Enterprise Communications' Achilles Heel

Enterprise communications software has a checkered (and to be blunt, disappointing) history.

Promising to reduce noise, increase productivity, and promote collaboration, solutions from Jive to Yammer to Chatter have talked the talk for years. Slack is the most recent to stir high hopes--recently raising another $200M at a $3.8B valuation. And while the app's promise to "be less busy" has earned a zealous following through a compelling user experience, we've seen this story before. Charm eventually falls flat, and users inevitably return to their default communication tool: email.

To truly live up to their promise, these tools need to be more than a generic one-size-fits-all solution (email already does that perfectly well). To help you get stuff done, they must be designed for the specific use cases and tasks you're trying to complete; something that speaks your industry's language--to specific deliverables, metrics, and values--and then sparks action. Anything less is just talking about getting stuff done.

Email is here to stay, and that's not a bad thing.
Before we get into specifics, let's put to rest all this talk about replacing email. Since Ray Tomlinson sent the very first one in 1971, email has grown to over 2.6 billion business and consumer users worldwide. It's ubiquitous nature is what makes email so valuable. Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain said it perfectly, "Email is the last great unowned technology. And by unowned, I mean there is no CEO of email...it's just a shared hallucination that works." That is to say, anyone can email anyone else--all you need is their address. No tedious security walls to climb. No expensive software packages to buy and install. No vendor monetization agendas to consider. So let's just save ourselves the time and agree that email isn't going anywhere.

The missing piece in enterprise communication software.
Let's look at it in basic terms: The point of business communication? To enable collaboration. The point of collaboration? To drive productivity.

Products like Slack do a lot of the first two; there's a flow of information that involves the sharing of resources (communication + collaboration), but it stops there. What you're left with is an influx of noise that's credited to a low bar for what's considered message-worthy. Again, to actually get stuff done and provide usefulness beyond the conversation, you need a solution that speaks an industry's language--to its specific deliverables, metrics, and values--and then sparks action. This solution relates your conversations to appropriate action items, like converting a lead in Salesforce, or closing out a ticket in Jira. This specificity gives communication a clear, measurable purpose--and in doing so, drives accountability and allows teams to execute around a single version of the truth. Anything less is just a prettier, but far more siloed, stand-in for email.

The truth about productivity.
To understand why enterprise communication tools are such a distraction, you need to relate them to the negative productivity they offer. And when I use the word "productivity", I mean it in the most basic "getting useful stuff done" sense. True employee productivity is directly tied to your company's revenues. So if a message isn't clearly related to a business objective, the communication won't likely lead to purposeful collaboration and productivity. The International Association of Business Communications reports that only 21% of professionals keep their language simple and jargon-free. That tiny number is what leads to miscommunication, confusion, and the slew of messages, alerts, and notifications that put a stranglehold on productivity.

This constant need to keep up with unnecessary messages is what leads to:

● 33% of employees citing noise pollution for the reason they aren't working

● 47% of workers feeling the biggest problem with meetings is people not paying attention

● 71% of employees doing something completely unrelated during a conference call

● 45% employees checking their phones during in-person meetings

So what does a productive communication tool look like?
The true solution for an effective enterprise communication tool should be rooted in the specific industry it's solving for. When it comes to messaging, tagging, video conferencing, etc., these features should be considered useful add-ons, not the core component of the solution. Just ask yourself, "Can I run a meeting around responses to a bunch of disparate email threads?" The answer is no, so why would you expect something like Slack to be any different?

To go a step further and provide real value to your organization, look for a tool that was made for your industry. This will ensure baked in criteria to build and maintain a single source of truth across the entire organization; a place for anyone to go in order to see the latest intel. No duplicate data. No out of date information. No tangents that have nothing to do with anything. What's at stake? Who's the lead? What's the priority? And when the issue is resolved, can you mark it as such? Just saying, "it's done." won't suffice.

Here's a breakdown of initiatives your communication tool should track:

● Deliverables: What will be the result of the initiative? What's at stake? How do you track whether the initiative is completed?

● Leader: Who is responsible for driving the issue? Can you assign individuals who need to be involved? Accountability is the key here.

● Actions: What actions need to be taken to achieve the desired outcome? Can all necessary parties communicate and escalate the issues if new information arises?

● Resources: What equipment, people, time, financial resources are needed? Are you easily able to share what's needed with the team?

● Metrics: Can you track your team's key metrics and enable people to comment on them?

● Timeline: How can you close out the issue or clearly indicate that the desired action has been achieved? Is there a system set in place for a feedback loop to make things better in the future?

Don't put the cart before the horse.
Communication is important--there's no argument there. So is collaboration. But in order to derive real value, features like commenting, sharing, following, etc. need to surround hard, industry-specific initiatives that drive action and transparency. That's how you get teams aligned, execs in the know, and business objectives met. So instead of thinking about which enterprise communication tool you need for your business, first consider what business tool you need to meet your company's goals. Once you have a few good candidates, evaluate the communication features built around the solution. Does it enable more to get done, or just create more noise?

Your final decision lies in that answer.