23 December 2007

Tools of the devil - employee surveys

I enjoyed Chris Bailey's rant on one of the "idiotic things that organisations do" - employee surveys:

"If you really want to know what your employees think about their work, their managers, their colleagues, and most importantly, their relationship to the organization, step out from behind your desk and start asking questions face-to-face. Stop relying on surveys and making ritual sacrifices to the gods of quantitative measurement."

I agree. While some surveys may have their place, too often I suspect they end up as a routine and superficial anxiety-management tool for an organisation. Perhaps the anxiety may arise from an inability to conceive of and engage in certain kinds of conversations, or it may arise from need to be seen by peers to use 'best practice'.

The sad thing is that talking with people naturally leads to creative solutions, while many survey reports naturally lead to inertia. (And perhaps that's a further kind of anxiety avoided - the fear of the kind of change that makes personal demands on 'leaders', not just on 'employees'.)

Technorati: internal communications, employee engagement, organisation

21 December 2007

Communication - not a 'sending' process

Corporate communications as it is practised today seems to rely often on the notion of communication as a conduit process - a sender sends a message to a receiver. This metaphor underlies many practitioners' thinking about their roles, the objectives and measures they devise, and the processes they use to 'reach' their 'audiences'. Indeed, the suggestion that this notion is a metaphor, and not a factual description of reality, would be seen as contentious by many practitioners.

From my own metaphoric bias - that communication can be seen as a behavioural coupling - it's helpful to hear that an empirical cognitive scientist such as Stephen Pinker has doubts about the validity of the conduit model: "Another misleading conceptual formula is the conduit metaphor, in which to know is to have something and to communicate is to send it in a package." That comes from his latest book, quoted by Shawn at Anecdote.

The question of how these metaphors conceal or reveal aspects of our work (or lives) needs a longer conversation, but my view would be that the metaphor we adopt (consciously or not) in part determines the intention and outcomes of our working. In organisational terms, if practitioners explore and adopt a variety of metaphors, that might lead to more flexibility in intention, and more variety in outcomes.

Technorati: internal communications, metaphor, Pinker