05/08/2013 06:38 pm ET Updated Jul 08, 2013

Don't Let Digital Communications Replace Middle Management

Industry is hurting, and has been since 2008. With the resulting small uplifts in pay and cuts in benefits, many employees have become increasingly disengaged with their respective management teams.

Good organizations have stepped up their internal communications, with many investing significant resources in a plethora of digital channels. Yet in my experience of working with several multinational companies in recent months, that investment is actually damaging organizations, not helping to bridge the divide between employees and management.

That may seem like an odd statement for a communications consultant to make. Surely every possible channel should be utilised to communicate with stakeholders? Yes and no. Yes, when it is adding value. No, when it's leading to a breakdown in the most fundamental channel of internal communications, the management cascade.

There is an increasing trend for additional internal communication channels to inadvertently replace competent management techniques of face to face meetings and the traditional dissemination of information through cascade mechanisms.

Middle managers are becoming reliant on new forms of internal communications for getting the message to staff. They are allowing digital channels to replace their important role in disseminating information.

The result is a dangerous breakdown in engagement between senior management and employees. There is less of an understanding of where organisations are heading and employees' role in getting there.

For senior management the problem is a hard trend to identify. They assume middle managers are still doing their jobs correctly, while believing that they have invested wisely to plug the gap with employees. Unfortunately, employees will, in general, be left with a belief that they are no longer being informed about the overall organisational journey, and of how pay, benefits and other changes relate to that.

It's at times like these that employee surveys become a more important barometer of mood than ever, along with better performance management of middle managers.

Internal communications should not, and cannot, be an afterthought for senior management seeking to manage change in difficult times. It is fundamental to achieving success, and simply cannot be successful if a key tier of the structure is failing to deliver on one of their most important day-to-day functions.

Charles Dickens, a man of great prescience, once said that "electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true". How right he was.