Internal Communications and Social Media –Discussing Trends and Opportunities

Yesterday, July 19, 2011 I had the pleasure of interacting and sharing perspectives on internal communication and social media trends and opportunities with about 100 students and communication professionals from leading organizations in Bangalore.

Organized by COMMITs (a Bangalore based institute for journalism and mass communication) and COMMIT (Communicators in IT, a group of communication executives in the country) the program aimed to connect students to the changing social media landscape as well as understand the implications it had on internal communications in India.

 I referred to my presentation at the recently concluded 2011 World IABC Conference in the US. You can also read an article published in Simply-Communicate on the trends and opportunities.

Personally it helped me get a closer understanding of the expectations students had vis-à-vis what the industry prescribes. It helped to have senior communication professionals from COMMIT to add insights from their experiences and I believe it made the discussions even more fruitful.

Time watch

I began with a quiz based on research demonstrating how globally internal communicators perceive their ability to grasp social media and make inroads. I noticed surprised faces when the statistics showed that over 2/3rd of internal communicators ranked their team’s social media prowess as low. The biggest barrier in using social media was loss of control and reputational damage while the biggest benefit they gained was in terms of innovation and idea exchange.

The range and quality of questions the students raised impressed me. Some were plain curious.  For example, how does one build a network internally as well as externally? Others discussed various elements of social media and their impact. Such as – ‘Can organizations truly prevent information to leak from within to the cyber world? A few sought information on careers and the options available in the corporate communication domain. Overall, I gauged a genuine interest in appreciating this new phenomenon.

I gathered quickly that social media is indeed a rage! It may seem obvious considering the group is a part of Generation Y and ones contributing immensely to the growing trend.  In my offline discussions with students social media did feature on their minds and in their project work.

However what became evident is a lack of understanding of what it takes to grapple with the subject. There seemed to be a hesitancy to seek out answers, go to the source and engage with the tools to play a leading role in shaping the future.

A few key insights I shared with the audience were:

  1. Ignoring the  evolving social media and internal communication trends can mean missing out on meaningful opportunities
  2. We owe it to ourselves to immerse, engage and contribute to the growing body of knowledge shaping our world
  3.  Since social media is quite nascent there aren’t clear answers and nor are there many who can claim expertise ; which again is a huge opportunity
  4. Knowing your strengths is crucial to understanding where you want to go in your career
  5. Lastly, there are no shortcuts to building careers and growing your reputation in the industry. It requires clear goals and perseverance

Overall, a great opportunity to delve into the minds of future communicators and learn so much more about their aspirations.

The joy of partnering with a leader blogger who ‘gets’ it

As an internal communication professional nothing can come close to working for an internal client who just ‘gets’ it!

I wanted to write this post to share insights from an ongoing partnership that I am beginning to enjoy. Also, share some ideas to make your internal leader’s blog leap ahead.

Two reasons that make it a pleasure to work with such a leader:

  • This leader owns his communication. He thinks about what is relevant to his blog every day, learns how the technology works, asks the right questions, seeks data to know how the blog is faring and is open to suggestions.
  • He knows what his blog can achieve. Before he began blogging he listed out his expectations and how it corresponded with the vision of the organization. Also, given his position in the organization the blog was a double-edged sword; while he had a point of view it could always be mistaken of that of the organization.

    Smiling ice-cream

This means as an internal communicator I get to focus on what’s important – strategically positioning the blog in various forums, thinking of ideas that will improve reach, and identifying themes that will resonate with disparate audiences. With a young workforce distributed across three locations in India the blog is a great way to connect on a personal level.

In just about a month his blog ranks among the most read in the company and the readership is growing leaps and bounds.

What makes his blog tick?

  • His ability to decode what employees want to hear
  • The focus on generating a dialogue
  • His fluid style of writing
  • His promptness in appreciating feedback
  • His ability to convert a chance corridor conversation into a discussion on hot topics that is on everyone’s mind
  • His sense of humor
  • The clarity on how often he can blog and calling it out upfront
  • His willingness to listen

A couple of days ago I walked him through ideas to promote his blog and what struck me most is his focus on what he believes will make his channel credible, believable and relevant.

For instance, he insisted that his blog would remain focused at a high level while seeding current themes to help employees change their mind-sets and not a channel to ‘push’ communication.

That made a whole lot of sense.

Here are other ideas that I shared and you may find useful to initiative a conversation with your leader.

  1. Crowd source ideas from your employees on company-wide initiatives. Ask them for example, to complete a sentence with words they felt most suited the response.
  2. Interview employees on current topics and use extracts in the blog
  3. Feature a team that is delivering great work. Nothing has more impact that storytelling from the trenches.
  4. Include a ‘day in the life’ of the leader that shows what goes on behind the scenes. Everyone loves to know what a leader is going through and what it takes to be one.

Have other suggestions to get your internal leader blogger in the sweet spot? Share them here.

Who Own Your Engagement?

Employee engagement is a frequently discussed topic at organizational forums and like a hot potato the ownership seemed to oscillate between a reluctant group of people including human resources, communication teams and company leadership. I have also discovered new, improved designations of professionals in various capacities carrying the ‘engagement’ tag!

At a recent Communicators in IT (COMMIT) meeting I heard a fresh perspective from a member on the flawed approach of owning someone else’s engagement.

Employees join organizations after deliberating on many aspects such as company profile, long term career aspirations, growth, opportunities and salaries. Quite like boarding a bus – you know where the bus is heading before you get on, while it may not matter who is driving the vehicle. After you get on board they can choose to play the various roles in the vehicle or remain a spectator and enjoy the view outside. If the journey or the destination doesn’t appeal they can opt to hop off and take another bus.  This sounds clinical but it is the honest truth. As long as the employee adds value the organizations considers you important. So it is the onus of the employee to know what expertise will make the most sense for the organization to achieve its goals.

Highway blur

Employees join since they are excited what the organization is doing and where it plans to go in the future.  Therefore it seems strange that after they join the organizations the same employees over time feel disconnected and want someone to keep them motivated and engaged.

When I reflected on it further it dawned on me that we were really sending varied messages to employees who join organizations.

For example, when we advertise for openings aren’t we clearly asking for ‘self-motivated’, ‘driven’, ‘go-getting’, and ‘committed’ individuals? However when the on-boarding process begins the organization goes to extremes to ensure the new hires feel that the organization wants them more instead of it being a mutual expectation.

As they continue their journey some employees are coaxed and cajoled since the organizations view them as ‘indispensable’ claiming ownership of their engagement. Surveys and organizational health checks are run to gauge how employees feel and what their ‘pulse’ says.

I believe this is where we lose the plot.  

In Guru Speak (Corporate Dossier -May 20, 2011) Prof. Srikumar Rao talks of why ‘it isn’t the function of the manager to motivate employees’ but their role of ‘finding out what demoralizes them and systematically getting rid of it’.

He goes on to explain that ‘human beings are inherently motivated. Think of your first day at a new job. Did you start expecting to be bored and disgruntled and reduced to clock watching Oh,no! You were excited and thrilled and ready to set the world on fire.”

Therefore when do we go wrong?

To me it seems the issues crop up at different levels.

Usually the processes for various elements of the employee life cycle such as hiring, on-boarding, integration, learning, development, assessments and coaching are handled by varied teams who may be unaware of the other pieces of the puzzle. Therefore without a consistent message the experience suffers.

In a bid to retain talent managers usually go overboard and offer sops thinking that losing an employee means additional work to get a new one on board. This leads to a perception among the rest that to be ‘valued’ you can put up your price. This is where the engagement ownership passes on to the organization. Managers need to be held accountable for having regular conversations with teams explaining consistently how their work syncs with where the organization is steering.

Leaders often fail to help employees know where the business is heading and connect the dots to each employee’s contribution to the overall journey. Quite like the bus analogy the employee begins to feel like a passenger and not a fellow traveler.

Organizations rarely tell employees to own their engagement and that the role of the manager is only to facilitate their progress and growth. Again, growth is owned by the individual and unless they know which path to take they will never get there.

So the next time the engagement discussion goes into a tailspin know that you are probably holding on to something which belongs elsewhere.