How do you identify an appropriate workplace study to enter?

If you browse the Times of India Ascent (a popular India based newspaper recruitment reference) for advertisements of major Indian or multinational firms you will notice a slew of awards or recognitions in the messages to attract talent. Mostly in the form of recognitions or logos that spell out the ranking and importance of the award.

These seem to have a positive impact for candidates in selecting an organization to work for and therefore a lot of companies are leaning towards getting on these lists. Internally employees ‘feel good’ working for firms who show up consistently on such rankings.

However making a decision to participate in a certain award or ‘best places’ study is always a tough one and a call between marring or making your employer brand.

Morning ride

In India and going by the recent 2010 Global Workforce Study by Towers Watson it is clear that employees view organizations that have strong ethical, corporate social responsibility and work practices as ideal places to join. However with the recent entry of WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces™ coined by Indian press as a ‘lucrative’ opportunity there is a great deal of skepticism on the true ‘meaning’ of these awards. There is even a notion that a good PR agency can market and rank you among the top names!

The listing identifies 44 companies worldwide that are truly democratic in their functioning and two Indian firms show up. Is a factor of a) awareness  b) interest in participation?

When I read through the principles and the press clip it seems like the focus is around innovation in employee practices and the key driver is engagement. The terms such as ‘listening’, ‘transparency’, ‘accountability’, and ‘integrity’ and ‘choice’ all sound like a re-hash of what other studies work with too.

I think it makes sense to revisit the objectives to define approaches organizations can adopt.

From my experience organizations enter these awards to:

–          Know their standing in the industry

–          Get recognition that can be leveraged for press and recruitment marketing

–          Give a reason for employees to celebrate their workplace

–          Improve their internal practices

–          Enhance brand image

–          Be seen with the best

So how does an organization go about selecting a workplace survey to be in?

I believe organizations must evaluate based on –

1. Credibility of the organization: What is the agency’s standing in the industry? How many years have they run the study and how sure are you of their data? If it is a fly-by-night operator you stand the risk of doing more damage that good to your brand.

2. Methodology: Some interview employees, some only employers and some do a mix. Others do a 360 degree evaluation with stakeholders. But do you know how large is the sample size and which industries they looking at? Which geographies and demographics do they cover? How strong is the thinking? How robust is the process?

3. Relevance: How closely tied in is the study’s objectives to your organizational goals? If you miss the study will it impact your standing?

4. Agency’s practice: How much does the agency which pitches these studies practice what they preach? Where does it rank with employee engagement? How robust are their employee practices? How many best practices have they implemented?

5. Panel of experts: Do you know who the experts are and what they stand for in the industry? How long have they been involved in such studies?

Let us face it – however much we would like it to be ‘democratic’ the subject of how truly open organizations are will always be debatable if actions don’t match words.

Finally I think it boils down to understanding which way to go – and to me the only way is up on employee engagement. That to me comes with being honest about your intentions as an organization, partnering with your employees, growing them and being a responsible corporate citizen.


State of the post-recession workforce and social media internal communication opportunities

Over the last few weeks I researched the ‘state of social media adoption in internal communications in India’ and got numerous insights.

 While I will share the details in an article shortly I wanted to reflect on opportunities for internal communicators to leverage social media in light of the recent 2010 Global Workforce Study by Towers Watson that covered 20,000 people across 22 markets.

While the report talks of changing priorities for a recession-battered workforce job security, a need for increased communication and emphasis on rewards and benefits stands out.


Face in a box

The state of employee engagement is quite low – 2 out of every 5 employees are disengaged, there is a shift on how employees view their relationships in the workplace.

I have listed out the key points that emerge from the study along with my corresponding viewpoint on how social media internally can make a difference.

3/4th of those studied believe that they are responsible for their financial future and careers.

(Opportunity: can we ‘crowdsource’ knowledge internally to give employees what they need? I am aware of many employees who are adept at planning finances and they can be brought-in as experts)

 Challenging work ranks highest followed by learning and development among employees to seek jobs in emerging markets like India.

(Opportunity: I believe leaders need to take note and include perspectives on adding ‘stretch’ goals for their employees. Also can we link social media tools to help employees get to ‘challenging work’ and serve learning via these channels?)

Just 1 in 10 use social media for business purposes and only 1/3rd think social media can improve productivity.

(Opportunity: In India I can vouch for the fact that social media internally is very nascent and internal communicators have a role to play in showing how it all connects to get results)

Employees like more freedom and flexibility but are unsure if the tools and resources currently provided help them currently.

(Opportunity: I recommend tapping social media activists from among your employees to demonstrate value)

 Confidence in leaders and managers is low – employees expect more ‘emotional’ connect and see the ‘human’ dimension.

(Opportunity: The way forward is to have more frequent and consistent contact as well as build support and trust. Social media channels can be used informally for this purpose to engage an increasingly digital and dispersed workforce)

The report discusses how ‘self-reliance’, ‘personalization’ and ‘agility in organizational processes and internal practices’ are some of the expectations from employers in the new scenario. Agility is in reference to speed at which practices such as rewards and recognition, talent management and leadership development are administered.

Again, I see a huge opportunity for social media to play a key role in communication,  integration and connection.

Finally, among the top 4 engagement drivers, image and empowerment showed a jump in 2009. The reasons provided reflect on state of business during the downturn, scandals which broke out and financial irregularities that impacted image of organizations. Due to the unsteadiness within organizations and their ability to focus on employees much during the recession more employees are taking on managing their own work situations – showing up in the ‘empowerment’ index.  Not surprisingly, leadership and career development took a backseat.

 What do you think?

The Benefits of Revisiting Your Internal Communication Priorities

This month I caught up with my team at Chicago and we stepped back to re-chart our goals and focus areas for the year and beyond. To me it meant unlearning and looking at our stakeholders from a different lens altogether.

Personally this meeting taught me a few pointers on structuring a team’s strategy for the maximum result. This post will give you directions on how you can chart your team’s plans rather than them staying as a bunch of great slides.

To give you context I lead the India internal communications practice and this interaction allowed me to meet with my colleagues from other geographies for the first time in almost two years! Leaders and businesses expected a lot more from this team considering our track record of demonstrating value and results. This year the organization changed its positioning and business units to take on trends that will shape the future. We needed to also get our hands around social media to equip our employees in making the most of this exciting trend. Lastly, as we scaled we needed to get the entire team behind us to meet and exceed internal demands.

 Internal communication team’s charter

 As a virtual team we engage mostly on IM, calls and e-mail. Meeting face-to-face (we had a Skype meeting planned as a back-up in case the travel plans changed) gave me a totally new picture of working in a different time zone, with counterparts who are unable to get the ‘on the ground’ reality, brainstorming ideas and sharing  opinions often tougher to do on calls and e-mail.

 Over three days we spent time understanding our position in terms of the organization, our plans, goals, priorities, partners, stakeholders and the technologies at our disposal.  We did spend quality time knowing each other as well! I took time out to indulge in photography – see image from Chicago’s Cloud Gate in this post and many more on my Picasa page.

Skyline on a cloud

 With that as a backdrop we asked ourselves pertinent questions on our team’s charter and where we wanted to be as a group in the firm. That included – were we most effective and productive in the position we were in? Did it warrant us revisiting how we reported into the organization to get the maximum mileage?

 While these may sound wishful thinking to many internal communication teams we realized that unless we took a stand now – our core competencies, skills and strengths may not be fully utilized.  We attempted articulating our team’s vision three years from now – a brave objective and a great start. We asked ourselves what ‘good’ and ‘great’ meant in terms of internal communication while brainstorming measures that will give us pointers when we got there. I found the exercise direct, purposely and honest. All this required research and each member did a bit of groundwork to make the meeting the most impactful.

 Mapping the work and priorities

Then we faced off on the work and ensured we knew who and what our stakeholders were tasked to accomplish as part of their goals. We listed out all the feedback we gathered from engagement surveys and our own bi-annual communication pulse checks on the table. With the continually shifting landscape we had to align ourselves more to our clients’ needs.

 The next piece of the exercise got us poring over all the various initiatives, campaigns and milestones the company continued working on. We used the ‘lights-on’ metaphor (one among the many Americanisms I learnt during the course of my visit!) to talk of all the projects that needed our constant vigil to run ‘business as usual’. These included Portal management, recognition administration, review of communication messages and keeping a constant pulse of employees. We prioritized these based on the importance, needs and wants. At the end of the exercise we gave each other knowing glances on what it took to keep the wheels oiled and moving!

 The second part had us look closely at vital programs we owned and what the organization expected us to roll-out successful to all employees. At our organization we believe in a planned approach to communication – clear briefing, leadership commitment, developing key messages, getting buy-in of all stakeholders, reviewing and crafting suitable communication content, identifying the appropriate channels of communication, cascading communication transparently through champions and supervisors and finally evaluating impact of messages.  This year we needed to up the ante with technologies that suited the growing business needs and the social media phenomenon that is sweeping the world. We looked at best practices from around the world and the role of internal communicators in making social media adoption a success.

 Equipping the team to go that extra mile

 We piloted a social media tool we planned to integrate within the organization and got a first hand feel of what users might experience. At this point we discussed cultural nuances across different geographies and what it meant to get everyone across the company on board with social media.

 Equipping the team with the right technologies got us thinking on various new video and audio capabilities. We zeroed down to a couple of infrastructure needs that had the most impact and allowed all team members to learn and experiment. As an aside – the internal communication team manages the entire range of services from video to design and campaign rollouts to leadership messaging in-house. It is expected that all members pick up relevant skills that are needed for making effective internal communication.

 The recognition element is an integral piece of our internal communication story and we envisioned the future. This led to a host of cool ideas to get us started this year. Interestingly, we looked at not just the program format but also areas to improve tool’s usability and social media pieces which fit into the plan. Our organization encourages experimenting and taking risks and I saw that taking form with this venture.

 Growing the internal communication team

 The last two aspects of our dialogue were extremely engaging, relevant and useful to any internal communications team that is keen to be successful.

 We relooked at how we worked together as a team and if it required realignment. Some of the questions we asked were

Did we connect often enough?

Did we spend time on ideation and sharing best practices?

Did we recognize each others’ strengths and capabilities?

How are we growing the team?

How can we make everyone in the team the most effective and successful?

 Finally we reviewed how to engage better through meetings with leaders and stakeholders. Were they getting the right support, did they know whom to turn to for help, did they know the full range of offerings we provided, were they seeing how we enhanced the organization’s engagement and commitment?

 An effective agenda for your internal communication strategy meeting

 To summarize if your internal communication team is ever gathering to discuss plans together and make a difference here are some relevant questions that can help guide your agenda.

  • Where is the organization heading?
  • What are the current and future focus areas and priorities?
  • Is the team aligned right to meet the organization’s goals?
  • How does the organization and stakeholders measure your team?
  • As a team what do you need to be successful?
  • Where does the team want to go? In a year? In three years?
  • What is ‘good’ or ‘great’ work in internal communications? From your perspective and from your stakeholders’ viewpoint?
  • How do we know you a are getting there?
  • What did we want others to perceive us to be?
  • What is the future of internal communications?
  • How are you growing your team? Capabilities, strengths, attributes? New technologies?
  • Is everyone embracing new/social media?
  • Are you aware of best practices in internal communications? In your geography? Around the globe?

I am keen to know if these recommendations were useful to you. If you have other suggestions do share them here.

Internal Communications Lessons from a Flight That Never Was

I am penning this blog note to share internal communications lessons I learn from a recent travel ordeal. This isn’t an attempt to grind my axe with Air France which gave me grief although my dissatisfaction with how I was treated led me to vent with many more people than I thought I would.

 After an exciting internal communication strategy meeting with my team I looked forward to getting back and rolling out campaigns and initiatives. I was seated in the plane for about four hours at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport before the pilot announced that we needed to get off since he detected an engine oil leak but couldn’t figure how to fix it! I thanked my stars that the pilot didn’t discover this leak mid-air! After alighting from flight that never was (AF 667) we were asked to collect our bags and stay overnight at a hotel provided by the airline. It was around 5pm.


 That’s when the ordeal began. Collecting the bags meant accessing multiple floors to reach the baggage claim section. All passengers had to wait close to an hour to get to the ticketing counter and be told their next steps. We were provided a toll-free number to call back the next day and figure out the next flight. Some passengers were given a different number!

I got wind of the new number when I cross verified with another passenger the next day. By then I lost a couple of hours trying to get a response from an interactive voice mailbox.

 Transparency and consistency in your actions are of primary importance. If you share information that is meant for all audiences ensure everyone hears the same tune.

 To complicate matters, getting a room in the hotel took close to 3 hours since we had to be transported – the transfer vehicles weren’t suited to accommodate such a large cargo of luggage and there were just 3 counters. We weren’t provided food or water yet. To top it all, some passengers were treated differently due to their nationalities.

 Be inclusive in your communication and interactions. People are bound to notice and begin ‘water-cooler’ conversations.

 However calling the second number wasn’t of much help either since the message indicated two flights – the regular evening flight and another one an hour before. Were we on the latter? No idea. Not being able to interact with a ‘human’ worried me the most.

 In this age of automation and touch screen engagement this was one time I would have appreciated knowing someone who could genuinely assist. Would putting a helpdesk at the hotel have helped? Maybe.

 I met a fellow passenger from India and we decided to get to the airport early the next day to avoid any last minute concerns, especially with so much ambiguity.

 We got there by 12noon having a buffer of over 3 hours to make it comfortably for the 4pm flight. We were asked to wait again in the ticketing counter line and informed that an announcement will be made at 3.30pm. With passengers getting fidgety the airline staff seemed unequipped to provide any clear answers. When confronted each one gave inconsistent responses and pointed to their higher officer who seemed to know it all but wasn’t around.

 Having a clear process of communication and chain of command gets messages delivered consistently. If your managers have as much information as the rest you are exposing them to ridicule and it is bad for their morale. Your audiences don’t care about your internal hierarchy – they need precise information they can use. All the great work related to in-flight service, entertainment and cuisine are forgotten when other issues become top-of-mind.

After over four hours of waiting I noticed the number of passengers dwindling in the line. Word had it that some were given preferential treatment and sent on other flights. What about the rest? No word still about our fate.

 Only when I insisted that I needed to be put on a direct flight to India on another airline did they take interest. Agin, as a customer service firm until I told them to search for flights to Delhi (they were only trying for a direct one to Bangalore which never existed did they attempt that route. So we were always told there were no flights and we had to stay another day.

 Thankfully there was one to Delhi in about an hour and a half away. We were informed that the team’s Delhi office will take up our accommodation and airport transfers as soon as we land.

 With no connecting flight from Delhi to Bangalore after 9pm it was clear we had to halt a night at the city. But where were the airline officials? Despite numerous attempts to make contact no one showed up. After an hour we were told to make it to the airline office and check on our next steps. Guess what? No fax – no accommodation yet!

 Now began a different adventure. After figuring out our accommodation and with a flight early in the morning we were asked to go to the suburbs of the city and come back again. We discovered (courtesy the cab driver) that we were being short changed since the airline usually keeps stranded passengers in the city’s luxury hotel near the airport. Then to make matters worse they insisted that we share a room! And the cab unable to hold the luggage of two passengers in the boot has to accommodate it on the roof! This was adding insult to injury. After much distress we were given separate rooms and took up the suburban hotel with much reluctance considering we had only 3 hours to catch some rest.

 When you scale as an organization remember not to lose the ‘human’ touch. I remembered also the ‘Say-Do’ Matrix (coined by D’prix) which indicates that consistency in what you say and do makes a difference to your audience’s experience.

 One of the first things I did after I got home was to inform my travel desk of the incident and to take it up with the airline directly.

 I also browsed the Air France website (I found usability issues with it but that is a different topic altogether) to check for key leaders whom I could write to but I found none.  There isn’t a single e-mail ID for customer complaints! And the online form times out with an error.

 I am still awaiting a response from the airline and the travel desk on what went wrong.

  So here is my final observation.

 I penned 1100 words on a single case which upset me. If an organization is truly interested in growing as a global brand – be accessible, make your leaders available and ready to confront bad news.

 I plan to –   

a) Teach this episode as a case study when I talk to students at the B-schools I visit

b) Delve deeper into what internal communicators can gain from the incident

c) Pursue this case and offer my services to Air France in improving their customer experience and internal communications.

I am not a frequent traveler and maybe my expectations of travel are a bit removed from reality. I am interested to know your viewpoints.