Manage The Narrative. Let Go Of Control

Like it or not, your employees are already communicating on behalf of your organization and they are responsible for communication in some form or the other. However, most employees don’t believe they have a voice or have enough confidence in their organizations to do the right thing. Nor do corporate and internal communicators know how to manage in this new world order. Is it time for communicators to accept, recognize, embrace and act on these trends?

Consider this:

  • 33% of employees post comments, photos and videos about their employer on social media often or time to time without any encouragement from the employer. 39% do without any training. (Weber Shandwick & KRC Research, 2014)
  • Companies with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee experienced 147% higher EPS compared with their competition (Gallup, 2012)
  • Even while trust declined for businesses, NGOs and media, in-house technical experts and employees were the most credible sources within an organization (Edelman’s Trust Barometer, 2015
  • 4 out of 10 employees in the UK still do not feel that it is safe to speak up. (Towers Watson, 2012)
  • Only 9% of practitioners reported spending more than 25% of time on employee research/feedback. (Ruck and Trainor, 2011)


Employees aren’t just another audience; they are central to your organization’s success. They seek a ‘human’ experience at the workplace and that includes being respected, feeling appreciated, having leaders behave with integrity and receiving open communication. Getting employees’ attention, doing more with less, dwindling trust and low engagement levels are a few of the many challenges internal communicators grapple with today.

These challenges are often due to an inability to understand the pulse of employees, realize the evolving needs at the workplace and skills that corporate communicators must learn to be successful.

However, there is limited evidence to show that organizations and communicators are tapping their employees while creating and delivering effective communication. While a handful of organizations have involved employees to project the brand, increase community outreach, promote the product, recruit new hires and engage customers there is more to be done to realize the collective potential of the workforce. For example, even among the most effective organizations only about 50% have a way to pretest employee communication through advisory groups in-house and 43% benchmark against the best.

Trends also indicate that twice as many employees are now driven by work passion and less with career progression giving impetus for building an inclusive, supportive, compelling and innovative environment. Deloitte’s study – Global Human Capital Trends 2015 point to culture and engagement as the most important issues companies face around the world with 87% of organizations cite these as one of their top challenges. Employees also expect communication to be authentic, relevant, engaging, high touch and respectful. The role of work in their lives is mostly about getting the skills to be relevant, be their best and known as an expert and contribute to society overall.

While there are active advocates among your employees who aren’t tapped enough, organizations also need to grapple with a growing set of detractors who can disrupt the best intentions leaders have in mind. In a study by Bain and Forrester only 34% in North America and 19% in Europe rated the Net Promoter Score question 9 or 10 – ‘on a scale from 0 to 10, would you recommend your company as a place to work to a friend or colleague?”.

Therefore, how can corporate communicators operate differently? What skills do they need to succeed?

To begin, communicators must revisit their role and relevance within organizations. It isn’t any more about controlling information flow and managing channels. It is time to let go of control, invite employees to participate and manage the message effectively.  Letting go of control is as much about accepting that every employee is a good communicator already and that we need to recognize each individual’s talent and skills to build the brand from within. It is the ability to collaborate, transcend operational and functional boundaries, listen intently to employees, involve and deliver solutions that delivers business value. The communicator needs to understand organizational dynamics, know how to shape corporate character and be seen as one among the audiences – living the values and instilling pride. This also expects the communicator to have a grasp of insights and have a laser sharp focus on employees.

What strategies will work in this new world order?

It is proven that employees are engaged not just when organizations communicate consistently and regularly but also when involved and their ideas sought to shape their own lives at the workplace. Furthermore, even if their ideas aren’t accepted they expect to be informed as to why their views which were sought didn’t get to see the light of day.

When organizations involve and empower employees in large and everyday decisions there is a sense of shared ownership that appeals and furthers belongingness. Power sharing among employees also leads to more balanced decision making – as organizations progress from keeping decisions under wraps to inclusion to co-creating; employees are more engaged. Likewise, they expect autonomy and meaning to their work and giving them opportunities to discover and learn each day improves their connection with the organization. The role of leaders is crucial – employees – employees who view leadership as open and honest are nearly five times more engaged than those who don’t.

Communicators can adopt the following three pronged approach to gain from these opportunities.

Listen: Putting employees at the heart of your communication means to listen to their needs like never before. Take feedback, pre-test your communication, tap their enthusiasm and leverage advocates who can pitch the brand. Know where your employees are on social media and leverage their network.

Involve: Encourage your employees to speak up, contribute and be active advocates. Invest in training and upskilling them especially on the brand and social media. Employees with boundary spanning roles can play a crucial part in communicating your narrative.

Engage: Build a rhythm and highlight your success stories. Crowdsource and co-create communication when possible. Demonstrate how employees are truly adding value to your brand in more ways than one. Recognize their contribution and make time to acknowledge their effort.

To summarize, as communicators we need to accept and align with the changes shaping the workplace. It will mean letting go of control in terms of ‘who’ and ‘what’ communication can be done while retaining influence over the ‘why’ and ‘when’ while partnering with employees who essentially are effective ambassadors of the brand. Understand that every employee is a good communicator. Our role is to enable employees to be their best selves.

The focus must be to manage the narrative and view your employees through a different lens. Listen, involve and engage them for success. Lastly, introspect and be open to unlearning and experimenting. Recognize your best advocates by giving them due respect and support.

Note: I had the opportunity to speak at the 2015 Asia-Pacific Communications Summit in Hong Kong on Nov 19. This article is a summary of my presentation.

“There is a need to unlearn how communication was done earlier”

I had the opportunity to speak at the 2015 Asia Pacific Communications Summit at Hong Kong on November 19.

Follow this link for an interview that appeared in Communication Director Asia magazine following my presentation.

Keen to hear your views.


Shape The Future Of Internal Communication & Get A FREE High Level Report! 2015 APAC and India Internal Communications Survey Ends On November 25.

Inviting employee communication practitioners and leaders to take the 2015 APAC and India Internal Communications Survey! The Survey aims to gauge the progress, maturity and impact of internal communications in the region.

This is the fifth edition of the survey and meant to be completed by professionals who work or have worked for organizations either in the capacity of a leader or an individual contributor to the internal communications function. Take the survey now! 

Look up the results from the Internal Communications Surveys in 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 to understand trends shaping the function. The survey covers perspectives on internal (employee) branding, organization culture and communication, the communicator’s skills, knowledge and expertise and priorities for the future. Also it will seek inputs on the evolving role and expectations of the function, budgets and focus areas and how leadership views the role.

Take the survey now! It will take 10 minutes of your time. Survey closes on November 25, 2015.


Why should you take the survey?

  • Help shape the future of the function
  • Getyour voice heard
  • Help guide how leaders and communicators will steer decisions and evolve interventions
  • Be the first to receive an executive summary of the results
  • Take tangible measures to make an impact in your role, company and industry


Who is running this survey?

This is an independent survey conducted by Aniisu K. Verghese is an internal communication expert, author and consultant and has over sixteen years of experience in the evolving internal communications and social media domains with leading retail, IT, financial services and consulting organizations. Aniisu is the author of – Internal Communications – Insights, Practices and Models (Sage Publications, 2012). He currently serves as the Corporate Communications and CSR Lead for Tesco Bengaluru, the technology and operations team of Tesco, one of the world’s largest retailers. He is the recipient of the 2015 PR Hall of Fame Award at the 9th Global Communication Conclave of the Public Relations Council of India (PRCI). He speaks at management forums and conducts India’s first ever internal communication workshop series – Internal Communications 401, Internal Communications 301, Internal Communications 201, Internal Communications 101. Aniisu served as a Asia Pacific judge for the 2015 Sabre Awards, on the international editorial panel for IABC’s global publication – Communication World and was an elite panelist who evaluated and shortlisted Asia Pacific entries for the 2012 International Association of Business Communicator’s Gold Quill Awards.

Authentic Communication Key To CSR and Reputation

Research studies have reported that an individual’s willingness to buy, recommend, work for, and invest in a company is directly related to the organization’s reputation – which incidentally is significantly influenced by the corporate social responsibility (CSR) actions taken by the firm. According to theRepTrak™ Pulse which measures corporate reputation of organizations three of the seven dimensions of reputation are related to CSR. Not just that, a majority of stakeholders are confused about what organizations do with CSR and therefore aren’t sure how to make sense of the reputation. That puts the onus on organizations to communicate effectively and support stakeholders in making sense of their intentions.

On October 31st I had the opportunity to participate in an engaging dialogue on ‘Integrating CSR With the Brand Strategy’. Communicators, marketers and CSR practitioners debated the merits and downsides of highlighting CSR for the brand.

Here are my perspectives on this subject.

  • There is a strong linkage between CSR and reputation and ignoring this phenomenon is a missed opportunity. Many feel that doing good work and not talking about it is the right approach. My take is that if you do good work the word will spread even if you want to keep it under wraps. The best channel is within and your own employees are your most authentic advocates. Nothing can be beat authenticity and transparency when it comes to CSR.


  • CSR communication is a lot to do with culture. In parts like India where service is expected to be done without much fanfare, communicating about your CSR work can seem like publicity and self-promotion. There shouldn’t be any Lakshman Rekha (line of control) for CSR communication. It is important to communicate the why and the how rather than just that the ‘what’ for CSR.
  • Organizations can’t suddenly gain CSR consciousness – one of the panellists mentioned how a friend of his on joining a start-up was asked to do CSR because it was now the ‘buzz’ and they also needed to get funding and look ‘good’ in front of investors. If CSR is in your DNA it will come across as credible. If you fake it chances are that people will notice and you may not be able to sustain it in the long run. Get CSR into everyday life – add it to your performance measures, remind employees what they can do more, encourage their individual commitment for the causes they support in their personal capacity and inculcate a habit of giving.
  • With the 2% CSR guidelines coming into play in India many organizations are now housing CSR functions under their Corporate Communication or Marketing divisions. The role of the marketer/communicator is beginning to evolve. They now need to gain a better understanding of the function, engage stakeholders beyond the usual remit, demonstrate abilities to negotiate, partner, influence, involve and tell stories in ways that matter for the brand.
  • To amplify CSR communication the organization needs to make the effort visible and connect with audiences in meaningful ways. Message content is as important as the channel. If the focus is on commitment, impact and fit the communication will be well received and valued. The key point is to overcome stakeholder skepticism that the communication isn’t about ‘selling’ and more about explaining the context, consistency and durability of the CSR work. CSR communication should be factual to avoid being labelled as ‘bragging’. You can include CSR in almost any channel or avenue – packaging, campus branding, alumni communication, vendor engagement, third party endorsements among others. Word of mouth is the most effective approach to get the message around. Social media is crucial for the success of CSR although it needs to be employee led and less by the corporate communication team. Research studies have demonstrated that the reach of social media posts by employees is 8X times those of corporate accounts.
  • Many organizations do cause related branding and marketing and the trend is shifting towards CSR communication. In my view, cause branding is temporary and short term while CSR communication has long term value and impact. There is also skepticism associated with cause branding because there is usually a direct profit associated with the cause and effect for the brand (i.e., every sale is associated with a portion of funds going to charity etc). The fit and the value must be very closely integrated for the cause to be accepted by customers. Also with many companies now associating with causes to further their brands fatigue sets in quickly. Brands can’t be built overnight on CSR. It either needs to be in the DNA or it will never be perceived as authentic. There are 3 strategies which research points out – stakeholder information, response and involvement. Involvement is the most evolved strategy since it is about co-creating the outcomes.

Overall, helping stakeholders appreciate your firm’s corporate social responsibility intent and practices has a lot to do with how, when and what you communicate.

What Did You Do With My Feedback?

Asking for feedback is easy – acknowledging, accepting and making concrete steps to act and communicate changes within the organization is tougher.

As organizations try to stay ahead of the employee engagement conundrum and gauge perspectives  real-time, taking periodic feedback is a reality. This also has downsides – if you are taking feedback you also need to explain what you are doing with it and employees have a right to know.  If you take feedback very often, you may encounter fatigue. If you aren’t asking often enough you can be perceived as disinterested about your employees’ well-being. Furthermore, research studies also indicate that not all feedback interventions work and it is important to get to the core of the issue to make a real difference.

Employees are less concerned when feedback is sought and nothing can be done with it but when feedback is taken and no one gets back to communicate what is possible and what isn’t; and with a valid reason for that matter.


Here are a few approaches that professionals dealing with employee engagement can bear in mind while manning their listening post.

  1. Acknowledge: The first and foremost expectation from employees is to know that their feedback reached its destination and there is someone looking into it. A simple and speedy acknowledgement is reassuring for employees no matter how small or big the feedback shared.
  2. Clarify: Not always will the feedback you receive be clear and explain the background or the expectation. Probe further to gain an understanding of the context and motivation for the feedback.
  3. Explain: Be transparent about the process and what will be done with the feedback and by when. Also share the rationale if you are not planning to do anything with the feedback.   Remember that not all feedback will be positive and differentiating a complaint from a constructive comment is helpful.
  4. Involve: Invite employees to connect and be hands-on in making their feedback work. It is an expectation from employees to be a part of solving what matters to their lives and to take decisions in such cases. Employee engagement increases as more power is shared.
  5. Act: Show tangible evidence of feedback getting acted upon and highlight what it took to incorporate feedback into the system and what the changes mean to employees.
  6. Communicate: Nothing can be more powerful that regularly updating employees about the progress you are making with the feedback shared. Also to share that leaders are listening intently to their needs.

While not every feedback taken and acted upon will solve engagement; however not accepting and appreciating your employees’ valuable time and interest can be detrimental in the long run.

What do you think? What can enable better transparency and engagement when dealing with feedback? Interested in your views.

How About An Un-Offsite?

Often the words ‘offsite’, ‘away-day’ and ‘team building exercise’ bring imagery of leaders sunning their toes in exotic locales on company funded jamborees and discussing strategic decisions that impact employees.  Offsites cost organizations millions and there are recommendations on how to improve the effectiveness of these meets.

However well coined the term – employees watch and wait for outcomes that relate to their lives right after such events.  Word also spreads about the costs incurred by the organization. Even income tax authorities view such initiativeswith distrust and challenge the benefits claimed.  Dpending on how well the business is doing, dissenting voices grow in number. Especially for key employee engagement indicators like trust, involvement and fairness, such company funded interactions may do more harm than good.



Long after the ink has dried from the marker pens and the flipcharts are converted into elegant presentations or gathered dust in a remote corner of the organization employees wonder how leaders taking time away from work to discuss ‘work’ furthered their best interests.  Without doubt there are immense benefits of aligning leaders (if they aren’t already) and thinking ahead for the business without the distractions of e-mail, phone and everyday challenges. Some organizations do take the onus to update employees by sharing progress against objectives set at the offsite and what that means for everyone.

Here are a few ideas on how to turn the perception surrounding an offsite into opportunities for employee engagement.

  1. Give employees a voice on the corporate agenda: To avoid what scholars refer to ‘organizational silence’ it helps sense to allow employees an opportunity to reflect on topics that shape their lives. Organizational silence is a collective phenomenon that can occur within an organization if employees feel that their views are not counted or sought and therefore avoid sharing their opinions and concerns about organizational problems. This leads to a poor understanding about how employees feel and thereby even poorer decisions made by leaders. Putting the agenda for review in front of everyone can tell a lot about the honesty and direct behavior that most employees expect within firms.
  2. View leaders ‘live’ at an offsite: Apart from confidential financial discussions which can derail strategy or expose plans to competition, what if employees got to watch leaders as they went about taking key decisions or discussing relevant projects on a webcast from an offsite. Would the meeting stick to schedule? Was there a chance that decisions made would get more pragmatic? Do you think there would be quicker outcomes? You can imagine what it can do for leadership accountability and employee trust.
  3. Publish the leaders’ goals and meeting minutes online: What if leaders demonstrated ‘leadership’ in putting out their objectives for everyone to view? If the minutes that include next steps and ownership are placed on the intranet you can be sure that employees will value the transparency and believe in leaders even more than ever. More so if they see action taken swiftly – be it tough or popular decisions that might improve respect for their leaders.
  4. Involve employees in action planning at the start: Form teams much before the offsite from among interested employees. Give them ownership to identify themes and support their effort on plans.
  5. The ‘deliver and attend’ offsite model: Have a model that clearly calls out why and how employees who have performed get to go for the next offsite.  It will hopefully send out a message on your culture and you can also get to differentiate between the performers and the underachievers.

Overall, the actions and communication before and after an offsite differentiates a great organization from an ‘also ran’.

What do you think?

10 Ways To Enlist Your Leaders And Employees For Corporate Social Responsibility

At most interactions with CSR and communication professionals I often hear this remark – ‘we do so much yet our leaders and employees don’t seem to care about Corporate Social Responsibility. How do we get them involved and excited?’

To begin, accept that CSR won’t appeal to everyone in your organization and that every employee has their own understanding of what denotes social commitment. Even if organizations claim to have CSR in their DNA and publish reports that allude to this fact getting employees and leaders to volunteer their time need different and unique approaches. Understanding employees’ motivations, aspirations and triggers can increase the chances of getting alignment and participation.

If you are expecting to make CSR a part of your employees’ lives you may want to consider the following tips.

  1. Reduce the barriers to participation: Make your programs simple, easy and accessible to sign-up. Appreciate that not all causes that your organization supports may be of interest to everyone. Give your employees the opportunity to engage in ways that are relevant and meaningful to their lives. For example, one company invited employees to do CSR from their respective desks since their work didn’t allow them flexibility to move away and participate in events outside the office. They were requested to pitch in with creating material for events or work up designs for CSR communication – which they loved immensely. Bust myths that CSR is serious and for those who can find time. CSR can be fun, enriching and for every individual who wants to make a difference in this world.
  2. Appeal to their inner calling: Every employee has a purpose which needs fulfilment. It isn’t often working that keep employees engaged. Academic studies have proven that employees committed to volunteering are more willing to go the extra mile for their respective organizations. Also if they see their organization involved actively and genuinely in CSR work they feel proud to continue contributing. Try creating an ‘individual social responsibility’ initiative that invites projects which the organization can back. This will hopefully appeal more and allow them to give back in ways that are enriching.


  1. Make CSR a part of the ‘everyday’: If your organization’s core values don’t have ‘giving’ as a theme you can still find ways to link everyday engagement with customers and other stakeholders to CSR. Ask managers and leaders to slot time in their daily or weekly or monthly briefings to talk of the importance of ‘giving’ and how it adds value to the people your employees engage with. Be it supporting a charity in a region where the customer is or using technology to improve the community impact.  Understand where your employees currently spend their time outside of work on CSR and leverage their skills and talent in areas that are mutually beneficial.
  2. Focus on behavioral levers: Often what gets watched – gets done. Or, when there is peer pressure you see more interest to participate. Or when there is competition the engagement picks up. If you see a visual that depicts a human challenge you want to solve, there is greater energy to tackle it. Or for that matter, if you tell a story of an employee who made a real difference, others get inspired. These aren’t just tactics – these are derived from research studies and how we behave and what intrinsically drives us as humans. Make changes to your communication and programs to bring in elements that trigger action and lasting change.
  3. Leverage your company culture: Many argue that the culture in organizations can influence how CSR is done. If the leadership backs the causes you see more passion from the rest of the organization. Often, you may be in an organization that may not have a robust social responsibility culture or a ‘giving’ mindset. In such situations you need to adapt and adopt other practices to rally employees.  Starting ground-up is the best approach since grass-root impact has immense power to attract the masses. Pick one or two key initiatives and showcase it a case of how your organization is making a difference. Then work through your CSR champions and leaders to influence others. If you need to bring CSR back on the agenda as a value you need to table it at an appropriate forum.
  4. Show the ‘Big Picture’: One of the biggest reasons why employees and leaders avoid engaging is because they seem unaware of the CSR agenda or are overwhelmed by the numerous activities that take place. It helps to paint the broad picture of what and how will take the organization’s CSR effort forward. The ‘big picture’ can be a large goal which inspires and rallies everyone. For example, adopting a village and making it self-reliant in a year in terms of sustainability measures.
  5. Brand your initiatives: Add zing to your CSR communication by branding the events and initiatives. The brand must be visible at every possible touch point – be it at onboarding or while your employees become the alumni. Highlight the best work your organization does in CSR and leverage your internal and external digital media outlets to share progress and milestones with stakeholders. In this age of selfies and millennials it helps to know what they are seeking and map your programming around their actions. Tap into their motivation to promote CSR. For example, enable ease of publishing videos and photographs they take and craft a contest that draws their attention.
  6. Demonstrate transparency in decision making: Sharing how CSR decisions are made is crucial to enlist support. Be it on funds raised or allocated as well as for causes the organization supports employees have a right to know the thinking and rationale that goes behind the scene. When communication on this theme is limited or vague employees begin to distrust the process and system. Publish your charter, agenda, committee and principles so that employees know your organization’s approach to CSR and trust the team to do the right thing.
  7. Make employees a part of the solution: CSR attempts to solve larger issues that the world faces.  Break it down for employees to know what the organization can do to contribute to those issues. Invite employees to pick areas they can influence and provide solutions. Allow them to think creatively and own the challenge. Enable their work with resources and direction. Remove obstacles in their path and keep their managers informed of how the employees are adding value.
  8. Recognize your champions: Employees aren’t expecting rewards for CSR work. They expect appreciation and real-time. They are keen to see tangible impact on the communities that they support. Think of creative ways to recognize and improve their CSR understanding. For example, expose them to CSR best practices at conferences which you can fund or enroll them for online courses on CSR that broadens their perspective.

Getting employees and leaders aligned is important for the success of the organization. How and what you do can make a difference between action and apathy. Try these steps and let me know how it goes.

Happy to hear your views and success stories.