The Power of A Leader’s Personal Touch

This quote by Shashi Tharoor, newly elected Member of Parliament and a former UN diplomat made me sit up and take notice.

“It was an extraordinary moment to have the PM come on phone and speak and then handover the phone to UPA chairperson Mrs. (Sonia) Gandhi who also spoke”.

From a distance

From a distance

 Shashi has been inducted as a Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs and is a member of the Indian Parliament from the Trivandrum constituency in Kerala.

 He goes on to describe the moment as an ‘overwhelming experience’.

 When someone of his stature (a well known author and the former Under Secretary of Communications and Public Information in the United Nations) found a personal call from a leader so meaningful, what would be the impact of a leader in your organization directly connecting with employees?

 Shashi talks of the move to call him as something which they had ‘given a great deal of importance’.

 I think as internal communicators, we have a responsibility of educating and coaching our leaders to be more visible, be more direct in their communication and be heard more often.

 Especially during tough times, it makes a world of a difference to employees if a leader walks up or calls them to appreciate the great work they are doing or inviting them over for a conversation on how to scale challenges together.

 Have you come across other examples of leaders demonstrating their personal touch? Share them here.

Effective Employee Communication Key In Rallying Workforce around Company Goals

Yet another survey on the economic environment! This one gives a sense of how leaders perceive the slowdown and its impact

Mercer – AIMA pulse survey report on the implications of economic environment on talent management was conducted on April 2009 with C-suite and key decision makers. Six questions ranging from hiring, M&A, compensation and benefits and employee engagement were asked to110 respondents from 16 industry verticals.

Solo Catch

Solo Catch

Top Highlights:

  • 78% felt they would go ahead with original hiring plans
  • 54% not planning to transition to temporary employees
  • 72% not looking to reduce their workforce – focus was on long term growth
  • 37% very likely to reduce bonus or pay
  • Impact on employee healthcare: (I see a dichotomy here – 74% said that they were not likely to increase employee contribution for health coverage and 70% were looking at adding to wellness programs to HR initiatives. Unpredictability causes more stress and employees need more support during this period.)
  • 82% felt the slowdown with impact issues like job security, promotions and merit.

Communication can improve engagement feels respondents

All felt the need for effective employee communication to give a clear sense of the company’s direction and rationale of current strategy.

Most perceived a likelihood of reduction in discretionary budgets for employee engagement programs. With these measures there was a potential of having disengaged employees, loss of really key talent. The survey results call for larger vision for business to sustain through these times.

 What do you think?

Dilemma Of The Downturn – Time for Leadership and Protecting Organizational Culture?

The recession is making organizations rethink their strategies on talent and cost management. A Price Waterhouse Coopers study on India  – ‘Rethinking your approach to People: Managing the effects of the Downturn’ among 100 respondents from across Indian industries showcases some of the trends.



The top three trends of organizational interventions are:

a) 75% revisiting the recruitment plan. Hiring has almost seized and most companies are even dropping offers shared at campus. Smaller outfits are hiring in pockets but retrenching is something they are avoiding. From what I hear, it is couched under the ‘performance management’ tag to make it sound less dismissive. Among the sectors, IT/ITES, FMCG, Manufacturing and BFSI (57%) have been hit the worst.

b) 70% surveyed are re-looking at their employee policies and practices. Those familiar with how the industries were pampering their employees just a few years earlier may be flabbergasted at the sheer pace at which these same policies and practices such as travel, allowances, perks are being restructured. I fear some have even gone overboard.

c) The deepest cut of them all. 69% of participants are changing the compensation policy. Some have frozen salaries and for some it has even come down. What I hear is that performance linkage to pay has got more focus and increments are all but history.
While many may argue that these are knee-jerk reactions and short term, others call companies ‘opportunistic’ for ‘right sizing’ and bringing down spiraling salaries and expectations.

My question is: if there is so much emphasis on efficiency and performance management, who is focusing on keeping the organization’s values and culture on track? Isn’t that a priority especially during tough times?

Also, unlike in the US where the recession has hit the hardest and leaders have taken pay cuts and no raises, I am yet to hear of such measures in the Indian context. Is it a case of the impacted sinking even more and the top of the pyramid staying afloat? Mystifying to me.

Is there a common understanding in India of what corporate communications really does?

The Education Times edition of the Times of India dated May 11, 2009 carried an article on Corporate Communications and its role by taking the viewpoint of leading Indian practitioners.

Interestingly, there wasn’t a consensus among these leading professionals on what constitutes corporate communication leave alone the roles and responsibilities of the function.


The benefits perceived were stronger reputation, goodwill, improved chances of business wins, ability to attract the best talent and knowledge exchange among stakeholders – all excellent points.

 But, the way the practitioners described the function was curious.

 Here are some of the statements.

  • “Involves reaching out to multiple stakeholders, ranging from employees, customers and investors, to government, quasigovernment and trade bodies, doing all it can to ensure that the equity of the organization is represented appropriately to them”
  • “During the heydays of the ill-famed License Raj and the closed economy, communication for a company was essentially a government relationship exercise. Post liberalization, companies felt the need to be in constant touch with their stakeholders across geographical boundaries and this lead to the evolution of corporate communications as a strategic management function.”
  • “Corporate communications professionals have assumed the role of brand messengers, who are agents of change”
  • “The receiver, manager and producer of press releases!”

The key take-away for me is that – how each individual perceived his or her task defined how the function is perceived. Also, how much their organization values their work reflects their feelings for their job.

The other interesting aspect which I observed was the route considered ideal to enter into this field was articulated differently by each. Considering this particular publication is read by students and practitioners alike, it did not provide a clear answer to how people can join the corporate communication role. I began my career in advertising before I entered this function – and I have a background in Science and Marketing.

Ironically, the article mentions the role is ‘the envy of other functions due to the proximity it enjoys with decision makers’. I disagree on this point. The ability to add value and the respect which senior leadership provides to this function should be the cause of envy not just the ‘proximity’. This danger of ‘proximity’ is the cause for most communicators losing their ability to function when they end up becoming ‘paper pushers’ and ‘voices and writers of senior leaders’ from what I have observed in the Indian industry.

The professionals also believe the usual route is for someone in journalism to meander into corporate communication. Quite unlike reality where I have seen people with absolutely no background in writing, advertising, PR, direct marketing or basic communication enter this field merely on the basis of their interest and drive.

Skills requires for the function were articulated as written and spoken English, soft skills, ability to network with people, inquisitiveness and time-consciousness. If you look at research, these skills are more or less a given in the industry. What the role expects is leadership skills, ability to influence, adapt, translate messages for communication, provide direction and guidance on channels, an eye on opportunities to engage with stakeholders, listening skills and most importantly, the passion for the job.

I did a literature review and found some insights which may be of value to practitioners in understanding the definition and also what is expected of corporate communicators.

In a study by Dolphin and Fan (2000), ‘Is Corporate Communications A Strategic Function?’ corporate communications is defined as ‘the strategic management process by which an organization communicates with its various audiences to the mutual benefits of both and to its improved competitive advantage.’

The professional is known to play varied roles: ‘planner, watchdog, catalyst, communicator, savant, stimulant, advisor and confidant’. The awareness of his organization’s corporate identity, corporate philosophy, style and structure is also expected to be high.

According to the study, out of the 21 organizations accessed in UK, it seems like only one leveraged communication and had a seat at the table among the steering committee, despite the committee being the driving force. I am unsure if Indian organizations can vouch for their number to be higher.

The authors conclude that how traditional an organization is and the less it has changed its structures – the less likely it is to make full use of the powers that good communications.

There is little doubt that the corporate communication function needs a rethink on how it can improve its image, get recognized as a strategic function, coach managers and leaders and add value by demonstrating ROI on communication.

What do you think?

Recession Proof Communication – Ideas To Stay Ahead Of The Downturn

I had the opportunity recently to informally address a group of leaders from a leading IT services provider. Here are thoughts shared with them on recession proofing communication during a downturn and the role of leaders.

Much has been written about the slowdown and its impact on our lives. Though there are few suggestions for organizations to cope and help them understand what employees seek. As an internal communications practitioner, I think there are trends which organizations and communicators need to recognize, ideas for ‘recession proofing’ your communication and best practices from the industries which one can practice.

Father to son

Father to son

What is a recession? According to Wipipedia, a recession is a general slowdown in economic activity in a country over a sustained period of time, or a business cycle contraction. Production as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employment, investment spending, capacity utilization, household incomes and business profits all fall during recessions. The bottom-line is that citizens are insecure and organizations don’t have too much of an insight as to when the tide will turn. This in effect means that we need to revisit Maslow’s hierarchy. The focus needs to come back to the basic factors – food, water and security, corroborated by Watson Wyatt’s survey where employees seek information about job security. During a recession, organizations make knee jerk reactions based on how they see the markets panning out which can detrimental to employee morale and customer engagement. Organizations go after support functions and resize and reduce budgets, freeze benefits, curtailing training and avoiding engaging with employees. Very often, in their quest to get ‘leaner’ and ‘sharper’, organizations lose the ‘human’ touch’. Employees have good memories and these actions are always held against the business.

I am aware of organizations cutting down on something as basic as toilet paper but allowing off sites at external venues to continue. Not surprisingly, trust is eroding for senior leadership (according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer) and organizational communication tools. James K. Harter, Ph.D., Gallup’s Chief Scientist of Workplace Management and Well-Being and an author recently stated “ in good times and bad, low engagement reduces performance and profit and under the current circumstances, many companies can’t afford to let those drop”. A Watson Wyatt’s report indicates that job security is top of mind for most employees while what the organizations continue to communicate is around solvency, performance and other issues; a clear disconnect. According to a Towers Perrin study, more and more employees are asking for the truth – about the future of their company, pay, benefits and job. There seems to be a disconnect with So what does ‘recession proofing’ mean? In my opinion, it involves reducing uncertainty, improving confidence and focusing on outcomes. It also means supporting the organization stay on course to be successful. As Timothy P. Flynn, Chairman, KPMG International points out “the economic crisis gives organizations an opportunity to examine every aspect of their business model and lay the foundation for sustainable growth and improved competitive advantage.” Organizations need to reinforce the mission and values even more. This is also a time to involve and keep the employee at the forefront of all your communication.

I personally believe all is not gloomy. India and China are with growing economies and the global market hopes to ride on their success. The recent Tata Nano launch had the market in raptures. Even the steel market is looking up. A leading consulting and interactive firm created a campaign to focus on its 10th year of operations and rally its employees around this key milestone. By focusing on the positive, employees were engaged in driving the organization’s goals and strategic vision. Numerous best practices involving ‘zero budget’ ideas make overcoming this recession easier than thought. For example, a leading global IT major has its top 50 business leaders go online everyday and engage on social media networks. Similarly, a well known audit brand leverages Facebook to encourage college graduates to join them. An established consulting and outsourcing giant has robust systems and templates which reduce turnaround time and delivery of communication collateral. Investing in internal ‘ready to use’ tools and resources can make life easier and less cumbersome for communicators. A global personal hygiene organization now generates over 50% of its product ideas by ‘crowdsourcing’ a huge shift in thinking from the earlier insular perspective. A leading global IT services conglomerate created its blogging policy with the support of its employees. It also has them blog on their website. A simple idea such as where leaders are encouraged to meet with one employee per day face to face ensures zero cost engagement. The ruler of UAE and the Vatican are also using social media tool to reach out to their stakeholders even more. Consistent communication is the key among best employers according to the Outlook Business – Hewitt Associates study – 2009, a relevant aspect for organizations to recognize. Understanding risks such as e-crime, espionage and privacy before leveraging these social media tools and ideas will ensure success in a recession proof world.

To summarize, the global downturn has posed numerous challenges for organizations and employees alike. That said, downturns may not last, but organizations that communicate effectively will. It is important to focus on the positives, craft consistent messages, reinforce often, communicate directly, focus on the positives while involving employees. And last but not least, it is vital for organizations to revisit the core of their existence and the core values that will sustain them in the long run.