The world is gripped by the ‘drip-drip-drip’ of cable internal communication shared by Wikileaks through their website. Apart from gauging the impact to international relations and politics these candid revelations also put the focus firmly on the power of transparency in internal communication.
Interestingly, the India diplomatic corps have looked at the positive side of the issue – requesting their Foreign Services Institute (FSI) to adapt and outdo brevity and the style of writing if possible!
Similarly, leakage of private conversations between corporate heads and a lobbyist (Radia tapes) as well as corporate espionage in a supposed telecom scam in India has also put immense pressure on the government and companies to relook at processes, policies and measures.
For leaders and organizations social media has only compounded the issue with rising credibility challenges and dwindling trust ratings. From an internal communication perspective I believe this is an opportunity to address questions that these events raise.
Actions vs words: The gap between what leaders and governments say and do has always been a topic of debate. These leaks and tapes have cast a shadow over their intentions and it will make it even more difficult to improve their standing. Any e-mail or message shared by leaders will always be available within the internal ecosystem and can be compared and contrasted by stakeholders at any point in time in the future. Internal communicators advising leaders should be cognizant of keeping employee policies, strategies, plans and key decisions available for scrutiny always. Some leaders post their goals and performance feedback on the company intranet as a show of confidence. But such displays as few and far between.
Putting a value on information sharing: Most organizations have established mechanisms to classify internal information. Usually, an internal information security team or an ethics group owns how employees ‘behave’ with information and software. However internal communicators also have a responsibility to educate staff on the implications of misuse or leakage of sensitive infoinformation. Even leaders need to be aware of three levels of information and how much staff can differentiate – namely, ‘must know’ (company information and policies to do their job effectively), ‘good to know’ (fyi content that highlights how the organization is faring with clients, media among others) and ‘need not know’ (information that is secure, specific to certain audiences). There should be an audit and a measure by each team within the organization on the levels of exposure based on the sensitivity of information they possess.
Openness vs information control: Managing control in tandem with transparency is a fine balance most organizations need to consider. One financial services firm removed USB ports and access to certain websites as well as putting in ‘keyword triggers’ to obstruct presentations from leaking out of the system. Overtime staff figured out where the keywords were embedded and deleted it from the documents before sharing it onwards! Unless IT systems and controls stay ahead of creative staffs (who on most occasions didn’t have malicious intentions) there will always be avenues for losing information. Instead by winning staff over with education and openness will be beneficial in the long run for the organization. Also by sharing best practices and involving employees in protecting leakages leads to better information control.
Whistle blowing and internal audits: Whistle blowing is considered to be a self regulating mechanism within organizations. Unfortunately, such individuals aren’t seen in a positive light considering the exposures that leaders and organizations face. In India, a Right to Information (RTI) activist was killed for highlighting malpractices within a state government. Unlike the U.S. Whistleblowers Protect Act of 1989, India is yet to have such measures to protect the whistle blower. However within organizations ethics committees and internal audit teams are tasked with investigating and recommending action if there are misdemeanors. Unless ethical violations and information security breaches are linked to performance and ongoing feedback there are limitations for whistle blowing to get institutionalized.
Brand image and employee responsibility: Unexpected leakages are embarrassing for leaders and internal communicators alike. Apart from putting the PR machinery into overdrive such exposes can tarnish the brand’s image and even lead to low engagement and turnover. Crafting suitable messages that align stakeholders to the organization’s perspective while actively soliciting support from employees can contain the spread of information leaks.
Get to the root cause: It is always easy to shoot the messenger but organizations must look at such exposes to overcome systemic flaws. If you notice despite the best technologies and firewalls most ‘leaks’ are due to people who are upset about what they see within the organization. Firms must probe further to understand the cause and fix the concern before the leak becomes a flood.
My take is that building accountability, getting employee buy-in and creating an atmosphere of trust are most effective in ensuring internal communication is leveraged for what it is meant for.