When Actions Speak Louder Than Symbols

In my earlier post I shared a case study – ‘Why Don’t We Make Symbolic Gestures To Show Our Commitment To Employees?’ that gave Dinesh food for thought on engagement interventions to resurrect their organization.

I have heard and witnessed many actions that have sent strong messages to employees in organizations.

Here are a few:

  • CEO sending home an employee who was dressed inappropriately – reinforcing the need to dress in a way that represents the brand and values of the organization.
  • A leader sending a company-wide mailer asking the employee who printed a 400 page photography manual for personal use on the company printer to personally come and collect it from his office.
  • A business leader who rips up notes on meeting rooms that divide the company by business units and makes it first-come-first-serve to improve collaboration.
  • A company where every employee – leader or otherwise shares commons spaces and cabins and special privileges are done away with.
  • A CEO from a mining company who went first into a tunnel to prove that it was safe for workers, right after a tragic accident.


Dinesh is in an unenviable spot with a management team that believes in symbolic gestures while refusing to address the core issue of trust and credibility. There are many examples of how leaders can take measures or actions that send a definite message which resonates with employees at all levels.

However, doing symbolic actions in isolation can lead to employees mistrusting the intentions of the organization and further diluting the engagement that exists.

Which intervention will work and why? That will mean listening to employees and seeking their views on what they value the most. Missing this important step is a surefire way to fail.

What also matters is the timing. Do an intervention right after a crisis and it will seem like a knee-jerk reaction. Do it later – and the leaders can be branded as inefficient?

The key point is that no matter what intervention is done the intention must be authentic and transparent to everyone.

Can Combining Forces Help Corporate Social Responsibility?

On Saturday, June 13, I had the opportunity to participate as a panelist in the 2015 Rotary CSR Roundtable at Bangalore where NGO representatives, corporate communication leaders, CSR practitioners and academia gathered to debate the subject – ‘Integrating Two Worlds – Corporates And Communities’.

The first panel on ‘United Effect:  When CSR Partners Collaborate’ discussed CSR collaboration, reporting, the importance of trust in the partnerships, criteria for selecting partners and governance models.  In the other discussion, when I joined the panel on ‘Integrating Two Worlds: Corporates & Communities’, the topics of debate included the role the impact of CSR on employee engagement, the role of CSR communicators and practitioners in enhancing value, the focus on individual social responsibility and the linkage with retention.


The audience raised pertinent questions and asked the panelists to consider ‘CSR as post-paid’ – in terms of maximizing the power of funds available and measuring outcomes more effectively. Another feedback which the panelists received related to addressing the ‘right issues’ rather than what matters to the corporations. In that sense, it seemed that many felt the need to work more collaboratively and through the eyes of others.


My key take-aways from the discussions were:

  • Trust and credibility among NGOs and corporations needs further strengthening – the concerns of openness, transparency and reliability were highlighted
  • Most felt that the 2% CSR guidelines has resulted in a more positive behavior among corporations. NGOs are seeing a difference in the way corporations engage after the Act has come into play
  • There are immense opportunities for corporations and NGOs to exchange ideas and lessons – however, this area lacks focus and attention
  • NGOs and corporations have diverse approaches of arriving at partnerships – the former expect companies to be invested for the long term, get leaders involved, have a vision, be accountable, stay hands-on and look beyond ‘numbers’ as a ‘mathematical model’ to arrive at a benchmark for success. On the other hand, corporations expect NGOs to set clear goals, be credible, think of areas of mutual interest and stay committed.
  • Lots of conversations revolved on ‘shared value’ (how businesses-NGOs can partner effectively for common outcomes), ‘board room CSR’ (the way CXOs are involved more on CSR spend and delivery) and the skills demand gap (where corporations have a role in understanding the processes and systems for supporting NGOs in doing their best).
  • The combined CSR spend available across the country got discussed more in terms of how it is now becoming an ‘industry’ in itself with mushrooming NGOs and opportunities to collaborate more.
  • A call for companies to be CSR ‘certified’ was made and the need to encourage social entrepreneurship got discussed
  • One panelist called for organizations to ‘avoid starting CSR if it can’t be sustained’ highlighting the need for long term goal setting.
  • There were calls to integrate CSR ownership with performance management and to ensure every employee got involved and recognized.
  • Fears of CSR getting the unkindest ‘cut’ when it came to budget reductions were raised. Most organizations looked it as a ‘good to have’ option and that needed change.
  • Measurement of CSR impact is misunderstood and rarely considered. Organizations continue to look at ‘soft’ measures such as improved team work, new skills which employees learn and continue to take a ‘heart over mind’ approach.
  • There seemed to be reluctance among practitioners to overtly communicate CSR citing factors such as perception among stakeholders and the need to be ‘low key’.
  • On the growing importance of CSR practitioners as boundary spanners there is a need for communicators to play the role of a catalyst, map talent with the most appropriate need. The opportunities to impact morale and pride were immense. With a view on the inside and outside CSR practitioners were able to transcend boundaries better than other employees within organizations and therefore play a critical role in CSR.
  • There are expectations from industry bodies to facilitate CSR involvement although organizations were themselves better placed to overcome trust issues and lead direct and local engagement for the communities they serve.

Overall, the interactions helped to surface key issues and bring relevant concerns to the fore in a non-judgmental manner. Excellent work by the Rotary Club for organizing and bringing stakeholders of CSR closer.

Why Don’t We Make Symbolic Gestures To Show Our Commitment To Employees?

Dinesh works as the Internal Communication Director for Tibre Corp, a leading multinational in apparel technology which has over 10,000 employees in 3 cities across the country.The company is going through tough times – hit by a lawsuit on the technology it uses, has reported a loss of 2 crores for the 3rd year and is losing employees by the dozen.  The leadership is concerned about the decline in employee morale and erosion of trust with the top management.

Joanna, the HR Head is keen to change the way the employees perceive the current situation and invites Dinesh for a discussion. Reflect on their conversation and share what you think will help them with chalking out their plan of action.

Joanna: “Hello Dinesh! Thanks for taking the time to meet up. I wanted to speak to you about the need for some serious interventions in our company.”

Dinesh: “Good to meet you Joanna. Go ahead – let me know how I can be of help.”

Joanna: “You know how things are currently and the mood in the organization is reflective of the situation. We are losing market share, the business leaders are unable to defend the lawsuit and the losses we are making and our employees are getting frustrated.”

Dinesh: “Hmm. It is a challenging time indeed.”

Joanna: “In recent focus groups I have had with many employees across our locations what comes out strongly is the need for them to hear more from leaders and to see them in person. They are also expecting us to take some dramatic action that will prove our commitment to their existence in the company.”

Dinesh: “What do you mean when you say they want to hear more from leaders? Also, what is your idea of a dramatic action?”

Joanna: “As in, they want leaders to communicate often – talk about what is going on, what we are doing as a business and how we can get over the situation. Dramatic action – I meant, like a symbolic step which provides them with confidence of what we are as a company. You know, stuff like removing policies that employees don’t like, or declaring our commitment to diversity, changing our office timings to make it more flexible, sending more employees on overseas assignments etc

Dinesh: “That’s interesting – aren’t leaders anyhow supposed to be meeting and engaging teams? Are they not doing so currently? On the second part – in terms of a symbolic gesture – how about leaders deciding to give up their salaries for a month or two or take a pay cut?”

Joanna: “Well, they are expected to meet their teams but you know with such challenging times they are always on the go – meeting clients and trying to keep the business afloat. They hardly find time to connect. Asking leaders to give us salaries or take a pay cut is asking a lot!”

Dinesh: “What about asking them to give us some privileges like the stock options or letting go of their bonuses? “

Joanna: “Well, that is tough to sell. You know they will not agree.”

Dinesh: “Hmm. Then I am unclear on the objectives of these symbolic gestures. What are you hoping to gain from it?”

Joanna: “You see – we want employees to think that the company is with them and that we are in this together. By taking some steps which will give them confidence.”

Dinesh: (looking amused) “Isn’t that a gimmick?”

Joanna: “No, it isn’t. We really want to rally our employees – we want them to feel good.”

Dinesh realizes that this conversation isn’t helpful and heading nowhere. He decides to excuse himself, buy more time to reflect on the situation and come back to the HR Head.

What can Dinesh do to make sense of what is being asked?  How can he help his leaders see how their intention of symbolic gestures can negatively impact their interests?

Keen to hear what you have to say. Do share your views here.

The Why And What Of Impact Based Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR spends are increasing globally to support the less fortunate communities and growing demands of society. The opportunities and avenues of CSR giving are large. If you consider the resources that organizations can tap, the growth of NGOs with direct access to the audiences you want to reach and the focus provided by governments globally in directing CSR thinking and investments.

While the possibilities are immense there is also limited understanding of the impact and value – direct and indirect, which organizations can get from their CSR investments.  The lack of clear benchmarks, measurement parameters and decision making approaches for CSR investments makes the exercise complex and intimidating for many CSR practitioners and leaders.


Often, it results in knee-jerk reactions and short term plans that stifle the true goals of CSR giving. If the CSR approach is top-down the initiatives take the shape of ‘pet’ projects the management wants to do. If there is a ground-up approach, it can often lead to a mix of initiatives and effort that dilute the impact your organization wants to make.

From a purely altruistic purpose giving to any known cause can serve the need and take care of the legal expectations, if any. For leaders and CSR practitioners being sure of why and what needs to be invested are crucial insights for the success of initiatives and to ensure stakeholders get the best outcomes.  It also helps to know how aligned your initiatives are with the organization’s business objectives.

So how does one go about identifying the appropriate approaches and direct the most effective decisions? What will give leaders and CSR practitioners the confidence that their CSR investments will give them the best bang for the buck?

Here are a few recommendations to help shape your CSR investments.

  1. Aligned with organization’s business goals: Review your initiatives in line with the priorities you have set as an organization. Understand the level of engagement or maturity of your CSR initiatives currently –philanthropy focused, enabling operational effectiveness or improving the business model. If your business is part of a larger global network, think of how it links back to the objectives of corporate social responsibility broadly and what works locally vs the broad goals.
  2. Drawing insights for effective decisions: There are numerous sources to gather your insights from – the inputs from employees and what they believe are important issues to pursue, the trends observed in the industry, the state of sectors, the global impact of CSR, country information that offers direction on areas that need focus, government guidelines and academic studies on CSR and effectiveness. You may already have information from employees’ giving practices. If needed, run a survey to gather more inputs.
  3. Consider a resource based approach: Identify what investments you are already making to improve your CSR impact in terms of employee effort, time and management involvement. Define the reach and value of the initiatives – the number of stakeholders it impacts, opportunities for employees to give time on projects, the social and economic influence it has, the scalability of the project, the reputational risks it mitigates and brand value it adds.
  4. Partner on CSR practices: It helps to gain perspectives from other CSR leaders who are working in the same space. Invite discussions and debate on the subject. Learn from their challenges, concerns and practices. Understand what worked for them and what didn’t. Map how your organization fares based on the insights you can gather. How far along the CSR journey are you?
  5. Measure multilevel impact: Impact of CSR can be measured at multiple levels – on the individuals who participate, the communities you impact, the brand and reputation, the relationships and perceptions your organization wants to shape. Have measures to review the direct impact of the initiatives you run – participation, awareness and outcomes. Calculate the resources invested in projects and the direct and indirect value in terms of improvement in quality of life, number of lives touched and the overall social impact. You can also understand how much employee value their commitment with CSR and prefer to stay on with your organization.

Moving your CSR initiatives from a purely altruistic action to a robust approach will need paying more attention to insights and impact based positioning. It will expect a lot more effort from CSR practitioners to influence and change the mindsets within organizations and move stakeholders along the journey.

Moving Your Employee Print Newsletter Online? 6 Tips To Make An Impact

If you currently run an employee print newsletter and want to move to an electronic version consider the following tips to make your publication more relevant, improve readership and champion change.

While employee newsletters are still considered an important channel, print publications are gradually falling out of favor. Paucity of time, evolving demographics, changing reader habits and the growth of mobile are a few of the factors influencing the need to move to a web based platform.

Will employees miss the print version? Is the online version more effective? What do employees expect of an e-zine? How can you sustain interest in your organization’s e-zine? These and many other questions may cross your mind while considering a transition.

  • Seek feedback and gather insights: Ask your employees if they prefer an electronic version and what they expect to be different from the print edition. If you don’t already have insights which you can delve into, run a survey or do focus groups to gain perspectives on content, relevance and value employees derive currently. Reflect on what will work best depending on your employees’ profiles, distribution across locations and geographies and diversity.
  • Build a strong business case: It does seem intuitive that an online version will be beneficial for employees and the organization. However, unless you share the rationale to back your thinking such decisions can soon be undone. Spot the tangible and intangible benefits. Among the former are reduction in print costs, wider reach, quicker access to information and ability to measure the value of communication while the latter can include contribution to the feeling of pride, belongingness and personal branding. Look at the newsletter as a way to unify your organization – by increasing cross-business learning and appreciation, exchanging ideas and building a ‘boundaryless’ entity.


  • Refresh the model: A print version needs a different approach to sourcing content, publishing and measuring impact. With an online version you will need to make it simpler and easier for the team to produce the editions and creating reusable templates – unless of course, you are outsourcing your newsletter to an agency. Word of caution: what works in print won’t work online – shorter headlines, crisp messages, images that tell stories and greater opportunities to offer feedback are expected from an online version. What can however work is a model where the content resides on a central platform and the e-zine links to the content either via e-mail or a mobile application which pushes information on-demand. Online content is easier to search in case employees miss the e-mail or the mobile notification. Measuring views and downloads are simple ways to ascertain with an analytics tool and it is easier to report insights from data you gather.
  • Communicate the change: Explain the ‘why’ behind the move. Give employees time to accept the change and partner on the transformation. Demonstrate how the change will improve communication, enhance information accessibility and help employees feel more connected with your business. Be mindful of older employees – who may prefer to read a print version. Create a PDF version for those who still prefer to print and read.
  • Co-create content: Involve passionate employees as content contributors. The success of an employee newsletter hinges on how involved employees are. Form an extended team of content writers, editors and ‘internal’ journalists. Give them ownership for sections on your e-zine. This will mean ‘letting go’ of control – often tough for communicators to accept. For example, have them curate content, interview leaders and teams and come back with stories from the trenches. Remember to recognize their contributions – by giving bylines, adding them as part of your editorial board or informing their managers when they make progress with initiatives that impact the newsletter.
  • Define your measures of success: The litmus test for the newsletter is to gauge your employees’ participation levels in contributing content and their engagement with the organization. Apart from measuring the newsletter’s ability to reach essential information and business perspectives in a timely manner you can also evaluate if employees feel connected to and committed with the organization’s goals.

Have other ideas which worked for you? Do share them here.

4 Ways To Get Your Millennials on the Same Page

Have a large millennial population in your organization and keen to understand and engage the group better?

Consider this. According to a recent global study among millennials 42% believe that the quality of education will be a key change driver for the world. Protecting the environment and reducing poverty come next. This may sound surprising coming from a group often viewed as aloof and self-centered. Millennials want to make a local and a global difference, are interested in contributing to the community, are keen to be entrepreneurs and are very comfortable with technology, says this research report.

Opportunities to innovate, be innovative and be ‘intrepreneurs’ will go a long in engaging this group based on the Deloitte Millennial Survey . The study shares that 78% millennials made their decision to join a workforce based on how innovative the firm was and if the organization truly encouraged employees to be creative. Likewise, 70% of millennials looked at their future as entrepreneurs rather than working with the confines of a formal structure.

In a NASSCOM study – Managing In A Multigenerational Workplace what comes out strongly is the wide perception gap among employees of this generation and their managers.  The millennials attitudes are shaped by their experiences at home and at the workplace – mostly developed by self-learning. Loyalty and striving for perfection aren’t attributes that bother them a lot. While managers believe employees expect instant recognition it isn’t always the case – instead they seek a friend in a manager who is approachable and respected. However, work-life balance is crucial to the millennial’s life. This group prefers empowerment, engagement and flexibility.

With this backdrop, most organizations with a sizable chunk of millennials at their workforce will struggle to connect with this group unless they approach their relationship differently. Internal communicators can play the perfect foil in enlisting the support of this young group and bridging the gap.

Here are a few recommendations to get started with your Gen Y engagement.

Curate a self-managed forum: Initiate a dialogue with this group with either a forum or an informal online community. Clarify business goals and tap this forum to sensitize the group on the organization’s plans, share insights and invite suggestions. Ensure you make concrete plans and allow the group to self-manage their outcomes. Help promote the group’s actions using internal communication. Probably, profile one member every month or have the group ‘reverse mentor’ their leaders on topics of mutual interest.

Tap millenials’ talent: Millenials are looking for ways to be a part of the organization’s initiatives and one crucial approach is by tapping their potential to the fullest. Apart from their work there are opportunities to leverage their discretionary effort to further the brand – inside and outside the firm. Build a repository of talent areas and map it internally with the need of the hour – for example, how to simplify a process that improves your employees’ lives can be something of interest for this group. You will find employees who have say a passion for design thinking or are great with application development. Putting them together can create something extraordinary.

Provide opportunities to give back: Challenge the group on a social need and have them think of solutions which will enhance the lives of communities you serve. With their interest to be a responsible corporate citizen you can be sure of the group coming up with answers that work for all. Allow the group to spot opportunities and link it with the organization’s business objectives. Have their managers encourage participation in such initiatives.

Demonstrate positive action: Get your leaders to attend the forum to listen and engage. Invite the group to creatively recommend solutions for everyday issues instead of looking to their leaders for direction. Seek their inputs on policies and approaches on employee practices. Show how their effort is translating into business outcomes. For example, how simple actions such as sharing company content with their social media network can improve reach and impact of business communication.

From my experience of starting such a forum sustaining the momentum is the most crucial. The culture within will also help determine if this forum will last beyond the initial enthusiasm.

If your organization is truly committed to engaging Gen Y and building trust there isn’t a better way than allowing your future leader to lead the way.

If you have other ideas do share them here. Keen to hear from you.

My IABC Webinar Recording Available Now: Tapping the Power of Your Employees as Brands

There are significant changes shaping the world’s workforces and workplaces – more and more Gen Y joining organizations, diverse job expectations, erosion of trust of leadership, the rise of the activist employee, the employees’ passion to build their personal brands, and interest to be the brand’s spokesperson and affinity towards teams rather than organizations as an entity. Such changes pose interesting challenges and offer opportunities for communicators. On April 30, I ran a webinar  – ‘Tapping the Power of Your Employees as Brands’ on IABC’s website sharing perspectives and pointers on evolving trends and approaches that communicators can adopt to stay ahead of the curve.

My submission is that every organization’s culture and brand is shaped by the actions and messages shared by employees (current or former) and therefore every employee is in some way responsible for corporate communications.  The explosion of social media only accentuates their power – to enhance or damage an organization’s brand. The reality is that in today’s context the communicator doesn’t control communication and needs to partner effectively with each employee to successfully build the brand from within. In that sense, employer branding isn’t as effective an approach in this new world order.

However, the role of the communicator is now more important than ever highlighting the need for revisiting skills to engage the new emerging workforce and changing expectations at the workplace.

Look up a framework that I shared to help communicators build and sustain their own program to engage employees.