As said while 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico from Deepwater Horizon, there are few situations where individuals have been more tone deaf and underestimated the scope of damage a few words can do.
A century ago, businesses had significantly less information to contend with, and communication was slow. Today the situation looks very different, with communication taking place in an omni-directional, 360-degree environment. It’s not just the direction of communication that has changed, but also the speed and quantity of data passing back and forth. There is so much information at our fingertips, it would be impossible for a business to think it could ‘control’ it.
Information passes from person to person and around the world at lightning speed, which means when things go wrong the impact is felt on a major scale in very little time. It is something all businesses should always be taking into account. Time spent considering how information impacts individuals’ engagement can help avoid disruption that is hard to recover from.
There are multitude of ‘channels’ used by people to both disseminate and obtain information and they introduce additional risk factors. Just ask Dolce & Gabbana how fast you can lose the intent of a message as they found out in late 2018 when an advertisement on social media aimed at the Chinese market interpreted as culturally insensitive and racist. The Chinese government even weighed in negatively. The campaign was out of control in a very short time, principally because the creators made content that aligned to business objectives but didn’t think about the human element that is part of every business activity.
With the speed of information sharing, combined with the many ways that information can flow, it can be easy to inspire more people than ever before or lose them all with one wrong or missed step. If people aren’t aligned with your company intentions, or engaged in the process, you can lose them fast or worse create an adversarial relationship. A news story, an announcement, and the resulting responses by individuals quickly disseminates through the communications ether. Thus, as they take on a life of their own you quickly realize you can’t control it all.
Companies need to put a greater focus on the human aspect of business and how people’s emotional and mental perspectives can dramatically impact the success or failure of an initiative. They need to ask themselves if they are creating ideas or evaluating information in isolation? If so, are they risking unforeseen consequences?
Famed psychologist Abraham Maslow suggested that the highest human need is self-actualization, where people feel valued, that their work has meaning and they are striving towards a worthy goal. During times such as the industrial revolution, work had more of a functional value, and for many was a place to earn income only. As society has evolved and factors such as general quality of living have increased, the 21st century employee often looks to more than their paycheck as a way to find meaning and a place to achieve personal fulfillment. This means that the human element is only growing in value and power. If a person’s job performance is strongly tied to their emotions and personality, the human factor becomes even more critical.
Businesses should be asking themselves: What is the effect if people don’t buy in to an idea or just tune out? How reliant are we on people participating in the process with feedback or new ideas in order to achieve results? Do we understand the playing field or is it so complex that we won’t be able to predict what happens? When it comes to employees, are they really committed to an initiative? Or do they think it’s just another in a long list of PowerPoint ‘strategy ideas’ that will eventually fade away?
The way we do business is changing and we need to adapt to that new landscape.