Tapping Internal Talent for Internal Communication


Are you maximizing your employees’ potential? Do you know how to reduce your dependency on communication agencies? Working on a leaner budget and want to spend it wisely?

Most often internal communicators view staff as recipients of messages. By making them a part of the communication creation and publishing process we bring in a completely fresh perspective to how we engage with our internal audiences. This is corroborated by Edelman Change & Employee Engagement’s essay 2010: Trends in Organizational Internal Communication/Engagement which states that ‘your employee is your new product’ In India a lot of organizations are waking up to the real potential of leveraging talent for ‘employee-crowdsourced’ solutions.

Ring in the New Year

This got me thinking of a framework that internal communicators can leverage to harvest the immense human potential within firms.

The need for empowerment

 With the growing generation gap in organizations many companies are realizing that ‘generation next’ can help leaders adapt, learn and communicate better apart from contribute to internal communication.  It is also important for leaders to recognize their shortcomings with more recent technologies and demonstrate commitment to improve. Finally, by involving Gen Y organizations will improve engagement, create platforms to lead and contribute ideas.

Acknowledging the shift in knowledge power

It is essential to first accept that with social media and information access there is a knowledge power shift away from the baby boomer generation to the new kids on the block. Generation Y has a far greater understanding of how the world operates and there is a need for our leaders to learn more from you.

However all this requires a robust and consistent platform and here is how you can go about maximizing the power of your peoples’ talent.

To begin, you need to introspect on the potential opportunities which exist.

  1. Educate: if they have skills (over and above their regular day job) that will have an impact on how organization’s connect, communicate and learn better, then it might be relevant to establish as a practice.
  2. Coach: there is scope for leaders to learn and understand how social media works. Who better to teach that the young Gen.
  3. Create: I believe that your talented staff can help co-create company wide communication and collateral (videos, photo features, skits etc) which is viewed widely
  4. Lead: they can transform their skills for the benefit of the organization and their own use. Be it a re-usable multimedia format or a platform which connects staff – the avenues are many.

Here are pointers to build your own initiative in-house.

Understand your objectives: As an internal communicator I am interested in fresh, ear-to-the-ground solutions to everyday communication needs. And who better to turn to that your own staff. Among the objectives of tapping talent are tremendous cost savings, reduced time and effort, fresher ideas, greater appeal, faster turnaround and improved engagement.

Know the limitations: Not every communication can be created and handled by your staff. So understand where you need to retain control and how to keep a firm grip on message review and distribution.

Identify skills you need: Be it social media, writing, photography, music, theatre, miming, video creation among others you can find a way to blend it into how your internal communication gets shaped.   For example, instead of a drab e-mail that communicates a policy, can you think of having a talented individual perform a short skit that succinctly explains the idea? Instead of a course on time management or etiquette can you create a one minute video that makes it easier to understand the importance?

Look out for champions: Look around and you will find enough and more staff keen to extend their reach and share skills which make a difference to their organization. Most often they would do it without expecting anything in return. They are your champions and you have a responsibility as the internal communicator to nurture the relationship.

Pitch ‘what’s in it for you’ upfront: Find out what appeals to them. Get under their skin to fully ‘get’ their personal and professional wants. There are many opportunities and reasons to get them excited. Here are ways to pitch for their interest. A) It gives their talent recognition and they also get to contribute to how the company communicates. B) Their work gets immediate visibility. C) Their contribution increases the opportunity to shape how the organization operates and how leaders view them effort. D) If it has never been attempted before it makes all the more sense for your staff to be the ‘first’ E) Lastly, isn’t it fun for your staff to do what they love doing over and above their work?

Show and tell: There is no better way to show purpose by making an attempt and helping your stakeholders see how a module works. With that you stand a better chance of getting buy-in and resources and funds to explore this opportunity further. Maybe you can even get an external trainer to come in and conduct a workshop. I got a slick photo feature created which had a music scored by one individual and the movie by another staff.

Recognize real-time: Let stakeholders and especially the supervisors of your young champions know about the great work they are doing. Nothing works better than a quick e-mail of appreciation, a larger reward or added responsibilities. Include the names of the individuals as credits in their creations.

Continuing the momentum: Leverage the success of one project by creating replicable formats which other offices can make the most of. Keep your communicators in the loop on opportunities coming their way. Establish a calendar that gets circulated with stakeholders. However retain control over the content creation, review and publishing process.

Measuring success and value: Track page views and excitement levels of your audience with each project. Explain how these projects reduce cost, add more hours to your internal communication team’s core effort and decreases your dependency on external vendors.

So what’s next? How can you make this happen?

Try your hand at a project, engage with the core group of interested staff and create replicable models for internal purposes.

Keep me posted on progress. Share your case studies here.

Wikileaks, Corporate Espionage and Whistle Blowing – Implications for Internal Communication


The world is gripped by the ‘drip-drip-drip’ of cable internal communication shared by Wikileaks through their website. Apart from gauging the impact to international relations and politics these candid revelations also put the focus firmly on the power of transparency in internal communication.

Interestingly, the India diplomatic corps have looked at the positive side of the issue – requesting their Foreign Services Institute (FSI) to adapt and outdo brevity and the style of writing if possible!

Similarly, leakage of private conversations between corporate heads and a lobbyist (Radia tapes) as well as corporate espionage in a supposed telecom scam in India has also put immense pressure on the government and companies to relook at processes, policies and measures.

For leaders and organizations social media has only compounded the issue with rising credibility challenges and dwindling trust ratings. From an internal communication perspective I believe this is an opportunity to address questions that these events raise.

Carved

Actions vs words: The gap between what leaders and governments say and do has always been a topic of debate. These leaks and tapes have cast a shadow over their intentions and it will make it even more difficult to improve their standing. Any e-mail or message shared by leaders will always be available within the internal ecosystem and can be compared and contrasted by stakeholders at any point in time in the future. Internal communicators advising leaders should be cognizant of keeping employee policies, strategies, plans and key decisions available for scrutiny always. Some leaders post their goals and performance feedback on the company intranet as a show of confidence. But such displays as few and far between.

Putting a value on information sharing: Most organizations have established mechanisms to classify internal information. Usually, an internal information security team or an ethics group owns how employees ‘behave’ with information and software. However internal communicators also have a responsibility to educate staff on the implications of misuse or leakage of sensitive infoinformation. Even leaders need to be aware of three levels of information and how much staff can differentiate – namely, ‘must know’ (company information and policies to do their job effectively), ‘good to know’ (fyi content that highlights how the organization is faring with clients, media among others) and ‘need not know’ (information that is secure, specific to certain audiences). There should be an audit and a measure by each team within the organization on the levels of exposure based on the sensitivity of information they possess.

Openness vs information control: Managing control in tandem with transparency is a fine balance most organizations need to consider. One financial services firm removed USB ports and access to certain websites as well as putting in ‘keyword triggers’ to obstruct presentations from leaking out of the system. Overtime staff figured out where the keywords were embedded and deleted it from the documents before sharing it onwards! Unless IT systems and controls stay ahead of creative staffs (who on most occasions didn’t have malicious intentions) there will always be avenues for losing information. Instead by winning staff over with education and openness will be beneficial in the long run for the organization. Also by sharing best practices and involving employees in protecting leakages leads to better information control.

Whistle blowing and internal audits: Whistle blowing is considered to be a self regulating mechanism within organizations. Unfortunately, such individuals aren’t seen in a positive light considering the exposures that leaders and organizations face. In India, a Right to Information (RTI) activist was killed for highlighting malpractices within a state government. Unlike the U.S. Whistleblowers Protect Act of 1989, India is yet to have such measures to protect the whistle blower. However within organizations ethics committees and internal audit teams are tasked with investigating and recommending action if there are misdemeanors. Unless ethical violations and information security breaches are linked to performance and ongoing feedback there are limitations for whistle blowing to get institutionalized.

Brand image and employee responsibility: Unexpected leakages are embarrassing for leaders and internal communicators alike. Apart from putting the PR machinery into overdrive such exposes can tarnish the brand’s image and even lead to low engagement and turnover. Crafting suitable messages that align stakeholders to the organization’s perspective while actively soliciting support from employees can contain the spread of information leaks.

Get to the root cause: It is always easy to shoot the messenger but organizations must look at such exposes to overcome systemic flaws. If you notice despite the best technologies and firewalls most ‘leaks’ are due to people who are upset about what they see within the organization. Firms must probe further to understand the cause and fix the concern before the leak becomes a flood.

My take is that building accountability, getting employee buy-in and creating an atmosphere of trust are most effective in ensuring internal communication is leveraged for what it is meant for.