Feedback and Lessons for Internal Communications


Like many of you I have in the last few weeks engaged with a few product and service organizations to address issues of service lapses and product defects. A couple of experiences turned out to be very positive while others made me wonder about the state of ownership and commitment from such organizations.

In the process I realized that there is a lot to learn and apply to internal communications based on how we give feedback, how we react to feedback and by understanding human behavior better.

With the external market orientation mirroring internally it is as important for organizations to treat staff as ‘internal’ customers to be able to provide consistent standards of service. Be it a human resources function or the communications department we are always providing services and consulting.

In the process we either seek feedback or receive unsolicited feedback on how we fare with our performance. It is therefore critical how we process feedback and make it work for us.

Here are the situations

  • A leading retail outlet which stocked water purifiers sold me a defective piece and expected me to sort the issue directly with the vendor.
  • A well-known bank misplaces documents related to my account transfer and expected me to follow-up between branches to iron out differences.
  • A growing supermarket chain sells outdated stock of food.

In all three cases I tried resolving the concerns by first calling the toll-free numbers mentioned on the product or on the website.  Sometimes the customer care operator picked the call and other times it was a dead-end. I was given assurances of action but didn’t hear back.

When I visited the bank I was stonewalled about the ‘system’, the ‘backend process’ and the need to chase the ‘other’ branch.

The retail outlet manager shared his helplessness about the water purifier firm and how it made more sense to go with some other product!

I then went to the websites and fired complaints.

Lo and beyond I got responses! Before I tell you about the responses I must also add that all the websites have very serious usability issues. Locating the feedback link was an arduous task. Once you locate the link your effort to send a message can be frustrated by broken links or server challenges.

How things panned out.

The supermarket manager was the most supportive and my mail got a prompt message which read:

“Sorry for the inconvenience caused. We will refund the entire amount. Please visit our outlet at the earliest.”

At the outlet the manager promptly took me to claim my refund, gave me his contact number and reassured me of the quality products the chain sells.

With the bank my feedback reached some higher echelon and finally the ‘internal branch dispute’ got resolved on its own without me following up the with branches separately!

The retail outlet made a hash of the feedback received. Initially it took a while for them to take ‘ownership’ of what they sold me. Then they managed to get the vendor to reissue a fresh piece. After 3 weeks the new product got installed.

A final note: none of these service providers called back once to check if all was well after these complaints.

Lessons from these experiences

a)      What to avoid when receiving feedback

Very often when the customer service receives the feedback they take it ‘personally’ and can’t differentiate between the issue and the long term impact.

–          Responding without understanding the issue: Feedback is a gift to know how we are doing and if people have taken the time to share it, it might be something that pains them. By blaming 3rd parties involved we only give the impression that we aren’t comfortable with taking ownership.  The customer doesn’t care about how the internal divisions function. For example, you may be front-ending a system for your staff although there may be multiple players behind the scene – the technology providers, the helpdesk who manage the work flow, the fulfillment partners etc. When you get feedback it may be useful to route the issue to the concerned division and expect a response based on your service level agreements.

–          Not providing a timeline or a plan of action: There is no greater concern for a customer who doesn’t know when his issue will be resolved. Commit to getting the feedback resolved in a definite  timeframe.

–          Asking customers for unnecessary inputs: For instance, I was asked who came to repair the faulty water purifier! Why would a customer even bother to note the name of the technician who came to repair a defective product? Ideally, the vendor should be aware whom they are sending!

b)      When we give feedback

How you share your feedback can improve your relationship with the service provider. While the customer is king it is also the responsibility of the customer to be direct and respectful.

–          Provide the entire context: all your interactions, service request numbers, people you have spoken with.

–          It isn’t us vs them: You are trying to help them solve issues they can’t see from within. As a customer your goal is to help see them successful so that others don’t face the same issue.

–          Separate the issue from your own anger or resentment of getting shortchanged or mislead

–          Give the benefit of doubt to the service provider: They are primarily in the business of doing well and we must respect that they also have a life to live and families to support.

–          Be direct and respectful:  Raising your voice or use disrespectful language may give you an edge in the argument but it won’t solve your angst or that of other customers.

c) What organizations can do to make feedback work

Feedback can have a therapeutic effect on an organization although it depends on how you use it.

–          Provide greater autonomy and powers to your managers: If for simple decisions and items of low value going to a senior leader for approvals undermines the credibility of the customer facing executive.

–          Test your own systems periodically:  Not sure how many leaders have personally tried calling their own IVR systems and checked their usability. If you can’t make sense of the instructions not sure how your customers will.

–          Have a consistent message and script: Very often your customer care executives can do with consistent messages for specific concerns. Beyond that they need to be able to have the authority to make decisions real-time with the assurance that they are doing so in good faith.

–          Ensure you call back the person after the issue is resolved: The rigor of following up and truly knowing if your customer’s concerns have been addressed is what can divide the also-rans from the true customer-centric champions. All it takes is a simple call and you get loyal customers and committed staff.

–          Share these stories with your employees: Ideally all the feedback and the resulting solutions provided are analyzed and fed back as stories for employees to learn from. Nothing can be more powerful than an organization that uses case studies of their own lapses to teach how to get better.

 That to me completes the feedback loop.  Have other suggestions to improve feedback measures internally? Share them here.

 

Announcing the Results of the 2012 State of the Nation:Internal Communications Survey


  • How involved are internal communicators in driving employee engagement?
  • What do leaders think of internal communicators?
  • What advice do internal communicators have for building a career in this function?
  • How promising is the future of internal communications in the region?
  • What do internal communicators focus on?
  • Has social media adoption increased in internal communications?

Find out all this and more with the 2nd edition of Intraskope’s State of the Nation: Internal Communications Survey.

 Executive Summary

The 2012 State of the Nation: Internal Communications Survey conducted between September and October 2012 attempts to gauge the progress, maturity and impact of internal communications in the region.

The Survey, in its 2nd edition, is the first ever study from India that seeks perspectives from practitioners who work or have worked for organizations either in the capacity of a leader or an individual contributor in the internal communications function. Insights from this study can guide leaders, internal communicators and human resource professionals in understanding the opportunities, issues with change management and methods to elevate employee engagement.

This year the survey probed the following topics:

  • Employee Engagement
  • Change Management
  • Leadership Communications
  • Crisis Communications
  • Manager Communications
  • Conflict Management
  • Career Advice
  • Social Media Adoption
  • Stakeholder Management

Twenty two practitioners from industries such as healthcare, automotive, telecom, auditing, IT services, manufacturing, financial services and marketing participated in the study with a majority of them from organizations with over 1000 employees.

Every participant who completed the survey received a free high level summary report of the study.

The 2011 Survey focused on role, channels, measurement, budget, social media, leadership commitment among other topics.

Those interested to receive the complete report for a nominal fee can e-mail Aniisu at intraskope@yahoo.com

Key Findings

  • Internal communicators are struggling with keeping the ‘lights on’ and managing the basics of their function.
  • Managing communication infrastructure, keeping the lines of communication open and keeping staff abreast of company news are priority.
  • There is an opportunity to arrive at a common understanding among practitioners and to educate leaders on impacting staff engagement.
  • Leaders didn’t repose much faith in internal communicators to tackle the growing engagement challenges within organizations. Only 43% of respondents were asked by their leadership to champion employee engagement programming.
  • Change management isn’t yet on the agenda of internal communicators.
  •  Only 14% of respondents said they actively participated in change management at their organization. While internal communicators were confident of implementing change they rarely got opportunities to do so. Interestingly, only 36% agreed to have ever measured the impact of internal communications on change at their respective firms.
  • There is a marginal increase over last year in the positive sentiment that leaders have of the internal communications function.
  • There is uncertainty on the value internal communicators can add to strategic imperatives.
  • Workplace conflicts and management are yet to get the attention of internal communicators.
  • Leaders rarely consulted practitioners to resolve such concerns with internal communications.
  • Awareness of social media integration within organizations is on the rise. In 2011 only 6% said they had a business case for social media adoption internally. This year 63% acknowledged that their organization had an internal social media strategy and plan in place.
  • Over 70% of respondents believed they had the skills to do their work effectively. This is a significant increase – more than 20% from 2011 and a very positive sign.

Author:

Aniisu K. Verghese is an internal communication expert, career coach and author and has over thirteen years of experience in the evolving internal communications domain with leading IT, financial services and consulting organizations. Aniisu is the author of – Internal Communications – Insights, Practices and Models (Sage Publications, 2012).

He managed key internal communication assignments with Fidelity, Accenture and i-flex solutions including the launch and management of corporate intranets, publishing company employee newsletters, coaching senior leadership, leading internal brand campaigns as well as crafting effective corporate social responsibility communication that improved employee engagement. Aniisu often shares expert media commentary and perspectives on culture, social media, employee and leadership communications.

He is the Vice-President – Finance, South India Chapter – International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), 2010-2012 and served as an elite panelist who evaluated and shortlisted Asia Pacific entries for the 2012 IABC’s Gold Quill Awards. He currently serves as the India Internal Communications Lead for a global IT services firm. More information about Aniisu’s is available on his Linkedin page, his website www.intraskope.com and on his blog www.intraskope.wordpress.com.

Have feedback?

 Write to intraskope@yahoo.com

 Keen to sponsor and partner on future surveys?

Share your plan with Aniisu at intraskope@yahoo.com

Interested in a complete report of this study?

Mail Aniisu at intraskope@yahoo.com

12 Ways to Build Your Team’s Presence Internally


 

As internal communicators it is crucial to engage consistently with stakeholders and demonstrate value and commitment.

If you are looking at ways to enhance your team’s presence internally look up the following recommendations.

My article – 12 Ways to Build Your Team’s Presence Internally is available on PR Moment’s website at: 

http://www.prmoment.in/1076/12-ways-to-build-your-communications-teams-presence-internally.aspx

Interested in your thoughts.

How can Internal Communications Help Establish a ‘Follow-Up’ Free Culture?


Yes, you heard it right – a ‘follow-up’ free culture! I not sure about you but I have certainly encountered cultures in organizations that work only if you ‘chase’ people to do what they are supposed to do or even share basic information that advances the firm’s interest.

Recently, an internal communicator mailed me a few issues he was trying to ‘fix’ and one item on the list – ‘follow-up’ culture caught my attention immediately. This is how he describes it:

“Many times, the individuals require many follow-ups in order to get something done or seek a relevant update. This concern was identified across organization and identified as one that needed our highest priority.”

Faced this issue at your workplace or as an internal communicator? You are not alone!

There are many reasons offered for those unable to respond – lack of time, not a priority, not of interest or it ‘dropped off their radar.

This can be very often frustrating and leads to delays in getting things accomplished. Worse, it can make working arduous.

The argument is  that if organizations have robust cultures where people are responsible they would do what they were expected to do without needing ‘pings’, ‘read-receipt’ notifications and reminders.

As internal communicators we are expected to program manage campaigns and communication and see them to completion. It isn’t as easy as it seeks to get things done. Following up to ensure nothing ‘falls between the cracks’ or that ‘no one drops the ball’ has become a part and parcel of work across the board. It is a time waster and also saps the energy of the individual who owns the initiative.

Very often the individual’s capabilities are measured on the basis of his or her ability to move the needle and follow-up incessantly!

So what can internal communicators do to ‘cleanse’ an organization of this culture or better still infuse a culture of ownership and responsibility?

Here are some pointers to make your organization’s culture ‘follow-up’ free.

–          To begin, it is the ownership of the respective team or individual to coherently share the program’s objectives, plan and outcomes ahead of its launch.

–          Invite feedback and incorporate elements that make sense.

–          Get your leaders aligned and include staff while conceptualizing the mechanics of the program.

–          Make the program outline available for all staff to view

–          Call out the names of owners and key stakeholders

–          Lastly, communicate progress and lists tasks that are behind schedule as well as the people who haven’t done what they were expected!

You will be amazed how quickly these laggards pick up speed and complete their tasks.

You can also look up an interesting model called organizational conversation which authors Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind share to reframe how leaders can make staff more committed to the workplace.

Have other ideas to rid the ‘follow-up’ culture? Share them here.

Does Gifting During Festive Seasons Improve Engagement?


Receiving a Diwali gift during this festive season is something most staff in India based organizations look forward to. Many organizations do so as an annual exercise irrespective of the state of the economy and most vouch that it does have a positive impact on engagement. Or at least in how staff perceive the organization and its health.  Diwali, the Festival of Lights is an auspicious occasion for Indians, especially the Hindu community.

However giving such gifts can also be a double edged sword. Navya, the internal communicator at ReadyServe Ltd discovered it the hard way while she went about the exercise of communicating the gift at her organization.

After earmarking funds for the Diwali gift Navya went about discussing gift ideas and sought help from her procurement team. She mailed people she knew within the organization and got gift options for the budget she identified.  Leaders in her organization wanted a say in the gift and gave suggestions on the potential categories that might interest staffers. Some were against making the gift a practice and setting expectations among staff while others were keen to continue the practice.

After many months of sourcing and negotiations the team finally managed to get a vendor who could deliver the gifts for 5000 staff in 3 weeks. Since the gift was procured in bulk the vendor provided a significant discount per piece which worked out to be an excellent deal. Navya crafted a suitable message from the CEO to accompany the gift. Each gift was packed neatly and kept ready for distribution.

However, as soon as the leader announced the news of the gift distribution many curious employees went online to check the product on e-commerce sites and began evaluating the cost and making judgments on the company’s intentions.

Here is a sample of what employees posted on the intranet as a discussion:

Vinod: “Hey, I browsed Tick Tock’s website and noticed the gift we are getting is available at a low cost! I am not sure why the company is giving us such a product.”

Vikram:”You have a point. Rather, they should give us a bonus in our salaries.”

Neha: “I think the product may not be the same as what we are getting. Has anyone seen it?”

Vinod: “I haven’t seen it but the image online looks similar to what the CEO shared. It is very disappointing”

Since ReadyServe had an open culture employees felt comfortable airing their concerns openly on the intranet but this discussion was taking a different turn. Navya’s hard work seemed like a waste of her time. People were trashing the product and making judgments without context.

  • What can Navya do to reverse what looks like an internal communication crisis into a positive story?
  • How can she ensure that employees get the right context?
  • What can ReadyServe do better next time to ensure such scenarios are averted?

Please share your thoughts here.

 

Bridging the ‘Mindset’ Gap in Our Future Workforce


 

I spoke at a Management Conclave on ‘Bridging the Skill Gap’ today and came away realizing that issues such as unskilled workforces and engagement facing corporations isn’t simple.

Leading management thinkers, administrators, directors, deans, faculty from B-schools in the country, placement officers and recruiters participated at the event held at the ITC Windsor, Bangalore. Discussions ranged from the quality of students to the intent of business education in elevating standards.

In the panel discussion called – ‘What Is Missing From Business Education: Meeting the Needs’ I reframed the issue by coining it the ‘mindset’ gap rather than the ‘skill’ gap. My fellow panelists included Anjan Lahiri, President – IT Services of Mindtree, Mr Atish Dasgupta, Professor – Symbiosis &

former HR Head – HCL and Prof T Sivanandam, a quality consultant. My argument is that while skills can be learnt what we need to ‘unlearn’ takes longer to unstick from our minds.

I introduced the audience to a Fedex ad that showed how an MBA shirked responsibility to learn a simple task just because ‘he was an MBA’. I then shared context on the growing need for talent in India and how there is space for everyone. Also, how Indian education ranks globally and how students and institutes need to think differently. However, it needs to begin with the ‘mindsets’ that students carry including ‘expecting someone to figure out their lives’ and ‘chasing the next big trend’, ‘competing for competition sake’ and ‘being risk averse’.

Finally I ended with recommendations that will improve their thinking and what corporations expect of today’s workforce.

Overall, listening to the discussions it is evident that the state of education and the gap between industry and academia is fast widening.

 

Think Strategically While Crafting Your Internal Communications Plan


It seems this post on creating an internal communications plan got a lot of great insights which Rony can use. I checked in with Rony and he seemed delighted to see the quality of inputs that came in.

For the benefit of readers I am making an attempt to distill the key points that can help you create your own internal communications plan and strategy.

Start with the goals:  As Lucille mentioned  that ‘effective Communications Strategy should comprise 6 components: “the what”, “the why”, “the who”, “the how”, “the when/how long” and “the crisis-mode plan’.

Assess the need: Peter shared that it helps to conduct a survey and gauge how staff are currently tuned to communication and thereby identify gaps.  Getting buy-in from leaders and working with a budget helps to further the cause.

Build in rigor in the process: Ensure there is a formal and informal mechanism to ensure communication happens consistently. Therefore the sender, frequency, timing, content, messages etc need to be mapped.

Define the best use of your resources: Great point from Chris about having a strategy for making the most of channels and resources you have. He mentioned ‘trust’ and ‘awareness’ of tools available – interesting points considering how much communication can do to improve internal credibility.

Balance your communication: Preeti highlighted ‘information overload’ where too much can blind staff and too little can add to confusion. Excellent thought here. Probably do an audit of how much employees currently receive and if there are ways to integrate or reduce or reframe internal communications. Keeping the interest of your audience is mind is so important.

Any other thoughts that can help create an effective internal communications plan? Please share them here.