We live in digital space; we use digital technology in our personal life to practically do everything from telling time, listening to our favourite music and keeping a personal journal to controlling our home security through devices such as video cameras and motion sensors.
In business, digital technology is the heart of products and services, internal control processes and customer contact systems.
Digital pervades literally everything we do, but I believe the most profound impact it has had is on the way we communicate with one another.
Analog technology defined the boundaries and limitations on how the communications function was performed; digital technology completely rewrote the book and it has a profound effect on leadership and the way leaders talk to their tribe.
There are definite advantages to a leader communicating digitally. It’s a quick way to get a message out to the intended audience. It’s a voice conference call (in the old world) on steroids. And it’s an effective way to reach a large audience; the broadcast capabilities of digital allow the leader to communicate to virtually their entire organization if required.
Speed and coverage; significant benefits over the ways we used to communicate using analog technology.
But what about the challenges digital technology creates for today’s leader?
Here are important shortfalls of digital communications leaders need to consider.
You become an avatar to your audience
Exclusive use of digital renders the leader in absentia with an avatar for their face. Employees receive emails, social media commentary and maybe even have an opportunity to participate in a ZOOM meeting, but they don’t have enough face time with the leader to decipher who they are and what makes them tick — interests, biases and philosophy.
An avatar is inanimate; a digital expression of who you are. It’s not real and that’s the problem. Organizations need real leaders with feelings, emotion and passion that can be communicated to employees to instil vision and gather support.
You think your communications is effective (but it’s not)
Speed and coverage dominates the criteria for determining whether or not a communications channel is doing its job. The problem is speed and coverage are an insufficient criteria to determine effectiveness.
The real questions are:
— “Did people understand my message?”
— “Were they convinced?”
— “Are they prepared to go where I believe we should go?”
If the answer to these questions after a digital speech is “no” then the communications failed and the leader did as well.
Digital may have succeeded in getting the message out to everyone but if people didn’t understand it, were not convinced to change their views by it, were ok to not be able to ask a question of it, then it failed.
You avoid the opportunity to be inclusive
A HUGE part of communications is the engagement process not just the content. Sending out a digital message doesn’t engage everyone; it informs them but doesn’t include them in the process which can only be done by tailoring the message and making it compelling and relevant to the various demographics in the audience.
A one-dimension email message will not satisfy everyone who has a stake in it and who look at the issues differently given their different backgrounds.
Being inclusive in business is to engage with people, listen to them and engage in healthy debate to decide on an outcome; old school analog has its advantages.
You’re in the cloud
You have a virtual presence; you’re physical form is absent much of the time. Let’s face it, you can communicate digitally without ever having to leave your office or your home (or your bed) — in fact your “home” is the cloud.
Leaders must have a presence in the workplace, face-to-face with people if they are to be effective and digital, unfortunately, has redefined “get out of your office” to get off of your cloud as the imperative for leaders to leave their cave.
The one thing old school technology did was, because of its limitations, force leaders to talk to people as there was no other choice. The telephone and in-the-flesh meetings had to be used; and they were effective.
Great leaders spend time eye-to-eye with employees in their organization. It’s the only way they can get a complete picture of people and how they really feel about where the leader wants to go. And it’s the only forum where meaningful dialogue (complete with body language) can occur with the leader getting honest unfiltered feedback.
At the end of the day, the challenge for leaders is to balance the use of both analogue and digital tools to communicate with people in their organization; I suggest you consider more opportunities to ”do analog” and change the mix to include a more direct engagement approach.