Do you partner with or play watchdog over your employees?

How many times have you avoided your supervisor who tries to pry into your personal life? How often have you cringed when your organization encroaches on your life outside of work by calling you to work on weekends or conduct events?

There are differing viewpoints about the level of interventions organizations can play in their employees’ lives outside of work. I happened to read an article which asked three senior human resource professionals in India on their perspectives. The responses ranged from indifference to interference.



Interestingly, the recent India Best Places To Work Study 2009 demonstrates that workplaces that encourage flexibility, engagement and freedom to have motivated employees.

 Some experts believe that organizations must show concern and appreciation for employees even outside of work while others think it may amount to intrusion.  The supervisors’ role in understanding their teams helps in this context.

I am aware of organization’s which encourage managers to strictly monitor their employees’ life beyond office hours and ensure that work gets completed even if it means sacrificing personal time on weekends. While it is expected for managers to have a broad idea of their team’s personal priorities and interests to help connect better, there has to be a balance. When managers overstep the line by playing counselor to personal issues, they run a risk of alienating their workforce. 

So what is the relevance to internal communication? As a communicator, by understanding the priorities and interests of your employees, you stand to gain by tapping the power of their collective wisdom.

Organizations have three broad options to choose from – a) Maintaining status quo – paying no heed to the employees’ conduct outside of work b) Intervene on a case to case basis – for example, if employees seek support for projects c) Proactively convert employees to ambassadors.

I personally believe in the third approach. Going by the groundswell of social media changes, organizations can’t afford to ignore the potential of its employees. Some have invested in internal tools which mimic social networking sites while others have created templates to capture their interests and pursuits.

Can you tap their passion for corporate social responsibility if you knew your employees spent a sizable amount of time on weekends serving NGOs?

Is there a potential of cost saving for internal communication campaigns by inviting talented photographers from among your employees to contribute their best images?

Do you know how many employees blog outside of work and on which topics?

Can you provide them suitable messages which resonate with your brand? Would you really need a press release?

Are you aware of their entrepreneurial ideas which your organization can incubate?

This has a relevance even to areas such as recruitment marketing, public relations, marketing and branding.

The opportunities are immense. What is needed to translate intent and ideas to action is leadership conviction. Begin now or miss out on making your employees communication advocates.

Internal Branding and the Employee Experience – Stick to the Basics

In today’s Times of India edition (June 10, 2009), Amitabh Kant, the architect of two of India’s well known tourism campaigns (Kerala’s ‘God’s Own Country’ and Incredible India) shared his thinking on branding in an interview. His articulation of branding and travel experience made me draw a parallel with how internal communicators can benefit by closing the gap between ‘expectation’ vs ‘experience’. The two campaigns got the southern state of Kerala and India a lot of attention.

Joy Ride

Joy Ride

What he points out was that while the country had resources and a wide spectrum of options, finally what mattered was the ‘on the ground experience’ of travelers. Poor infrastructure, lack of basic facilities and guides clearly indicated a gap between what the communication showcased and what people experienced.

He talked of going back to the basics – the ‘clean bed sheets and bathrooms’ approach, which is usually expected by anyone who travels. According to him, abroad the ‘idiot proof’ signboards and approachable guides made a difference in getting a great picture of the country and locale. Keeping this thought, internal communication is only as good as the experience stakeholders get.

Even the best resources – be it technology, assets and channels are worthless unless the overall experience is perceived to be outstanding. Most employees take it for granted that they will be treated fairly, allowed freedom to work creatively, provided promised benefits and have dignity of labor.

While organizations believe that employees will receive the best experience (some call it employee value proposition, total experience or life cycle), the gap exists when there is lack of transparency, indirect messages and ineffective direction from leadership.

My take is that internal communicators must first stick to the basics – to provide direct, regular, consistent and measurable communication, enable managers to become better at what they communicate and build sustainable connection and engagement. The frills of glossy newsletters, super fast portals and slick content can only make an impact if the basics are in place.

Is the value of internal communication dependent on the quality of the people who represent it?

A comment in a research report ‘Developing tomorrow’s Internal Communications Professionals, Liam FitzPatrick and Hamish Haynes’ (Working: May 2004) citing recruitment specialist Watson Helsby got me thinking.

This is how it read: “The internal communications role has not attracted enough high caliber individuals. Inevitably, the perceptions of the value of internal communications are intrinsically intertwined with the quality of the people who represent it.”

Snow White

Snow White

While there is a lot of emphasis by organizations to make the practice process oriented and people independent, this comment clearly indicates the need to understand how crucial a role the internal communication professional plays.

Also since more internal communicators find their way into this practice either through the traditional routes of advertising, public relations, direct marketing or media, each brings a unique perspective to the table. How each translates their understanding of the way internal communication needs to work.

Recently, a recruitment marketer seeking an internal communication professional when asked how internal communication meant for the organization mentioned ‘managing internal communication channels such as newsletters and intranets’! I know of other organizations in India which expect the communicator to be the ‘writers’ for leadership and ‘go-to person’ for conducting events and working out their calendars.

From my experience I feel there is lacuna between the expectations of the role versus how it is actually perceived.

Therefore how the practitioner value adds is dependent on how much the organization and leadership understands the practice’s significance.

The report also highlights another feedback from a stakeholder:  “looking forward to the day when the profession got better recognition because it was delivering commercial value, real results and was accountable.” – pointing to ROI, tangible measures and ownership.

Finally, while the top skills expected of an internal communication professional included ‘Planning messaging and programs’, ‘good network of contacts across the organization’, ‘influencing ability’, ‘political awareness’, ‘writing’, ‘understanding business strategy’ and ‘advising senior management on communications issues (read coaching)’, how many times have we evaluated candidates for a role based on these guidelines.