Pulling the plug

As internal communicators what stops us shutting down channels which don’t work anymore? I think there are three main barriers which we must overcome to be more comfortable with switching off a dying channel’s life support and pulling the plug on it once and for all.

Last week, during a chat on Twitter, I made an off the cuff remark that if some organisations pulled the plug on their intranets and shut them down tomorrow, no-one would notice or care because they add no value for employees.

This remark created quite a bit of a reaction with comments from both the ‘prosecution’ and the ‘defence’. However, the balance of sentiment from internal communication practitioners themselves seemed to be more towards pulling the plug!

This made me wonder why more of us don’t do it. As internal communicators what stops us shutting down channels which don’t work anymore (the seemingly untouchable intranet or anything else) and shifting our time and resources into maintaining and developing channels which do? I think there are three main barriers which we must overcome to be more comfortable with switching off a dying channel’s life support and pulling the plug on it once and for all.

Nostalgia

So, your organisation has a channel that’s been around for donkey’s years.  Maybe it’s an old-fashioned newsletter born sometime in the 1980s, possibly with a warm and fuzzy title such as ‘Tea Break’, ‘The Garden Fence’, ‘Speak Easy’ or that old favourite ‘News and Views’. Everyone in the organisation claims to love and cherish it. However, you know that only the regular ‘hatch, match and despatch’ feature gets anyone talking, and as far as creating alignment with your organisation’s business objectives go, it’s about as much use as yesterday’s chip paper – even the digital version on your intranet ;-). Worse, it’s soaking up resources in your internal communications team that could be better used elsewhere, and you hate maintaining it.

How do you go about getting colleagues to cut the cord, and accept that this has-been channel needs to go? Maybe your best option is adaptation. There’s a great case study in Liam Fitzpatrick and Sue Dewhurst’s latest book ‘Successful Employee Communications’ about how the BBC reinvented it’s 80 year old staff newspaper ‘Ariel’. If anything, this proves that with a bit of investment it’s possible to successfully adapt and build on an existing branded channel so that it meets the current needs of the organisation, while preserving some of the nostalgia value.

However, sometimes there aren’t the resources to make the adaptations or improvements. In response to my Twitter comment, some alluded that if an intranet wasn’t working for an organisation then this was because it wasn’t being managed properly. To a certain extent, I agree. However, I’m a realist who’s been working at the sharp end of internal communication for over 20 years, and I know that some practitioners and teams don’t have a spare farthing in their budgets, let alone the time, to lavish precious resource on a single channel.

Again, if your team doesn’t have the time or money to adapt a failing channel so that it starts doing the job for your organisation, as I see it you’ve got two options, tolerate it or switch it off, even if it’s an intranet. In the long run, I think the latter is the more sensible and professional option. To help you justify this decision you may need a little help from some data…. more on this later.  

Leadership

I’ve said it before in some of my other blogs and I’ll say it here again, leaders love to see internal communications activity and lots of it. It reassures them that they are doing a good job of communicating with employees in the organisation, whether or not it’s working to help them secure their business objectives.  

The visible communication tactics of intranets, newsletters, town halls, posters and leaflets are often the only thing they can see and it’s these visible outputs on which they base their judgement about the effectiveness of their Internal Communications Team. In the absence of any other data, in many organisations more visible outputs = more effective internal communication in the eyes of leaders. That is, until it’s budget cuts time, and then you’ll really have to prove your ROI!

If this belief exists in your organisation, it will be a significant barrier to getting the necessary approval for your recommendation to switch a channel off or to stop doing something. Sometimes, getting the attention of leaders to have this tricky conversation can be difficult and there are some tips in my blog what to do when leaders don’t listen to help you get some airtime.

When you finally get their attention to break the misunderstanding that outputs don’t necessarily equal success, you will need to be able to stand your ground under scrutiny. If you want that ground to be firmer than quicksand, I’d suggest having some data in your back pocket.

Data (or rather the lack of it)

Sorry folks, but our inability as internal communicators to confidently switch off a failing channel is linked to our old nemesis ‘measurement’.

Our lack of time or ability to track the effectiveness of what we are doing in internal communications is our biggest barrier to switching things off. We also need to be tracking the right things.

When the internal communication products we create are very tangible, there is a temptation to just focus on the ‘eyes on’ part of measurement. That’s the number of views, clicks, likes, shares, bums on seats etc. However, these are only half the story, and I would not recommend trying to base your justification for switching something off on just these things alone. This is because there is a lot of variability or noise in this sort of data, and it might drive you into arriving at the wrong conclusions.  

To make a truly informed decision you also need to be talking to your audience and stakeholders, to work out if the communications you send down the channel are being received, understood and acted upon to create some kind of beneficial organisational impact. As I explain in my blog don’t feel bad if you can’t measure everything, having evidence of organisational impact is the first prize of internal communication.  

This is the true measure of the effectiveness of a channel, and blended with other data will give you the confidence and the justification to finally pull the plug, if that is the right thing to do.   

Martin

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay 

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