Looking at improving your internal focus groups? Here are some ‘recession-proof’ recommendations

Most communicators are involved at some point in their careers in crafting and conducting organizational engagement surveys. Though some are also known to conduct more frequent health checks or focus groups or pulse checks which keep a tab on how employees feel.

Recently, on a request to chip in with ideas to enhance the process, I came up with some recommendations, which I am sharing here.



The key point is to listen intently and be relevant.

– Leverage the session to understand if ‘company and group messages’ have been registered

– Share recent ‘policy’ changes (i.e., ask for their ideas on improvement and changes)

– Publish steps being taken based on previous feedback shared

– Leverage best practices (I am aware of organizations which have devised a manual morale meter which employees place on their desks to display their state of mind!)

– Use videos from recent local events to energize employees

– A quick slide on the two / three most recent wins/good news stories

– Ask everyone to share a story that inspired them

– Leverage any company collateral – be it video, photos etc

– Maybe an online poll or a blog post which invites further discussion on any of the key themes which emerge from the health checks

Have other ideas? Share them.

Are you losing your best performers in this downturn?

The India Attrition Study 2008 (October 2008- March 2009) conducted by Business Today and People Strong  is out. The May 3, 2009 dated edition of Business Today carries an article on key findings.


The study tried to understand why employees quit and how this current slowdown has impacted the way employers view their employees. The study was conducted among 59 companies in 8 industries in India. Using methodologies such as exit survey, health meter and employee voice study 4024 exit interviews were conducted and 1750 existing employees were quizzed.


The study classifies employees as top performers, early leavers (within 12 months of joining) and universal leavers.




It seems like organizations are losing a lot of top performers and many of the ‘universal leavers’ who form the chunk of most organizations.


Challenges they face include reduction in staffing budgets, wage shrinkages and the ability to keep employees motivated.


The top four drivers for leaving were:


a)     Opportunity for career growth

b)     Salary

c)      Type of work

d)     Training & development


Organizations have adopted a two pronged strategy:


  1. To strengthen system that identities top performers and rewards and retains them
  2. To weed out non-performers


Interesting aspect of the study was the differences noted among employees of North and South India and their specific wants. For North Indian respondents, titles and designations were important while leadership was a key driver for the latter. The thought among HR leaders was to tweak policies to suit region-specific needs.


The study mentions the young and restless workforce, who though information savvy, are easily swayed by speculation.


Strategies recommended:


By reducing the % of early leavers from quitting the organization: 33% of those who quit as early leavers (within 12 months of joining). Focusing on enhancing induction and orientation programs is a suggestion. By bringing down this number, organizations can improve their attrition scores.


Nurturing top performers: by supporting growth and benchmarking against salaries


Best practices from some organizations:


Quatrro BPO Solutions – tapping high performers among alumni to rejoin company

Samsung – internal job transfers

GenPact – bringing prospects in to the office before joining to showcase workplace and help them understand what the organization does

Maruti Suzuki – region specific fine tuning of HR policies


Opportunities for internal and human resources professionals:


a)     Understand the mindset among employees – revisit Maslow’s hierarchy as during this slowdown, job security is top of mind unlike what organizations tend to believe

b)     Leverage internal influencers (key employees whose opinions matter) to cascade information using formal and informal channels.

c)      Review the approach in communicating with employees – can there be specific messages fine tuned to the respective categories?

d)     Acknowledge the need to relook at the employee orientation and induction programs – are the materials in line with research findings?

e)     Have leaders connect more often with employees to listen more than deliver messages

A leader’s understanding of external realities key to managing internal communication

 At the Easter Mass on Saturday, the priest in his sermon requested his parishioners to reflect on the meaning of the Holy Week and the realities of the world we live in. 


Angelore Church, Mangalore

Angelore Church, Mangalore



 On one hand, he spoke of the sacrifice which Jesus made and then caustically talked of the ‘shoe’ culture we see around us, referencing the recent trend of dissatisfied people throwing shoes to showcase their protest – journalists at the former US president George Bush, India’s Home Minister P C Chidambaram and politician Naveen Jindal.


I was impressed by his understanding of ‘external’ media and its influences on ‘internal’ communication – in this case a pastor’s sermon to his parishioners. The referencing had it advantages. The knowledge of the communicator (the priest) of current affairs and creating a ‘hook’ to hold his audience’s attention is of relevance for internal communicators. By staying in touch with the realities of the world, he highlighted his interest in what goes on over and beyond his ‘small universe’. This openness to change and flexibility to learning will help any leader to gain trust and acceptance. 



These are fantastic qualities to exhibit considering even the priest has challenges of ‘engaging’ and ‘retaining’ his flock! There are enough and more ‘diversions’ (read: vices) that can derail his honest efforts. As a leader, he needs to maintain constant upward and peer level communication channels alive through regular meetings, newsletters and events all with the support of his parishioners.


Be it a church in a village or an organization in our city, the leader’s role in articulating and retaining interest in messages is vital to his or her survival.


Value feedback or find it on a Discussion Forum!

A mail in our internal informal network caught my attention. It was from an employee upset by the poor service and attitude which his team and he experienced while at lunch at a newly opened restaurant in Delhi.


What made me sit up was the potential impact of this experience (read: word of mouth/viral spread of messages) on the restaurant’s image and the speed at which bad management of feedback can dilute all effort in building a clientele.



Crimson Bridge

Crimson Bridge


This was a popular internal chat forum and therefore widely read. The effort of the individual to pen down his thoughts and circulate the detailed interaction allowed him to vent his anger and yet prove a point without even the restaurant knowing how their business would suffer. The note went on to share how information wasn’t shared among the restaurant’s staff – the manager mentioned the group was eligible for a complimentary drink but the service attendant was unaware. Apart from the cold food, poor service and limited buffet options, the individual was angry by the inability of the manager to listen to his complaints. I believe the mail was the result of that one big ‘listening’ problem. The grouse of being ‘lured’ by flashy advertisement and exciting meal deals was nothing compared to the insult of not being listened to.


All this pointed to some key insights which internal communicators and human resources professionals can gain from.


Any interaction has the potential of improving, downplaying or diluting your image.


If information sharing does not take place equally across the organization, it can result in poor expectations setting and upset stakeholders.


Listening to feedback even if it hurts reduces the angst people carry if looked down upon. Cause if you don’t listen, it may end up elsewhere – who knows maybe on a blog or a discussion forum like I found.


While cute copy and designs can interest your internal stakeholders, if the end product does not match expectations, all your effort is in vain.


Your employees are your friends and not just another group of people – they want you to succeed as much as you want to. Therefore they will always want to share feedback. It is about how open we are about receiving that.


As rightly pointed out by the gentleman – ‘the success of these joints should be directly proportional to the success of their services with us (as end-users), and we can succeed in our bid on this as long as we continue to provide an honest feedback to these outlets about their services’.




Communicating the ‘final lap’ – the missing link?

 A senior human resources professional was perturbed by a mail from the training department calling employees to collect certificates for a prestigious training from an individual’s desk!



What are your reading?

What are your reading?




The letter had an ‘inhuman’ touch and he was livid comparing it to distributing ‘water bottles’ which had become a rage in the organization recently.


I agreed he had a point.


After going through an elaborate training program built to upgrade managers into dynamic leaders, the last thing you wanted was to pick up certificates like lemons. Instead if they were distributed at a formal forum or even if there was a communication congratulating the managers, it may have made more sense.


Did the training department forget to close the loop at the final lap? Did the training mean only so much to them? Was it another check mark against their list of deliverables?


A lot of questions cropped up in my mind which promoted me to pen this post.


The last milestone provides a host of opportunities for internal teams to be visible, encourage participation and recognize the event or program.


As communicators, we can play a leading role in supporting teams understand the various touch-points, leverage internal channels, cross pollinate messages and integrate communication across other forums.


Some ideas to communicate the ‘final lap’ include sharing progress till date, defining what happens as an outcome of the program, who gets impacted and what do employees do next if they are interested in learning more.


Have other suggestions? Post it here.


Consistent communication key among best employers in India

The recent 2009 Outlook Business – Hewitt Associates study (the 6th by Hewitt) on Best Employers highlights the importance of communication even in a downturn. Building a sense of urgency, having clearer channels of communication and motivating managers and support staff to give their best in trying times helped propel organizations such as HCL, Hindustan Zinc (second), Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces (third), Cisco Systems(fourth), ITC-Welcomegroup (fifth) to the top.


Strangely, the well known names – Infosys, Intel, Microsoft, IBM are absent from the list of 25 top names.

Prayers and hope

Prayers and hope


Maintaining a work friendly environment and climate seems to have sustained the organization as a best employer.  Having an engaged workforce and value creation were considered to be vital.


Out of 1500 companies invited, 230 registered for the survey. The elements used to arrive at the best employers were an employee opinion survey, a people practices inventory and CEO questionnaire.


Some of the best practices include allocating time for ideation, contributing to CSR, leadership career planning, flexible work life options, voting people to employee councils for better representation and intensive training.


The survey report in the April 18 edition of Outlook Business summarizes the key themes which best employers practice.


a)       Eye on long term success – understanding employees better

b)      Seeing downturn as an opportunity – find and retain best talent

c)       Using downtime to be more productive – high performing employees are treated with a different reward scheme. Also encouraging employees to cut costs using creative ideas (e.g., part time work, accrued leaves and flexible work options)

d)      Increased attention to consistent regular communication – leveraging team leaders, creating a sense of urgency, increasing role of managers and involving contractors and support staff in regular messages.

e)       Increasing investment in training – redeployment, leadership watching progress closely