Recently, in New York City a group of internal communications professionals from some of the biggest finance firms in the world met to discuss the state of communications and enterprise social networks at their respective organizations.
With the continuing rise of enterprise social networks (ESNs) and the host of tough questions they pose to HR and internal communications teams, the discussions provided a view into the technological transition finance firms currently face, as well as the differences and similarities between internal communications within UK and US organizations.
Though separated by a literal and cultural ocean, the US and UK are facing surprisingly similar challenges in adopting internal social networking platforms. The biggest hurdle, all respondents concurred, comes from the traditionally conservative culture associated with finance. Though younger generations are eager to adopt social technologies and new modes of collaboration, there is still a reluctance on the part of senior management and executives to bring ESNs on board. Their hesitation comes from a perception that given the freedom to post their own content, as well as like and comment on others’, employees may post content that’s inappropriate for the workplace.
Even among those organizations that have adopted ESNs, there is a desire to control the content that employees produce. One UK attendee cited what’s known as the “four sets of eyes” principle in her company – namely that four managers must see and approve any content before it’s posted. Companies that have begun experimenting with social networking have found this fear to be entirely unfounded, and not one conference attendee indicated that they had experienced intranet abuse in the past. As time goes on and ESNs and intranets gain popularity, more senior managers across organizations are relinquishing control over their employees’ social networking. This is sure to be a boon to trust between workers and senior staff.
More similarity came with an interest in employee engagement, one of the hottest topics in internal communications at the moment – especially with Gallup’s most recent annual report, which showed that employee engagement continues to hover around a troubling 30%. Professionals in every industry are wondering what they can do to turn this trend around. There were differences, however, in how the US and UK companies discussed engagement. The American conference was primarily concerned with how to measure engagement – what metrics to use and where to find them. One attendee used the survey that Gallup produces for internal communicators, which she attested was an accurate option. UK companies were more interested in discussing types of engagement and did not mention metrics with nearly the same level of interest.
One method of engagement that was a hot topic at both conferences was video and blog updates from CEOs and senior executives. Organizations both make use of this tool, though to different ends. The consensus in the UK was that executive updates are used mostly for big announcements, while in the US they are delivered with more frequency and help employees get to know the organizational leaders.
This led to an interesting discussion of what is appropriate content for a CEO or other executives to share with their organization. Again, navigating the landscape of what is or is not appropriate was an overarching theme in both conferences. There was a concern in the US with making executives relatable given that their videos and blog posts serve to build comradery between them and the employees.
Though the similarities between American and UK organizations prevailed, it was clear that some small differences still exist. Overall, this is an exciting time for internal communicators in finance, with an influx of technologies creating new ways of communicating. The challenges in managing these communications are only matched by the opportunities they present, especially in the arena of employee engagement.
Initial caution over controlling employee content is slowly giving way to acceptance, and perhaps that will eventually transition to enthusiasm, as organizations realize the benefits of purposeful social technology in the enterprise. The coming years will likely hold many changes, and internal communicators across finance wait with bated breath to see where they will land.