which I still like to use regularly today.
*TRANSLATION OF GRAPH TEXT IN ITALICS BELOW*
Meeting – Telephone – Instant Messenger – Mail – Jira – Microblog – Wiki – Blog
(bottom left) Obligation to provide (Push: Employee has to actively approach someone)
(bottom right) Obligation to collect (Pull: Employee has to actively collect the information)
Now I ask myself if I had missed something about this concept or what did Detlef Lohmann miss in 2012 when he was working on his book.
In general, companies often don't have the necessary technical tools to hand. In a similar way to how wikis function as a kind of putty to hold things together, in the analog world, meetings serve to "bridge" the gaps in technology. That is the most plausible explanation I can come up with. Perhaps Lohmann simply didn't want an arsenal of software in his company at all. Although, there are voices that argue that a lot of company communication can be transmitted in analog form when everyone works in the same place.
But I plan to write to Detlef Lohmann and ask. That is a part of writing a well-researched article, after all! Moreover, I'm sure that he is a friendly guy you can talk to. Perhaps it'll be the start of a closer exchange. Of course, I'll update this article with his answers as soon as I have them.
What do you think of info meetings now?
Unfortunately, I don't know how popular these kinds of "sync" meetings are. But if you have something like this in our company, I'd suggest taking a closer look at this means of communication.
We also have our teams get every day for their daily standups – a well-established artifact from agile process models. But people don't use these meetings to talk about "news," but rather coordinate on their productive work and potential obstacles. What did I work on yesterday, and what am I going to do today? What is blocking me? What kind of support do I need? These standups are highly operative and certainly aren't aimed at bringing everyone onto the same page by sharing "news."
So, do you need info meetings because information doesn't flow freely through your organization? Then let this be your most important takeaway from this entire article:
Yes, all employees can find out about all the important things at the same time!
It isn't just wishful thinking! And it isn't an exception to the rule that is only possible in tech companies. Using simple software solutions, you can ensure that news spread at lightning speed. The marginal costs are very low, too. Personalization increases news' relevance for the reader even further. But that doesn't come into play until you're looking at 500 employees or more.
Employees can use their smartphone (via Linchpin Mobile) or the Linchpin web app to consume such news and even take part in discussions that form around it. Of course, emails are also used to inform employees about significant developments, whereby the most crucial details are included then and there. But to interact with each other about the news, they return to the mobile or web app.
Think about how much time and money these meetings cost
Conducting such info meetings is certainly not insignificant. I have written about the expense of synchronous communication in companies before. Financial terms aren't enough to quantify the damage it can do. The creativity that differentiates Germany from low-income countries; the mastery of complexity, which only makes sense in interdisciplinary teams – these things require synchronous attendance.
But employees can't work on solving the problems faced by their customers while sitting in boring, pointless meetings. In fact, meetings should be the last resort. After all, the costs are enormous. And I'm not sure how fun it really is to sit and listen to others tell us about company news.
This is how I like to see our meeting rooms: empty and unused
News can be consumed on a smartphone on the go
Why should company news be any different from any other form of online news? They should be available both via app and browser – in digital text form, with supporting images, and if possible, with videos too. Ideally, they should also offer ways of interacting with them directly – providing feedback and sparking discussion.
In the year 2019, there is no reason not to offer your employees this opportunity. And yes, there are secure ways of doing it with systems behind a firewall.
Do you want to have a chat with us about how you can replace info meetings and other relicts from the middle ages of internal communication with a modern social intranet that is accessible for all employees at any time? Get in touch!
Detlef Lohmann actually answered my email. He even came to Wiesbaden, where we spent a whole day exchanging ideas. Our meeting confirmed the impression I had from his book (I've now read his second, too), he's a really extraordinary, impressive guy. But he has an entirely different way of seeing the world than I do.
While I do a lot of things digitally, he is a very analog person. His company's office is designed so that everyone sits on one story, where they can all see one another. He has noticed that some developers work through the night and aren't always on site. But we didn't get to talking about he deals with that.
At present, he and his company Allsafe are seeing impressive, no, more like phenomenal results with this direct, face-to-face, human communication. If you can also work so well like this, then you should. And the rest of you should take a look at Linchpin. Mr. Lohmann said he wanted to try that out with his team (on top, of course).
Social Intranet with Linchpin: Find out more and try it for free!
Linchpin is a sophisticated solution, which turns Confluence into a fully-fledged social intranet. Do you want to find out more? We'd be happy to talk to you about your requirements and uses cases and invite you to go through a demo with us. You can find more information on its functions, benefits, and prices on our website. Or you can take a look at its features in a configured system: Our open demo instance is freely available and is a great way to gain a first impression.
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