More and more interactions are shifting into the digital realm. This is not only true for private communication, but also for correspondence in everyday professional life, and especially so. But the further development of the internet into Web 2.0 with all its dialogue and participatory elements has not yet reached companies. This may have something to do with the fact that the spread of the internet and social media is accompanied by a “shift of power” towards customers, employees and citizens, as summed up by Prof. Dr. Peter Kruse in 2010. People uniting into groups creates new power structures that can exchange information quickly using the internet and social media. The increasing spread of smartphones acts as a catalyst for the effect of being able to communicate in the digital realm at any time, in any place.

Companies with a hierarchical structure find it difficult to cope with this change. Communication there aims to reach employees with messages. But the relevance of the communication is determined by the employee him- or herself. There is always a delta between what the company communicates and what is important for the employee.

In addition, employees have discovered that they must work on their own reputations. Visibility is an important criterion when awarding new projects or selecting employees for the next round of promotions, particularly in large corporations.

Digitaler Mitarbeiter

Empathy instead of hierarchy

That makes it even more important to think about communication in the company from the employee’s point of view. Professor Kruse describes this process as the “development of empathy”, meaning the “ability and (in particular) the willingness to recognise and understand another person's thoughts, emotions, motives and personality traits.” (Source: translation of Wikipedia). Companies must see to the wishes and needs of their employees. They need to understand what is “resonant” among their employees, i.e. they need to develop a sense of what is currently occupying the people in the company. This can only be achieved through dialogue.

To this end, companies need a new cultural “operating system” that gives employees the chance to develop and to play a role. A new form of communication is needed, one that can bridge hierarchical structures to prevent one-sided and interest-driven filtering of information. These days, employees once again need more self-assurance and trust to create a climate of cooperation.

How can such an operating system be established? “Format C:>” is not a solution. The transformation into a company that can respond to the challenges of the new business environment such as globalisation, increasing speed and digitisation lies in networking the right people and making corporate knowledge more readily available. This networking must take place company-wide, across divisions. Social intranet solutions are one example of an instrument to do this.

In the next article in this series, we will show the opportunities that the introduction of such collaboration platforms offers companies.

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Cover: Flickr JD Hancock Licence: CC BY 2.0