Satyam – the internal communicator’s nightmare or exciting challenge?


 I couldn’t help notice the sarcasm when I read today’s Economic Times article which asked if Satyam is doing more damage to India than Lakshar-e-Toiba, the dreaded terrorist organization claimed to be behind many of the attacks in the country. Though all is not lost for outsourcing to India.

 Eagle eye

 

 I first heard of the Satyam fraud case when I received a forwarded email sharing a copy of the letter written by the ex-CEO to the Board. I thought it was a hoax till my eyes picked up the seal on the letter. This wasn’t the first case of internal communication leaking out and getting carried by the press; interesting challenge I would think for internal communicators who can’t really control news staying in. We had instances of Tata’s letter to his Directors talking of the slowdown and cost management measures and more recent Azim Premji’s letter to Wiproites explaining the World Bank’s decision to debar them for a few years.

 While Satyam’s new board is doing its bit to salvage what it can (interestingly the website is updated with recent announcements), these are trying times for internal communicators and the leadership to convince employees to hang on and see the crisis through. 

 Research points to two aspects which can impact internal communication at this stage – trust and organizational identification. One research mentions that employee communications affects Organizational Identification (OI) more than perceived external prestige (PEP). Communication climate, one aspect of internal communication plays a vital role. Therefore how communication is done is more critical than what is communicated. Trust in senior leadership is also eroding globally as a trend and it may be much lower at Satyam considering how many employees are actively seeking employment outside. Despite a vote of confidence from Narayan Murthy of Infosys on the quality of professionals at Satyam, it is an uphill task for those at the organization to keep morale and confidence up.

 I would point internal communicators to a Blessing White survey on the State of Employee Engagement which talks of leveraging managers and aligning employees to the big picture. Here are some important trends: ‘Three in four (75%) employees trust their immediate managers. Only about half (53%) of employees trust their organization’s senior leaders’.

 This is also probably a good time to share good news on client satisfaction rates which continue to be high – a reflection of employees’ commitment even under stress. The internal communicator needs to provide guidance and tools for managers to speak with their teams on a regular basis – briefing them on the changes and next steps for the organization.

 I think Satyam is too big a name to fail – not just for Indian IT but for India as a nation.

 The 6 big names in IT were known as SWITCH (Satyam, Wipro, Infosys, TCS, Cognizant and HCL) and holds 2.4% of global IT outsourcing ($667 billion). [Source: That was IT in 2008, Sadagopan S., Education Times, Times of India, January 5, 2009 – page 4]. With the World Bank barring both Satyam and Wipro for the wrong reasons, you can only hope that the acronym does not get any smaller!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you asking the right questions for your job in internal communication?


A peer from the industry recently changed jobs into an internal communication role, a role different from what she played earlier – Marketing Communications and PR.

 

We spoke recently at length on the challenges she was encountering in her new role and discussed some basic questions to understand the role of the internal communicator.

Balloons on the beach

Balloons at Penumbur beach, Mangalore

 

I thought it may be relevant to highlight some of the key issues and questions for the benefit of others in this post.

 

a)       What does internal communication do?

b)      How is it structured?

c)       Where does the internal communication professional get involved?

d)      Where does the professional draw the line?

e)       How much of involvement should be there?

f)        What should the focus be?

 

After the conversation, I realized that she was facing hurdles with convincing her management about what the role meant and the expected outcomes rather than leveraging her communication team’s combined expertise to do effective communication. So instead of coming in and starting off with a bang, she seemed burdened with ‘selling’ her role, the best approaches to communicate and getting buy-in on the team’s responsibilities. To me, a sheer waste of a senior professional’s time and energy.

 

What struck me most was the organization’s inability to trust a professional to do what the person was hired to do – to improve communication, add value to the process and build expertise. 

 

I looked up some internal communication job descriptions from around the globe and found a couple spelling out the expectations from this role. The highlighted phrases point to the key deliverables.

 

Samples:

 

“You will have substantial internal communications experience from a large and complex, multi-site environment. You will be competent operating at a leadership level as the role will need to provide strategic advice and support on internal communications to the company’s senior players. In addition, with the team in its infancy you’ll need to love pitching in and crafting communications too.”

 

“You will specifically be working to deliver and maintain communications programs as part of the tactical implementation of the strategy as well as working on ad hoc IC projects. The key responsibilities of the position will include leading on the planning and execution of specific communication plans for business initiatives requiring a strong element of internal communications, i.e. business re-structuring and business change. You will also look after event management and be a key team member involved in the planning and management of company events and conference.”

 

Clearly, the expectations are to own communication plans, counsel senior leaders, craft interesting communication, drive change management and operate in a complex scenario.

 

That also brings me to another important topic – shouldn’t professionals seeking internal communication roles be sure they are joining the right organization by asking the right questions during the interview process?

 

Though it is difficult to gauge the organization’s culture and its respect for communication from initial conversations, the professional can do a bit of research to figure out the reporting mechanism, how the team functions, who calls the shots, what are some of the recent projects and the role the internal communicator played in the process. That should give sufficient understanding of how much of value the senior leadership puts on internal communication and thereby the level of expectation from the job.

 

Another suggestion is to seek an opportunity to observe the team at work for a couple of days before joining – if the organization is truly open and transparent, they will accommodate.

 

Have other suitable questions to help internal communicators get their dream jobs? Look forward to your views here.

 

 

 

 

Internal communication outlook in India – 2009 and beyond


With 2008 posing numerous challenges and highlighting enormous opportunities for internal communication in India, I believe 2009 will be a year to introspect and rationalize. The years ahead will serve to consolidate and revitalize. The impact of the downturn will be visible more this year – job and salary cuts, reversal of benefits, cost management initiatives, greater expectations from employers to deliver more with lesser perks, investment and consolidation of internal telecommunication assets, improved processes and in-sourcing of communication needs.

 

Stretch of tree-lined highway between Bangalore to Mangalore

Stretch of tree-lined highway between Bangalore and Mangalore

I would think the trends will pan out on two levels – strategic and tactical.

 

On the strategic level, we will probably witness the following:

 

a) Rationalization of communication means – leveraging invested channels of communication, a move to social media avenues. There is a belief that internal communication can achieve more with less at this juncture.

 

b) Emphasis on messaging: What is being said will drive more that how things are being shared. The message will involve employees more; engage them through social media tools, focus groups, internal bulletins and forums. Frills like take-aways, freebies, fancy town halls at external venues and celebrities at employee recognition events will drop off for simpler, more austere means of communication.

 

c) Leadership expectation on change management: Leadership will turn to internal communication professionals to deliver more value with employee engagement and change communication – planning, design, timing and measurement.

 

d) India will be central to decisions: I expect to see improved focus on India due to it being among the most important destinations for outsourcing and business. Not withstanding the recent terror attacks and the war rhetoric in the sub-continent. India will be for most MNCs the largest geography and a strategic node in their global delivery system. For example, Accenture and IBM have over 37000 and 50000 employees respectively in India. I recently met up with an American professional who runs a marketing communication boutique.  She was doing the ground work in Bangalore and Mumbai to set up an office to be closer to MNC branches – some of them were her clients already.

 

e) Helping others get better at communicating: I foresee more emphasis by internal communicators in developing self-help models, modules and resources for internal teams to help them get better at communicating downstream. Most research points to managers as the key players in driving internal communication. Internal communicators will be forced to relook at team structures and design for planning, strategy, execution and coaching.

 

f) Social media and stringent monitoring of employee behavior: While organizations in India struggle to understand the impact of social media, there will be risk management and marketing efforts to tap the presence of employees’ behavior both online and offline. That would mean providing messages to share with peer groups, presence on social networking sites, monitoring ‘blog speak’ and forum dialogue. Some organizations have proactively included employee blogs to project the right brand message for recruitment marketing while others have provided employees with suitable disclaimers to use to avoid legal implications.

 

g) Localization of messages: To gain the cost advantage, most companies will move to smaller cities and towns in rural India. This will lead to efforts to localize communication messages to ensure employees are on the same page.

 

On a tactical level, I believe we will see important changes too.

 

a)  Multi-tasking: Internal communicators will be called on to play multiple roles – role of internal communication will extend to defining crisis communication, business continuity planning and training. Cases in point are around the economic slowdown, terror attacks at Mumbai, sharing the ‘not so good’ news on job and salary cuts, withdrawal of incentives and benefits.

 

b) Leadership communication will come under even greater scrutiny: Employees will be expecting to seeing, reading and watching more of their leaders though it may not be enough for them to avoid the critical viewpoints of their staff. Satyam’s decisions raised the wrath of shareholders while their employees are seeking jobs outside in droves – leading to erosion of brand value. Leaders will need to invest for deeper connection with employees who will demand a seat at the table on company decisions.

 

c) Collaborate and improve: That will be the mantra for internal communicators when it comes to discovering their strengths and learning from recent episodes. 2009 will draw the community closer with collaboration among peers in the industry on best practices. I am already seeing improved interactions with communicators sharing notes on optimizing team structures and policy construction.

 

d) Converting market dynamics for internal communication: Internal communication professionals will be valued as advisors based on their ability to convert market dynamics into potential opportunities for communication. Public relation, marketing and internal communication professionals will join hands even more to deliver consistent messages. For example, some organizations channelized employees’ energies and anger from the recent Mumbai attacks to constructive opportunities to share their talent, funds and viewpoints.

 

e) Quality and efficacy for ROI: Internal communication will no more be about the ‘number of mailers that went out’ or ‘total pages views for the benefits site’ or ‘number of posters printed and pasted on notice boards’. The focus will be on getting employees to adopt, change, manage and overcome resistance while assimilating messages. Regular feedback will help dwell on expectations of communication vs understanding and outtakes. Internal communicators will be expected to innovate more to help employees assimilate messages.

 

Have a viewpoint on potential trends for internal communication in India? Love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Does gender play a role in choosing better internal communicators?


 Happy New Year to all my readers and friends!

 

Windmills

I was amused by a strange call today from a consultant. The consultant hired by a global multinational bank to select an internal communication professional was looking for a ‘male’ candidate and asked me if I was interested!

 

What took me even more by surprise was the inability of the consultant to provide a rational reason why a man was preferred over a woman apart from a very weak ‘the client wants it so’.

 

When I tried to probe further the consultant wasn’t able to defend the case and asked me to help her find a suitable candidate if I was not keen!

 

This episode highlights three clear gaps in India when it comes to identifying potential candidates for such a critical role within an organization.

 

One, the understanding of the domain and what internal communicators are capable of.

 

The second – a more serious issue of following a rigid methodology for selecting suitable candidates for such roles.  The current practice is to randomly call those who have uploaded their profiles on job sites or seek candidates via referrals. It reflects poorly of the state of recruitment marketing by firms looking for internal communication professionals.

 

The third – the most offending – a misconception that men can do a better job in this role than women.

 

Recruitment agencies should work as consultants in guiding organizations on potential skills sets for such roles, benchmark against how multinationals select candidates, coach potential candidates on the job’s expectations.

 

I also believe that human resources professionals and internal communicators have a role to play in educating consultants and providing guidance on selection. It is no wonder that there are mismatches when it comes to professionals joining the industry.

 

I am interested in your take. Post your thoughts here.