For the last several decades, we have all been working hard at helping our company become a fast and agile information age organization. We’ve found new and better ways to distribute and display data and information. We now have 24/7 access to email and websites via a multitude of devices, such as smartphones, smart-tablets, laptops, and desktops … in fact, it’s hard to find any area in an organization that doesn’t provide access to information. Yes, we’re definitely in the information age, and therein lies the problem.
We have more email than we can keep up with. We have numerous collaborative tools we’re trying to interact with. We’re members of multiple groups and associations that provide information. We’ve subscribed to paid and free e-newsletters, newsfeeds, and RSS feeds. We’re subject to mobile advertising and a barrage of information every day. Even the company leaders are constantly sending out plans, imperatives, directives, goals, strategies, and tactics to the organization, trying to get people at every level to take action on them.
We are literally drowning in information.
Even simple online searches produce more information than we can handle. For example, do almost any Google and it’s very possible (and probable) to get millions of results. If the information you want isn’t on the first four pages, chances are you’ll never get to it. But what if the exact thing you’re looking for is on page 5,000? In other words, even keyword searches aren’t working and are producing too much information. And let’s face it, just because a company is paying to be at the top of the search results doesn’t mean they have the best information. It simply means they have a bigger marketing budget. Frankly, our current information management systems aren’t helping because even our technology is overloaded by our technology.
The rate at which each person is creating information is increasing as well. We have so many more devices capturing information in real time that most people don’t even realize how much data is being created. Here’s a simple example: Every time someone is in a department store and buys a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans with a 34” waist and a 32” inseam, the moment they make the purchase, they’ve just created more data that is then converted into information and sent somewhere for analysis or action.
Clearly, the information age is wonderful, but it has also become a problem. So what’s the solution? We need to propel our organizations into the communication age. Only then can we reach the next level of organizational excellence.
Informing vs. communicating
There is a big difference between informing and communicating. Informing is one-way, static, and seldom leads to action. Communicating is two-way, dynamic, and usually leads to action. Realize that the information age is not our friend; it’s our enemy in disguise.
Ask yourself, “In our organization, are we better at informing than communicating?” For most people, the answer is yes. And if you can’t communicate internally with your staff, how can you communicate externally to customers and shareholders? This is not to say that you should stop informing people. However, you do need to tap into true communication. When you focus on maximizing two-way communications, you can create a communication age organization and cause positive change much faster.
Now here’s the interesting thing: Even if we embrace the communication age and go full force into it, the information age doesn’t go away. Informing has its role and can be useful. So you don’t want to erase the past, you simply want to move forward into the future.
Think of it like this. All the ages of human history that have ever existed still exist today. You can go to certain places on the Amazon river and be with people who live as they did thousands of years ago. They wear loincloths, hunt with spears, and live in grass huts. Similarly, you can go to sections of Pennsylvania and Ohio and see Amish communities where people live as they did in the 1800s.
You can also go into companies and do a similar sort of time travel. Some departments or divisions feel as though you went backwards in time, with old operating systems and mindsets. Other departments and divisions are already in the future, using advanced tools and moving faster than most.
So, from an information perspective, everything that has ever existed still exists today. It doesn’t go away. The new simply gives us more options to innovate and lead. Previously, we jumped into the information age and have since done a great job of being information age organizations. The benefits of all that work don’t go way, however, in order to get rid of some of the negatives of the information age and accelerate growth, we have to move forward into the communication age.
The right tools
Ironically, we have all these fantastic communication age tools, but we’re using them in an information age way. Why? Because we still have an information age mindset. Therefore, it’s time to learn how to use the tools currently available in a way that will advance the organization and promote both internal and external communications. What follows are some suggestions that will help you move your organization into the communication age.
Know how people like to communicate and learn – Not everyone communicates in the same way. In some cultures it’s common that people don’t return voicemails, but they do return text messages. Likewise, people in different generations prefer different communication tools.