Crafting Internal Communications Initiatives That Make a Difference


Internal communicators often design initiatives that they can implement and add value to their functions and the organizations they work for. However, to arrive at an initiative that either fills a gap, advances an organization goal or improves a service or a system internal communicators need to understand the pulse of the organization and gain a deeper perspective on what truly matters for stakeholders and for employees.

Initiatives can be those that elevates the team’s perspective (in-house skill building on communication standards, building and implementing a measurement dashboard), raises staff’s connection with the organization (a brand connection program, a key messages dossier, a different approach to run a Town Hall), enhances existing services you offer (an improved e-mail functionality, better campaign analysis and reporting), addresses pain points (low engagement in specific teams or career levels, manager communication coaching), makes systemic changes (a new intranet, additional layers on existing platforms, change management toolkits to support organization plans) or newer and better ways of communicating (introducing and engaging staff via internal social media, storytelling methods, improving reach via mobile). These initiatives can guide their own objectives for the year and beyond.

But, why must internal communicators run initiatives?

Designing and championing initiatives allows internal communicators to get ahead of issues that plague the organization and demonstrates their leadership.

By proactively tackling current challenges or consulting on pain points helps internal communicators stay connected to their stakeholders’ worlds.

Also, by owning initiatives they can build a rhythm at work and help shape the thinking among leaders and other stakeholders. Lastly, this gives them opportunities to elevate their team’s position within the organization as coaches and consultants rather than order takers.

Very often, when internal communicators don’t spell out their plans they end up being told to run other teams’ agendas and it only dilutes the value the group can add.

An initiative is one that goes over and beyond what the internal communicator is already signed up to do.

By stretching with an initiative the internal communicator also gets adept at critical thinking, connecting the dots, becoming a well-rounded professional and experienced at strategy and execution.

So, what qualifies as an initiative? How does one identify a need?

– A good place to start is by evaluating the organization’s brand audits done recently. You can refer to your communication collateral used while engaging with prospective hires, new recruits and alumni.

– Or, to look up internal engagements studies and look for trends and comments that employees share about their workplace experiences.

Have conversations with stakeholders often on their challenges can also throw light on what can be considered as an initiative.

–  Conduct focus groups can also provide insights on which pressing concerns need attention.

–  Look at practices conducted externally by the organization and think of ways to relate it back at the workplace.

For example, your organization may have a robust social media campaign that engages spokespersons to promote the brand. There are possibilities that a similar approach working well on your internal social media platform. By building a calendar of interventions, identifying topics that your internal brand ambassadors can lead and defining messages they can use you have an initiative which will make a difference to your internal brand perception. Likewise, if you audit the internal communication messages for your employee life cycle you can gain insights on what you need to tweak or improve so that staff gets a consistent experience.

In another case, you may want to build a listening post which analyzes conversations or internal chatter for informing leaders on how your employees think and feel about the organization.

Or, create an internal program where your staff ‘reverse mentors’ leaders in the organization and you help bridge the gap between ‘generation next’ and leaders.

To be successful, an initiative needs to aligned to the organization’s/business’s/team’s goal, fulfill a critical need, has delved intently on a core issue, is sustainable, has both short and long-term goals, delivers tangible value and can be replicated across business units or geographies.

How does one go about crafting and implementing an initiative?

Getting started:  After you have done a detailed study of the need, outlined the context, listed your objectives, and defined the scope (and what falls out of scope) you need to put a plan to get to your destination.

Drafting an initiative plan:  The plan can include the context, the elements of the approach, the mode of research, the expected outcomes and impact. It can list the team who will work on the initiative (since every initiative will need partnership and collaboration) as well as the initiative’s sponsor.

Socializing the initiative: This is an important element of the initiative rollout since it will inform stakeholders on your intentions and they have a chance to give their inputs to solidify your plans. This is also an opportunity to indicate why as an internal communication ‘you have your skin in their game’. If there is a need to seek budgets you need to call it out now.

Executing the plan: Getting your initiative in action is probably the easier part if all the earlier elements are adhered to. Give all team members a part to play and ownership. Clearly define the milestones and deliverables. You may want to consider areas of intersection with other teams (there will be many) – such as the HR team’s involvement if you are considering an employee engagement project.

Evaluating progress and impact: Getting the initiative on the radar and consciousness of your stakeholders is very important. Have a recurring checkpoint for the team to catch-up as well for a review with stakeholders on the progress and value the initiative is adding. Very often the impact can be gauged either during the course of the initiative or at the end when you measure results.

Communicate often: This is probably the most important link to your initiative’s success. Unless stakeholders are kept aware of the progress and value your initiative will lose steam. Keep reporting out the highlights and importance of the initiative in achieving the goals you set out to complete.

Have other suggestions on initiatives internal communicators can champion or how to get one past the finish line? Share them here.

 

Purpose, Credibility and Line of Sight Can Connect Staff to the Big Picture


This post seemed to have a struck a chord with many professionals and apart from the comments which came to the blog I was impressed by the numerous recommendations that people shared on Linkedin communities.  Thank you to everyone who contributed to this discussion.

For the benefit of all I will distill the thoughts shared into themes and tangible suggestions that internal communicators can use while thinking more about the ‘Big Picture’.

Gaining consensus through employee participation:  One communicator mentioned that the  ‘top-down’ approach doesn’t work since employees  aren’t engaged sufficiently in the evolution of the ‘Big Picture’. Therefore a ‘ground-up’ approach is ideal in tandem with the top-down plan works best.

Keeping things simple: By avoiding jargon such as ‘Big Picture’ and focusing on gaining a common understanding will lead to better connection with the company’s story.

Look for a win-win scenario: The goals of both the organization and employees must be met for the long term strategies to succeed. Goal sharing must be direct and transparent and trickle down to departments in the organization.  There must be ways to reduce conflicts at the workplace and avoid overlaps in objectives that dilute effectiveness.

Address the ‘What’s In It For Me’ for employees: Speak clearly and often. Reference the long term vision in conversations. Also, focus on the individual tactics that can make the vision come alive. Address the question – ‘how do I fit in?’ and ‘what are my benefits?’

Create the ‘Big Picture’: To help employees ‘get’ the Big Picture a suggestion was to create the Big Picture! Visually depict what it would look like once the organization gets there. Through interactive

Demonstrate positive intent: There are many obstacles and challenges to getting to the Big Picture but those can be circumvented if all relevant stakeholders are involved in the debate early and resolve differences head-on. Risk averseness, cost cutting and other factors stifle organizations from achieving their goals. Keep messages simple and clear.

Facilitate understanding: You may not be able to please all my simplifying your messages but it pays in the long run. Storytelling is the ideal route to get employee buy-in. Help employees see the value of where they want to get to by talking from the ‘listener’s point of view’.

Leverage the power of influential communications: Research points to 7 elements that can help audiences get the Big Picture: data, logic, future condition, personal benefits, stories, humor and emotional connection. It seems that attempting to cover all will get communicators the best impact.

It takes leadership: Employees tend to follow leaders who demonstrate ‘character’ and ‘do things right’. The rest is important but will follow.

 

Pratap has every reason to believe he is going to face resistance with this new strategy. It isn’t easy for employees to truly understand where the company is heading and how they can contribute if leaders aren’t consistent.

That said, there are many ways that Pratap can make employees stay connected to the Big Picture. To begin, he can evaluate if the new strategy is aligned to the company’s values. Do his employees believe in the new positioning and strategy?

He will need to build credibility for his leadership by having them demonstrate how they will help get the company to achieve the vision. What are the behaviors they will need to adopt that will help improve the bottom-line and live the new positioning of ‘making the world a healthier place’. For example, are they following healthy practices – investing in healthier lifestyles, exercising, using the company’s equipment responsibly and inspiring others to use them as well?

He can create a series of ‘inside stories’ that showcases the leadership ‘making the world around them healthier’. Pratap needs to get his leadership front and center of his employees and clarify their questions.

For example, how can the employees on the shop floors or in the retail outlets or in the marketing teams contribute to the company’s vision? By the way they now approach customers, the way they package the equipment and how the sell the products.  Each employee can be enlisted as a brand ambassador for the company and lead the way by spreading the word via their social circles.

Pratap can facilitate workshops that reinforces pride and educates employees on the brand – as to what makes Mark Ltd special and why is the brand better than what others in the market. Getting employees to act on your brand promise means they need to understand the requisite behaviors well.

He can craft case studies drawing the connection of an employee’s life with how it translates into tangible impact to the company’s revenues. For example, someone in HR can invest time in hiring the right candidate based on attributes which get the ‘best culture’ fit. In the process the employee saves the company in rehiring and training costs that impacts the bottom line.  Likewise, an employee in a retail outlet can share perspectives on health when customers visit the store and draw their attention the company’s larger vision.

Pratap can partner with the marketing team to share how we are engaging our stakeholders and how this new positioning is transforming their lives.

However, painting the town red with messages will not add as much value as a leader who can give clear directions and walks the talk. Employees will see through the gimmickry in no time and the internal brand will suffer.

 

What Will It Take For My Staff To Understand Our ‘Big Picture’?


Every organization, big or small, faces the issue of getting employees to understand, appreciate and align with the vision and goals that will drive profitability and success. However, when the message is pitched very high employees don’t get it. If it is ‘dumbed’ down staff feels like they are treated like kids.

Pratap, the go-getting internal communicator at Mark Ltd, a leading sports equipment firm with over 4000 employees across 5 offices in the APAC region was finding it tough to explain the way forward to his leadership and employees.

His leadership had faith in his abilities to deliver the goods when it came to Town Halls and editing e-mails but they wanted him to demonstrate his capabilities with engaging employees on the company’s plans.

Here is a conversation he had with his CEO.

Jack: “Pratap, as you know that Mark Ltd is gearing up for a whole new strategy where we compete with the top brands of the world. This is a defining moment for our company – we are 25 years old as an organization, we have great clients, revenues over 500 million and a great team. It is time for us to make a difference to the world of sport!”

Pratap: “Jack, this is exciting news. Can you tell me what the new strategy is?”

Jack: “We are now changing our positioning to be seen as the cutting edge sports maker who makes the world a healthier place! Earlier we were only focused as an equipment manufacturer. We are now redefining the world. You know our company values of enterprising and driven are all about change and here is a great reason for change!”

Pratap: “Hmm…redefining the world? So, how will we achieve our vision?”

Jack: “We get our sales teams to go after large accounts and crack the global markets. We will empower the distributors to stock as much as of our equipment. The marketing team will create campaigns. Our partners will be rewarded for their collaboration. In the end we double our revenues. I am concerned that we are not getting our employees connected to the Big Picture.”

Pratap: “Well, our employees are very young – average age is 25 across the board. They are passionate about technology; want a lot of autonomy and are keen to drive how we make a difference.  We recently changed our strategy and we are now introducing a new one. Employees are wondering why we aren’t sticking to one strategy. Not sure, they will get our new strategy.”

Jack: “Hmm. That’s where I need you your help to paint that Big Picture! You can do it. If you repeat the messages often employees will get it. Put up a lot of posters, create some videos, get all the bells and whistles out….go for it..”

Pratap is confused. On one hand he knew that if the employees aren’t aligned no matter what Jack did on the positioning the company wouldn’t rally together. He needed something to get everyone aligned to the Big Picture.

What can Pratap do? How can you help him think through the connection to the Big Picture?

How Can You Communicate Your Survey Results Effectively?


While surveys are one among the popular ways to gauge employee sentiment and feedback how we share the results and findings makes the difference between action and apathy.

Very often we get caught up with in getting our surveys to be statistically significant by focusing on participation or persuading leaders to up the number of respondents. The survey results are relevant when we ask the right questions, are sensitive to respondents’ needs and ‘listen’ intently to what is being said.

Even a handful of responses are good enough to gauge how your staff feel and if they believe in your message.  If employees have taken the time to share feedback it means they care for your organization and brand – which is a positive sign in itself.

Here are some recommendations that internal communicators and leaders can use to ensure outcomes from surveys make it beyond the inbox.

–          Know how your audiences will receive the information: Your leaders will usually prefer a high level summary and recommendations as well as a clear roadmap and ownership for implementing recommendations emerging from the study. The results must give a plan of action as well as your perspectives on what might work. As an internal communicator you are closer to the action than most and it will inform leaders better if you can share the best way forward. You also have a responsibility of reporting out to those who took the survey. It goes a long way in building trust and ensuring you have a strong relationship for the future.

–          Help teams avoid paralysis and inaction: Very often the volume of information and themes that come out of a survey can paralyze internal teams. Which themes are relevant? How does it match with the earlier studies? Are there are gaps which exist? What must we tackle first? Who will spearhead the implementation? How will be measure it? How will we communicate progress? There are many questions that make survey teams and leaders to avoid taking any action.  Plan for such hurdles before the survey gets rolled out that way the waiting period is lesser and everyone is aware on how the results will be tackled.

–          Communicating ‘not so great’ news: When the results of the survey are negative and employees voice their concerns directly it puts internal teams and leaders in a dilemma on reporting out. Be willing to tell it as it is and if employees have slammed your organization for policies or initiatives that didn’t work they are saying so to improve the system. It isn’t a reflection on an individual but and by not taking it personally internal communicators can objectively surface the core issue nagging staff. Employees will trust you more when you are honest about the results.

–          Proactively identify trends and sentiments: Compare and contrast between earlier surveys if any. Think of other measurement metrics that may have a linkage to your current study and probe for issues that lie below the surface. Look at industry benchmarks that relate to your study. For example, if employees say compensation is an issue while they are highly engaged with the brand and your organization pays above par, it might be worthwhile to check if it is a perception that is playing up.

–          Report out soon: The longer you delay communicating your results the more pressure it builds on internal teams to pinpoint issues that need resolution. The first responsibility is to acknowledge that you have got your employees inputs and you have identified top themes. Your team is sifting through the comments and data and will come back with concrete steps once you are ready. Again, give a timeline. It can’t be open ended.

–          Be open about areas beyond your control: If your employees have asked or seek attention to areas that your team or organization doesn’t have a say then convey it immediately. For example, if the traffic in the city is a concern for employees to commute it is a macro issue that the government authorities need to address. Yes, your organization can do its bit by talking with the concerned parties and working out unique solutions that your employees can benefit from – using feeder buses to ferry people to the nearest location or arranging for Metro passes among others.

–          Enlist staff and ‘crowdsource’ solutions:  Survey feedback isn’t meant to be a ‘us vs them’ situation. Involve staff to think deeply about the issues they have raised. Invite them for focus groups to talk about the concerns. Form teams from different units to tackle the most pressing issues. Open a forum online to crowdsource ideas and solutions. Recognize employees who take the lead.

–          Publish progress periodically:  Have a recurring schedule to communicate the outcomes and progress made by teams on the findings. Track recommendations to closure. This will mean having someone program manage the implementation. Give employees an option of sharing their ‘fact finding’ missions on the ground and letting leaders know if progress is truly happening.

Lastly, avoid the ‘leadership walks’ to check on the impact since employees can feel intimidated if the leader drops by with a posse and asks if everything is going well! The employee will take the route of least resistance and say Yes!

Lessons We Can Learn From Nirbhaya (Braveheart)


While the nation mourns and comes to terms with the loss of an aspiring medical student to a brutal sexual assault there are many questions left unanswered. What will it take to heal a nation and leaders to confront reality? Will there be a time when women will be treated on par and be safe from crime? We may not have the answers just yet.

However there are lessons leaders and organizations can take away from this case to appreciate human dignity, improve their internal communications and be more sensitive to women staffers.

What made this episode galvanize the masses? Would this incident have got the attention it needed had media not followed the case closely? How can organizations be sensitive to the needs of their stakeholders? Is there a better way to handle communication related to such scenarios?

When one reflects on the timeline of the incident it isn’t surprising that peoples’ anger overflowed. The unprecedented wave of anguish that Nirbhaya (Hindi for Braveheart) received from across the country and outside resulted in knee jerk reactions that had people  unconvinced. People took to the streets and created online petitions to impress upon the government to take drastic measures.

The government and the police tried their best within the limited time and space available by nabbing the culprits, reaching out to people for their opinions for an upcoming change in criminal laws and setting up fast track courts to try such crimes. News that the police had been slow to react and that there were quibbles over ‘control’ of the case also perturbed people.

The brutality of the crime, the courage of the woman to fight back her assaulters and her will to stay alive made this a case like no other. The victim died on December 29 and people from all walks of life paid tribute to the brave woman.

People were miffed by a late acknowledgement of a crisis on hand and casual remarks by leaders only aggravated the situation.  The Prime Minister’s scripted message to the nation and appeal for calm felt weak as a reaction for a crime as heinous as this. Adding more fuel to fire was the #Theek hai comment that got his speech to be an infamous social media viral message. A lack of co-ordination and communication caused more trouble with ministers going public with their opinions and individual state governments announcing their own ways to tackle crimes on women.

Take swift action. Sort out differences based on a shared purpose. Get ahead of the situation and have everyone on the same page before communicating with stakeholders.

The fact that the nation’s capital has an infamous reputation accentuated the fury among the masses and not for the first time did we see an explosion of rage. The trend is alarming and with justice taking a while there are concerns of vigilante justice taking over. At the same time people compared President Obama’s reaction and televised address on the Connecticut school shooting incident.  Quite like the Jasmine revolution we are seeing a tectonic shift in how the youth of the nation can force the hand of authorities in power to bring about change in our social fabric.  Leaders need to sit up and look within their organizations as employees will shape and reaffirm the culture inside. The high handed treatment of protesters furthered diminished the goodwill the government sought to garner and pushed them into a defensive position.

Acknowledge the issue, be sincere and demonstrate that you mean business. Involve stakeholders in the change process. Muzzling peoples’ voices can’t help in building trust.

The personal touches of leaders to send the woman for treatment abroad and to receive the body at the airport didn’t make the situation any better. The decision to move the victim abroad for treatment at such a critical juncture caused more resentment so also the decision to cremate the body hurriedly got people more suspicious of the government’s intentions.  Finally, recommending that the girl’s name be disclosed and have the anti-rape laws be named after her seemed to deflect the attention from more pressing issues. In the nation’s consciousness this incident is top of mind and it doesn’t mean that issues such as corruption, declining ethics or other crimes have been erased from peoples’ memory.

People have long memories. Stick to the core issue. Stay honest with your actions and communicate often on progress and impact.

Many organizations and people were willing to contribute to the victim’s treatment and support her family.  Organizations can do more than arrange for self-defense classes or send an armed escort along with women who take office transport while working late hours.  The need for the hour is a change in attitude and the will to take firm action so that such acts of crime aren’t committed at all.

Focus on systemic changes rather than tactical measures. Gain the confidence of your staffers during the crisis.

Employees expect to be treated with dignity, know that they work for an organization which respects individuals and that the organization cares for their safety. It needs to start with the everyday language used by employees, especially managers while addressing their teams and not in tailored policies aimed at ranking among the best employer awards. Employers need to listen carefully for harassment and gender biases in the conversations their staffers. Phrases such as ‘hello guys’ while addressing an audience consisting of both genders sends a poor message and is proof that the culture within is eroding. Proactively break down stereotyping at the workplace – especially during job interviews the message that ‘women can’t work long hours’ or ‘women can’t add value’ doesn’t help to improve trust among potential employees.

The words we speak and the actions build strong and lasting cultures.

Intraskope’s 2012 in Review


I just received a WordPress.com 2012 annual report for my blog and wanted to share it with you. You can look up the most popular posts in 2012 and earlier.

Thank you for your views, perspectives and insights that fuels my passion for internal communications. I look forward to your continued support  as I aim to make this dialogue more meaningful to my readers – be it practitioners, academicians or students.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 16,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.