I Have Done all the Internal Communications I Could. Where Do I Go From Here?

I had this interesting question posed today and spoke with the individual to understand the genesis of this thought.

Here is the scenario and it may possibly be a situation many internal communicators face at their workplace.

This communicator, fresh out of college has completed close to two years with her organization supporting a business unit of over 2000 employees and isn’t sure if she is making progress or knows what to do next. It is now time for the appraisal cycle and she has been asked to share her goals/objectives for the next year/round.  

When I probed further I heard that she wasn’t aware of the group’s goals or the leaders’ pain points. She handles the entire group’s internal communications – be it reviewing content, newsletters or updates from the team or publishing content to various channels. Interestingly, she is the sole point of contact for all internal communications even though there are other sub-teams such as HR who manage their own communications independently. She has been told to only review what comes her way since ‘technical’ communications isn’t her forte and that can be done by the technical people. So, there are communications which do go by without her intervention.  She is wary of ‘stepping’ on other peoples’ toes by getting involved in other communication work. Even with this limited scope to operate in, the internal communicator (let us call her Nitya) has delivered on a social media solution that works for HR and built a system for digital signages among others.

Now Nitya is contemplating either a change outside the organization or staying the course since her experience of two years isn’t enough to go elsewhere. So, what can Nitya do?

Here are some of my thoughts and I am open to your recommendations that Nitya can do to improve her situation and continue doing great work.

To begin, she must understand – and truly understand what the business unit and organization is trying to do with their goals. Nitya can asking probing questions about the current gaps and review literature or engagement survey results to be sure all angles are covered.

She can explore if the organization has a system for business continuity or crisis management and propose solutions that save the organization time, effort and funds.

Nitya can partner with the Corporate Social Responsibility team (and many companies have staff manage it part time) and recommend ways in which they can be more successful in garnering volunteering or funding.

Nitya can devote time researching best practices from other organizations and understand how social media integration (a big need today) is done for internal communications and do a pilot project.

The other option is to craft a workshop on writing standards and walk managers through it. She can request for a slot in her team’s induction program and connect with new employees about the company’s culture and communication. A great place to find out about people and tap talent for internal communications. She can hold a communications editorial calendar together and help leaders see the impact internal communications is making.

She can use her time to grow her skills as a professional – be it learning about social media, program management etc.

Over time when she demonstrates value through communications she can raise the level of thinking among leaders and staff.

Interested to know what other ideas you have. Please share them here.

How Can Organizations Communicate Tolerance and Harmony at Work?

India recently witnessed one of its worst fears unfolding with threats and rumor mongering leading to an exodus of a community from cities. Some anti-social elements spread rumors and threatened sections of a community via social media and short-service message service. The fear created an uneasy feeling across the nation and by the time leaders took stock of the situation misunderstandings surfaced and cities faced labor shortages overnight.

This episode throws many questions not just about the erosion of multi-cultural sensitivities that the country prides itself on but also on what can prevent such crises in the future. Furthermore, what can internal communicators and leaders do more to maintain harmony and propagate tolerance at the workplace?

For some back story.  For many the North-East of India is a place too cumbersome to access or too remote to be bothered about.  The contributions of these eight states that comprise this part of India are underestimated. This part of India has contributed to the country’s success in equal measure and also by their hard working nature although they have often faced discrimination and taunts just because of their Mongoloid features. Some noteworthy leaders from the North-East include the former police chief at Bangalore and a current Member of Parliament – H. T. Sangliana, the country’s best known soccer player – Baichung Bhutia, the former Election Commissioner and a man known to be direct and honest  – James Lyngdoh and our own pocket sized Olympic boxing winner – Mary Kom.

It began with unprecedented communal violence in Assam and triggered protests in other states leading to unrest. Then some North-East people received threats directly and via social media vehicles to their lives and fled from cities such as Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune where they had come to earn a livelihood, study or start a business.  These cities which boast a cosmopolitan outlook had leaders rushing to railway stations to prevent a flood of people from exiting. For many this was probably the first time they witnessed leaders at close quarters – even within handshaking distance! None of their assurance prevented people from leaving in droves.

Credibility among leaders at the workplace isn’t faring too well either and leaders who don’t show up often or listen to staff end up losing their grip on employee engagement when it is needed most. Leaders need to walk the talk and staff can figure out when they aren’t sincere.

By the time leaders took note of the seriousness of the issue the trickle had become a flood. The country grappled for many days figuring out how messages were sent and verifying the authenticity of the videos which carried inflammatory content. It took a lot of coaxing and directives from the central government for the exodus to slow down and despite numerous measures to ensure safety of the North-East people such as flag marches by security forces, community processions by leaders and patrolling by vigilante groups uneasiness stayed. Steps were taken to block bulk sms services and ban websites which featured videos.

Understanding systems and new technologies is vital to staying ahead on the information highway and avoiding lapses in communication. Grapevine is an important channel in organizations although many don’t consider it crucial to listen into. Having a pulse of what your staff thinks and how they act can allow you to proactively plan your interventions. Invest is ‘social listening’ on discussion forums and internal networks to gauge the mood.

While leaders jostled with each other to be the ‘first’ to help the people impacted it turned out that their past actions caught up with their current interests. Many parties who had certain affiliations to organizations that promoted communal disharmony and discrimination joined in the melee. The language they used in their public demonstrations and announcements and the partners they mollycoddled with gave away their true intentions.  Everyone claimed to be secular but their words weren’t aligned to their actions. Now, impacted people saw through their motives and didn’t pay heed to their requests.

For leaders in organizations it matters what you say and how closely your actions align. For example, leaders who allow conversations to take place among colleagues in their native languages are brewing communal disharmony without even realizing it. If English is the official language spoken in your organization, then everyone must stick to it.  Also, being inconsiderate to staff of certain regions or pigeonholing career options with certain communities adds fuel to fire at the workplace.  Sidelining specific communities while dividing work in teams and publically misrepresenting information related to certain religions can create rifts. The Maruti episode is a case in point where a caste slur made about an employee’s caste leading to misunderstanding between management and staff.  A probe however discounts that angle.

Many organizations in India who employed staff from the North-East were faced with a crisis when they didn’t show up for work fearing reprisals. The government took measures to slow the spread of hate messages via social media channels by reducing bulk sms limits and blocking websites. However, those were seen as reactive measures. How must organizations handle queries related to issues concerning community tolerance? What can organizations do to reassure staff of their safety? How can internal communicators ensure that leaders communicate accurately, messages are honest and staff feels that they are cared for? There isn’t one single solution or answer.

The first issue is to take stock of what the situation means to staff. Organizations to begin must first be aware of their staffs’ diversity. Shutting down channels that staff uses to air views isn’t appropriate and can do more harm than good for morale and the message. Promptly reconfirm the safety of all staff and have managers be flexible to them taking time off from work or work remotely till the situation improves. The organization can ‘listen’ to chatter about the subject and reassure staff on actions they are taking – monitoring the situation using relevant channels and sources (police, government bodies, ministers), sharing police helplines to report trouble and being approachable and available. I came across this interesting discussion on Linkedin about ‘fostering cultural harmony’. Leaders need to be primed about social integration and their role in using neutral language in their communication. Be sensitive to all communities and if you plan to celebrate one festival they demonstrate equal commitment to include the other festivals. Or have a common forum or platform for all communities to come together.

It isn’t enough for organizations to run ‘potlucks’ with regional cuisine, promote cultural events showcasing diversity, craft ‘inclusive’ policies or claim to be ‘equal opportunity employers’. The words you speak and the actions you take with sincerity all add up to your credibility as a sensitive workplace and employer. And it begins with leadership.

While the land of ‘ahimsa’ (non-violence) comes to terms with this communal tension the Scorpions hit number ‘Under the Same Sun’ comes to mind as they grapple with ‘why the world can’t live as one’.

I am interested in your thoughts on what you think can be done more to build communal harmony at the workplace.

Internal Communications Strategies To Strengthen Your Corporate Social Responsibility and Volunteering Initiatives

The impact of an organization’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives on employee engagement is gaining recognition. However, to make initiatives successful internal communicators can play an important role in overcoming skepticism, making CSR a priority, driving change and creating structure.

Very often organizations struggle to create a consistent strategy for CSR, gain commitment on initiatives, enroll and sustain interest among volunteers and last but not least, communicate periodically. To be effective, internal communicators are expected to understand industry trends, listen to what volunteers want, revisit current communication practices and recommend approaches that work.

 Studying industry trends

For example, research reports indicates that ‘generation next’ actively seek organizations that engage on CSR and provide avenues for staff to volunteer for corporate social responsibility programs. Are the communication messages aimed at your staff making it inclusive for this group? Likewise, studies report that employee volunteerism is seen as an opportunity to build community and leadership skills. Again, how often is that message reflected in your communication?

In a study by the Oxford University’s Saïd Business School on corporate social responsibility in India about 77 % of the Indian companies reported corporate or employee volunteering although none had formal procedures in place. Also 17% of the companies surveyed in India had a written CSR policy while more than 80 percent of the surveyed companies engage in CSR programs If your organization is looking at keeping your initiatives consistent it helps to have documented process, checklists and templates that empower local teams.

Proposed legislature to get companies to invest in corporate social responsibility effort in India has received attention. The 2012 Indian Union budget had made references to incorporating elements of corporate social responsibility in the Companies Bill.  It prescribes that every company having a net worth of INR 500 crore or more, or a turnover of INR 1,000 crore or more, or a net profit of INR 5 crore or more during any financial year shall set up a CSR committee, which would guide and monitor the company’s CSR agenda and expenditure. Companies meeting this criterion are also expected to spend at least 2% of their average net profits made during the three previous financial years towards CSR activities.

Furthermore, there is a need to disclose the CSR policy including reasons for not meeting the required expenditure was called for.  Organizations are called to invest in the PM’s National Relief Fund and certain other funds of the central and state governments. It defines that organizations focus on themes that impact the nation – such as eradicating hunger, promoting education or health, ensuring environmental sustainability. Even the Indian Prime Minister outlined a 10 point social charter which calls out responsibilities of organizations and the sensitivities to consider while growing profits.

The country’s Ministry of Corporate Affairs likewise shared 9 broad national voluntary guidelines for businesses to align their effort for better impact, enhance their competiveness, increase ability to be an attractive employer and be relevant for their stakeholders and society. The themes covering social, economic and environmental ownership are: ethics, transparency, accountability;  safe and sustainable goods and services; well-being of employees; responsiveness to all stakeholders; promoting human rights; protecting the environment;  responsible policy advocacy; supporting inclusive development; providing value to customer.

All these trends have the potential to shape how organizations direct their CSR effort and conduct volunteering initiatives in line with their corporate strategy and hence important to study and imbibe.

Knowing where and how to invest in CSR initiatives

A lot of organizations spread their effort widely hoping to make a difference on a wide range of issues. This dilutes the impact of the effort and there is a need for a framework that makes decision making simpler.  A IBM study recommends that organizations can move up the value graph and maximize returns by integrating their CSR effort with their core business strategy.

Another study, a McKinsey report – ‘Shaping the Future: Solving Social Problems through Business Strategy: Pathways to Sustainable Value Creation in 2020.’ shares practical ways for organizations to identify where to invest their energies the emphasis is on focusing on picking areas that give the firm a competitive edge in the process.  This can be relevant for CSR teams to enable decision making. Other tips include gathering information on evolving trends in legislation, scanning media reports and interviewing internal and external stakeholders. This is to be followed by scoping the issues, identifying which ones to tackle and investing effort to create a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

In Forbes’s study seven in ten say they would rather support fewer causes with a deeper relationship than a broad range of causes with less engagement. By focusing on less companies want to be experts in lesser areas instead of diluting effort. IBM’s analysis identifies three dynamics that companies are to understand and act upon while engaging with CSR – a) adding value by impacting business; b) transforming information via transparency and c) growing relationships through engagement.

Internal communication strategies to engage staff on CSR and employee volunteering

To effectively connect staff with the CSR priorities the studies point to several strategies that can enable organizations achieve their goals.

Invest in charities where your staff can volunteer.

 It always helps to think about your staff’s time and effort and then map charities to the need of the hour. Forbes’ study discusses that companies anticipate volunteer hours will increase over the next year highlighting the crucial part manpower plays in CSR. In fact, 72% say that they primarily make donations to causes that will allow their employees to volunteer.

Choose your internal communications vehicles wisely.

Be selective about the vehicles of internal communications based on cost effectiveness, timeliness, and reach and impact. According to a Tower Perrin’s study, intranet communication is preferred due to access, speed, ease and cost effectiveness. Feature leaders broadly in communication since messages are recognized when given my senior executives.

Understand what staff, especially Generation Next, want.  

With the number of young staff choosing organizations based on the firm’s CSR effort and willing to volunteer time and effort for social causes it becomes imperative to connect their needs with the demands of charities. In India, Generation Next are keen to volunteer since it helps “build character”, “looks nice on the CV”, “gets appreciation from friends and family” and is a “great exposure”. This is relevant for internal communicators as it helps them craft their messages to suit what audiences expect.

Make running CSR initiatives and volunteering easy.

It helps to have simple formats and templates for internal teams to manage their own local office programming. The templates can cover topics such as ‘how to evaluate the potential and impact of an initiative’, ‘how to conduct a volunteering event’ and ‘checklist for volunteers’. Have a core steering committee that oversees the company’s overall CSR strategy and allows autonomy for local offices to manage volunteering and giving.

Here is a checklist to kick-start your volunteering initiatives.

Let me know what you think. I am keen to hear of other best practices and approaches that have worked for you or believe will be useful for other organizations to follow. Share them here.

Making Your Noticeboards Work Harder For Internal Communications

Many organizations continue using noticeboards (bulletin boards or poster boards or pin-up space as they are called in some companies) as internal communications channels for sharing company news, updates and rollouts.

Even with the advent of social media and more sophisticated  internal communication channels  such as plasma screens or touch kiosks  (I know of organizations that centrally control content) the ubiquitous noticeboards still grab a lot of attention especially  when appropriately placed, the space utilized well and when integrated right in the overall communications mix.

Noticeboards have fallen from grace due to the medium’s misuse (cluttered displays don’t do much good) ,the lack of interactivity of the medium and ambiguous process and ownership. In most companies, especially in India the noticeboards are ‘managed’ by the office facilities team and the content loosely ‘owned’ or reviewed by the internal communications or the HR group. Sometimes internal teams know whom to approach for placing their content while at other occasions they put up content based on space availability and proximity to the audience.

Making the best use of the noticeboards expects a consistent policy, process and clear ownership. Noticeboards with a streamlined management process are more effective, easier on the eye, gives a sense of order, makes it simpler for internal teams to communicate better and allows equal access to all.

Here are a few pointers to ensure your noticeboards are back among the most ‘wanted’ channels among your stakeholders.

Document your policy: Very often channels such as noticeboards are run without a policy. Using visual space well can mean the difference when a well-crafted campaign isn’t getting eyeballs.  Label the spaces, make the spaces bright and cheerful, identify owners, and define a process for hosting content and taking it down.

Define the Service Level Agreements (SLA)s: Getting up a poster isn’t as easy as it seems. The processes include designing, printing and hosting. List the SLAs and include in the policy so that teams know the shelf-life.

Democratization of information: Internal communicators needn’t police what goes up or down. Assign ownership to teams on the respective offices to manage their own space. Identify spaces where content can be ‘crowdsourced’ from staff rather than only having content that comes from headquarters.  However, every artifact that gets hosted must have the name and contact of the requestor so that the facilities team knows when and whom to reach to take down the content.

Begin with a clean slate: Inform stakeholders of the policy and that all existing content (outdated content) will be taken down to start a fresh. It also gives the boards some ‘breathing space’ till the next lot of posters appears. Clearly brand the space so that staff identifies it as an ‘official’ channel.

Templates that improve identification: In one of my earlier workplaces the brand team had excellent templates that made it easy to identify the team’s communication. The imagery, colors, fonts and formats ensured that even if a person was rushing by a noticeboard knew which team was communicating from the branding.

Get leadership buy-in: Ensure that leaders are aware of the policy and process and can accordingly advice their teams. Have leaders communicate the need for consistency and policy adoption.

Seek feedback and refresh policy often: The word ‘policy’ can be misconstrued as ‘bureaucratic ‘and ‘hierarchical’ so tread carefully while framing your communication. Ask internal stakeholders for feedback on how the process is working and what can be improved.

Have other ideas to make noticeboards effective? Share them here.

Are Internal Communicators in the Business of Keeping Stakeholders Happy?

Internal communicators often have to balance between doing what is easy and what is the right thing to do for the business. Often the latter isn’t the most popular decision since it goes against the grain and antagonizes stakeholders.

Amy, the internal communicator from Indi Company handled the company e-zine  – Reach and she got requests for posting articles from the offices across the globe. The weekly e-zine pooled in content themes based on relevance to the company, importance to staff etc.  Julie from the Learning team had sent in a request for including the launch of a training program and Amy didn’t carry it. Here is a conversation between the two as they talk about why the article didn’t find space.

Julie: Amy, I have a concern. I was surprised to see that my article didn’t feature in last week’s Reach.

Amy: You are right. I didn’t get carried since it wasn’t as per the content guidelines we follow.

Julie: Has that changed? I had shared a similar training launch note earlier – didn’t we carry it then?

Amy: Yes, it has changed a bit but not entirely. We have a new masthead and we have divided our sections by business units. That said, we evaluate the article based on relevance, the audience it will reach and the impact the story makes.

Julie: My training program is very important to the organization. A tenth of our staff attend it and then they join projects.

Amy: That is excellent Julie. However, the story can be strengthened if we know how our trained staff are making an impact to our clients’ work.

Julie: Hmm…you mean, how we impact the bottom line?

Amy: That also. Broadly, how have they improved the experience of our clients and their customers? Do you have testimonials from clients to demonstrate impact?

Julie: I liked the recommendations but I am not happy about your justification for not including my article.

Amy is confused. Was she in the business of making stakeholders happy? Or was she supposed to help them be more effective with their communication?

What do you think? Share your thoughts here.