Be A Business Enabler. Not A Fringe Player


My previous post – ‘Why Is My Contribution Not Taken Seriously?’  received many thought provoking insights from readers.

Most felt Tony needed a better understanding of his role, seek feedback and put a plan, work with the goals in mind, prioritize his assignments, gain commitment from leaders, solicit ideas from employees, engage more with stakeholders and provide creative, value additions to the business.

Thank you everyone for contributing.

To me, managing birthday lists and anniversaries is best left to managers who lead teams. That’s working on the fringe and won’t get a communicator much respect or attention from leaders. After a while, most stakeholders will end up doing their own stuff leaving you out in the cold.

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If you aren’t thinking of your business there is little chance that your communication initiatives will add value to stakeholders in any form or shape.

How do you know if you are a fringe player or a business enabler?

It boils down to how deeply connected you are with how the business works and what drives the organization.  Check if your communication is linked to what you are delivering to your customers.

Gauge if your business involves you in discussions early in the life cycle or comes to you at the very end when they need the communication to ‘go out’. If it is the former, your team and you are valued. If it is the latter, you have a serious issue on hand, which needs addressing.

How often are you sought for opinions and guidance on what works best?

Does your organization engage you to gather insights and perspectives on the ‘pulse’ of employees?

What can you do to make communication core to your business?

  • Don’t lose sight of your business focus, why you exist as an organization. Ask why your communication team exists. Is it contributing to your business’s focus areas or to overcome the inadequacies that exist within the organization? If it is the latter, you need to reconsider your role.
  • Use insights to drive decision making and to steer conversations on communication interventions.
  • Embed yourself in the business and understand how your organization makes profits. Ask: What guides business thinking? What challenges leaders and employees face each day while delivering their work?
  • Before you communicate any program evaluate if it aligns with your company’s purpose, that you have demonstrated a link to the values your organization stands for and how you expect employees to live the brand and how authentic you are in your tone of voice.

With business context comes respect for the role since you can hold a sensible conversation on the impact and value of communication.

Seek opportunities to be on the frontline and observe the dynamics at play while business gets done. You may even end up spotting many ways of adding value over and above what communication can do.

It helps to demonstrate business acumen. Get communication to be central to your organization’s agenda.

 

 

Why Is My Contribution Not Taken Seriously?


Tony is getting into the groove in his new role. He is raring to go with his solid planning and implementation skills that landed him his prized job with Willow Ltd., one of the largest sports equipment manufacturers in the country. With offices in 5 cities and clients around the world Tony has his hands full with corporate communication responsibilities. He is expected to deliver consistent employee communication across all locations, raise the brand presence and keep media engaged on Willow’s innings in the country. After a few months on the role Tony finds the going tough and wonders why he isn’t gaining the confidence of leaders. He finds his communication projects floundering. He decides to talk to his friend Amy, a seasoned communicator from a pharmaceutical company. They had worked together in earlier assignments and he felt that Amy could throw some light on his dilemma.

Here is what they spoke.

Amy: “You looked quite stressed. This is unlike you?”

Tony: “It hasn’t been going well. I wanted this role and job but somehow things aren’t how I envisaged.”

Amy: “You mean the role isn’t working?”

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Tony: “It isn’t that – the role is great.  I have done a lot over the last few months but strangely it doesn’t add up to much. I am available to stakeholders, I respond on time, I ensure they get what they need, I go out of the way to help and yet……”

Amy: “Take it easy. What were your priorities?”

Tony: “I am responsible for public relations, leadership communication and lots of employee engagement. That is what I am expected to do. I have been executing many assignments – such as communicating birthdays and anniversaries, creating newsletters, publishing communication, planning celebratory lunches for teams and giving leaders what they need in terms of information.”

Amy: “Is that what the leaders want? Does it help your organization?”

Tony: “In my conversations, they keep saying we must do many things to engage employees and the media professionals. They suggested creating a format to acknowledge employees birthdays and special days, branding our meeting rooms, printing leaflets on our policies, creating collateral for marketing among others. Willow as a sports manufacturer is kind of well-known and our leaders are very busy travelling to even give inputs on communication.”

Amy: “How do you know this works?”

Tony: “That is a tough one – there isn’t a way to gauge the value of any of these actions. We assume employees will feel good and they will reciprocate with their commitment and loyalty. Likewise, leaders will appreciate the hard work I put in. We do run an annual survey and that gives us an idea of how employees feel”.

Amy: “That sounds like a long shot at engagement or stakeholder management. Have you recommended ways to do more for the business?”

Tony: “Well, I have been pitching in when asked. Leaders expect us to support their communication and that is what I do.”

Amy realizes that Tony is meandering along but isn’t sure how to guide him. What advice do you have for Tony? How can he get his role on track and add value?

5 Lessons A City Can Teach Us About Internal Communications


Navigating a city is probably more complex than finding your way around an organization.  Understanding your audience’s needs, focusing on the essentials, demonstrating empathy and sensitivity, making instructions simple and staying consistent are a few ways to make the communication experience fulfilling and meaningful.

Without naming the city and yet giving you enough color and context to frame my arguments let me attempt explaining how a well-managed city can teach us a thing or two about employee communications.

Communicating with its residents and visitors is akin to an organization engaging it staff and extended communities. You need to clarify what you stand for, what differentiates you and where the city is heading despite numerous economic and geo-political factors in play. How does one know if citizens are aware of their responsibilities and roles?  By observing their motives and actions. For a tourist or a business traveler what one experiences through the numerous touch points and interactions with citizens shapes impressions about the city. When asked for help everyone, irrespective of what they do as a citizen (immigration officer, janitor, store clerk, transport customer care representative etc) is able to respond in exactly in the same manner – from providing simple directions to sharing recommendations for making the experience a success. Ensuring that documents are consistent, share similar messages and keeping it relevant in a way that every citizen can explain what the city does and represents. Reducing paperwork, keeping process steps minimal and yet finding ways to communicate important messages makes the ‘moments of truth’ matter.

Every employee, at any level or function, is essentially a brand ambassador. The employee needs to be aware of what the organization represents, appreciate it differentiators and serve as the face of the brand. Taking the time to brief and imbibe the values and culture of the organization will help employees positively articulate the brand personality. This can be achieved in multiple ways with the onus on leaders and communicators alike to help explain and reinforce what the brand stands for and how the values can be lived.

All experiences are opportunities to simplify and blend design with communication. From the seamless approach to clearing visitors through immigration, making all parts of the city accessible for differently abled people, creating a unified transport solution between rail networks, road lines and waterways, improving the visual representation of distances on maps to allowing people to make decisions based on accurate information – the simplicity and sensibility of the city gives one the impression that the leaders are thinking ahead.  For example, right outside a popular food court a board informed potential customers that their estimated wait time would run about an hour giving people the option of choosing how they prefer to make the most of their time. On the subway train, a ‘progression’ graph indicates the stations the commute will cover and the estimated distance so that passengers can prepare for their journey better.

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Internal communication blended with simple design can be a powerful differentiator. Understanding your audiences’ mindsets is useful to provide suitable solutions that matter. Knowing how and why your audiences prefer to access information is crucial to crafting direct communication. Be it a mobile app that allows employees to get to information on demand or a simple infographic that explains complex information in helpful ways or creating a walkthrough of a museum in such a way that visitors cover a majority of the exhibits in the shortest possible time; the power of design thinking can make internal communication effective.

Without investing in public infrastructure now and for the future and underestimating how the city will expand or grow it can be difficult to sustain services which benefit citizens. Knowing that tourism and trading are the mainstays of the city the administration reclaimed land and realigned critical elements that make the place efficient. A few examples include moving the airport to the outskirts reducing the risks of accidents and noise pollution, creating public spaces for citizens, adding audio channels for guided tours and investing in a theme park that will serve as a lasting testimony to the city’s creativity.

Likewise, investing in internal communication channel infrastructure for the future and improving adoption are fundamental to the functioning of an organization. These channels serve as a backbone and encourage two-way communication thereby improving reach, access and transparency. Modifying the channels to suit the evolving needs of your audiences indicates adaptability and agility.

You can gauge a city’s humane self by how it treats it citizens, tourists and business travelers.  When safety of pedestrians is high on the agenda, traffic is orderly and regulated, escalators and travellators come with clearly labelled communication in multiple languages and periodic messages on safety and hygiene, differently abled people feel included through well-designed and accessible solutions on the streets and subways, pedestrian kerbsides are sloped to allow easy travel, WiFi is a given and priority seats in every form of transport are designated for the elderly, pregnant women, families with children and the disabled.  Even with ongoing construction work around the city there is absolutely no noise or pollution which impacts commuters.

Sense and sensitivity in internal communication can improve trust and openness. When internal communication makes meaning of information and leaves little to chance audiences accept messages sooner and easily. Transparency in communication bridges gaps and leads to reduction in unwarranted channels of communication opening up – grapevine for example. Through consistent action and communication your audiences gain confidence in the organization and perceive it as respectful and responsible.

While you don’t see police patrolling the streets it doesn’t mean that the city is short staffed or not keeping an eye out for trouble. Investing in surveillance methods offsets the need for police staff to be on the roads manning traffic and fighting crime. Instead it opens up opportunities for the force to engage citizens and deliver real-time solutions when needed.  By improving the design of how crowds move through theme parks and stations among other public places reduces the risks of infectious diseases spreading through touch and common areas. Guidelines are clearly articulated and so also punishments for breaking the law.

For internal communication having checks and balances is relevant for consistency and to build rigor into the process. Giving employees a sense of direction with simple approaches that reward and reinforce what it means to stay on brand and be effective as an ambassador. By creating systems that take care of periodic communication the communicator can devote attention to areas that need improvement and engagement. Seeking feedback often and being transparent about how inputs will be used can go a long way to gain confidence of employees.

Overall, what makes a city’s internal communication or an organization’s employee communication make sense is the ability to connect at a human level, trusting people to do the right thing after you have given them the right guidance and support, using insights to stay ahead of evolving expectations and acknowledging audiences as partners who can serve as effective communicators and committed ambassadors.

What do you think?

How Satisfied Are Employees With Communications At Your Global In-House Centre? Encourage Your Employees To Participate In the 2015 Employee Communications Survey Now!


The 2015 Employee Communications in GICs Survey is the first such study which gauges the current scope, relevance and understanding of employee communication within global in-house centres (GICs).

This year, the survey asks employees to share their satisfaction with communication within GICs. Communication within a GIC is unique due to the demographics, distributed teams, parent company expectations, regulatory environment and restrictions among others. While most organizations measure employee engagement in annual or bi-annual studies there is limited understanding of how employees perceive the quality and effectiveness of employee communication in such environments. Message content, channel efficiency, communication improvements are among factors that impact how employees identify with their organizations. Take the survey now! Direct link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1EGfQYVejRGVpcLK2v3ddn45FcMTTU8dKWme-y_Bgh8I/viewform

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Last year we invited corporate communication leaders from GICs to participate and share their opinion on the state of the function. Results from the study is available on my blog at: https://intraskope.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/2014-state-of-the-communications-function-in-gics-survey-results/

Who Can Gain From This Study?

Using a proven academic scale the survey will provide insights on how employees think about the communication climate, relationship with supervisors and subordinates, integration with the organization, media quality, communication at different levels and the personal and organizational contexts.

The focus is therefore on employees and their satisfaction with communication information, relationships, channels and climate within their organizations. The results from this study will be useful for leaders, corporate communication professionals and academicians to refine their strategies of engaging employees through communication and add value to existing literature.

The study output can hopefully guide GICs on communication investments and actions. All participants will receive a high level summary of the report.

What are GICs?

Global in-house centres refer to the service and delivery operations units that serve parent companies around the world to standardize processes, systems and programs and in turn save costs, improve efficacies and enhance centralized capabilities. They are often referred to as ‘captives’ or ‘shared services’.

According to NASSCOM, there are over 825 GICs in India itself, offering the entire spectrum of services – IT services, BPM, ER&D, and software products, employ over 530,000 people, and account for 17 per cent of the total export revenues in India. It is estimated that 50% of Fortune 500 firms to have GIC footprint in India by 2015. While hiring, engaging and retailing employees are important for GICs very little is understood or researched on the role of communication within these centres.

Last year we invited corporate communication leaders from GICs to participate and share their opinion on the state of the function. Results from the study is available on my blog at: https://intraskope.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/2014-state-of-the-communications-function-in-gics-survey-results/

Thank you in advance for participating! All participants will receive a high level summary of the survey results. Do take the survey by December 26, 2015. For queries on this study please e-mail me at intraskope@yahoo.com

Chart Your Own Path. Leave An Indelible Mark


Taken on a new assignment? Reconsidering if you made the right move?

Be it an internal transfer or an external job what you make of your new assignment defines how you progress at work and in your life. No two roles will ever be the same and not every role will come with a supportive manager and an equally supportive workplace.

While everyone wants to start off on the right note there it isn’t easy to navigate the system and there isn’t always ‘one’ best approach. In Anna’s case it seems like much before she has got into the groove she has created perceptions of the role basis what she heard or others thought. That limited her thinking and ability to press forward with her own ideas and plans.

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Here are a few recommendations to unshackle those chains and carve your own path.

  • Seek feedback, make your own decisions: Everyone will have a point of view but finally you will need to make the decision on what works in your capacity. You can seek our mentors or gain insights by asking the right questions. In one of the roles I played before getting started I asked my predecessor on whom she felt were the important champions for the function and who the detractors were. Basis that insight I decided on a plan to meet with each of them face-to-face to understand where they were coming from.
  • Set your agenda, reset expectations: Many are tied by how the role was played earlier and that again is limiting. Some people are fine to maintain the status quo but that doesn’t get you very far.  Others want to change the game but are unsure if the culture will allow. Therefore, take the time to gauge what works and doesn’t. Define your plan and get feedback. Socialize your plan with stakeholders and reset expectations on what the role will do for the organization.
  • Open your mind, ride the change: Don’t let the job description straight jacket you. Don’t get pigeon holed into a specific way of functioning. It is people who make the function and not the other way around. Understand your internal and external dependencies. Know the key influencers and their stake in the game.
  • Measure up, raise the game: Find out how the role is measured and can be measured by asking internally and outside. Get a hold of resources at your disposal. Often you may need to work with a limited set of assets and it shouldn’t get in the way of delivering effectively in your role. You may find that the capabilities and capacities of the team need bolstering or that many need up-skilling. Either seek more resources or realign expectations. Benchmark the role against what happens externally in a similar role and craft your outcomes.
  • Get started, highlight progress: Action speaks louder than words. Align with your organization’s goals. Translate your plan into action and make tangible impact with the work you have set out to do. Rise above differences and ego issues. Get hands on with work.

Don’t let externalities prevent you from becoming your best. Go out there and make a difference.

Have other ideas on how to make the most at work? Do share them here.

Can You Differentiate Your Brand With Internal Communication and Service?


Hospitals aren’t usually the best place to observe how brands work from within. Having visited a couple in the recent past I couldn’t help notice how brands can differentiate through internal communication and service.

I will keep it simple by calling the two hospitals A and B.  Think about the experiences that patients face while encountering these two places.

To begin, here is what makes the hospitals feel like two peas from the same pod. Both offer identical services, are fairly large set-ups and have well-known physicians who consult at both. They are well recognized for their offering in the market and are known to attract patients from overseas. These hospitals have their staff dressed in smart uniforms and invest in branding internally and externally. Both are located in prominent locations in the city of Bengaluru thereby making them accessible to citizens. That’s where the similarities end.

When you call the call centre number for Hospital A and seek specific information you get transferred from one department to another till you are out of your wits. When you reach the hospital you are overwhelmed by the noise and the surge of people trying to access the facilities through the narrow doors of the hospital. Parking is tough with rates increasing depending on how close you can keep your vehicle away from the hospital building. You get a scrap of paper with a scribble on it as a payment receipt for parking. When you enter you aren’t quite sure which way to go with names of numerous departments listed on a board. As you navigate through the set-up you avoid hitting a patient being wheeled out for surgery. To get to the lifts you first need to convince an over-zealous guard from asking you to prove your identity. Once you reach your department the Q is long and the waiting time is way beyond your scheduled appointment. You are asked to pay up first and then there is another Q to get through. The nurse who collects your blood isn’t wearing gloves and you wonder if they follow standard operating procedure for medical examination which is listed on their notice boards. You aren’t sure if they will send your reports on time for the doctor’s consultation. Overall, it feels like the hospital is doing you a favour. After all this you are exhausted and want to just get done it over with.

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Hospital B on the other hand sends you an SMS prior to your appointment with details about whom you to meet when you arrive. There is a number to call back. When you reach the hospital you are directed into a pay and park space. Clear direction boards point you to the lobby. The instructions are simple nd you are greeted with a smile by the front desk who knows your name (since they have their records right and they sent you an SMS). You are given a checklist on what you will need to do and it is clearly explained how long it will take. I notice a desk for foreign language support which means they are sensitive to the needs of people from other nations. Every staff member has their name visibly printed on their tag. The token system ensures you know your turn and don’t need to hang around the desk.  The nurse wears gloves and a mask and explains the procedure to me even asking me to check my name and sign beside it to be doubly sure! The checklist is visible to the patient as to how the nurse will go about his or her task. All instructions were simple and direct including messages on how best to use the facilities such as the toilets, indicating their interest to engage the diverse set of people who access their services. A request for change in a plan is taken without the slightest hint of annoyance. I heard staff communicating via their internal systems and phones and ‘handing off’ the patients seamlessly. The process is managed in such a way that I save time by getting my file in Q while I go about other tests. Everything is completed before the stipulated time. I am told the reports will be mailed in a day. Feedback is sought on the service and experience. Overall, I get the sense that the hospital cares about my well-being.

What differentiates these two hospitals?

In the context of internal communications you can see that irrespective of what you claim on your vision and mission statements the moments of truths that stakeholders experience defines brands and their worth. When employees aren’t sure of what their brands stand for and how their actions matter to stakeholders they are unable to play their part. However, when everyone is living the brand values consistently it reflects consistently in the attitude, approach and service. By displaying standard operating procedure and seeking the involvement of patients they are also acknowledging how engagement is a two-way street.

It is vital to audit your employee and customer ‘experience trails’ and understand what is getting conveyed at each of these touch points. You can gauge from the body language, tone of voice and attitude a lot more than what appears in the corporate brochure.  Recognize the behavior you need and highlight the stories that makes your service stand apart. I remember noticeboards at Hospital B with thank you notes from patients who experienced great service and how the hospital recognizes their staff with internal reward mechanisms.  Also how staff treats each other will give you clues on how much they value where they work and whom they serve. Finally, the brand is about people and why and how you say is more important than what you communicate.

What do you think?

What’s Holding You Back?


Anna is unsure if she made the right move. After 5 years in a role as a learning and development consultant for her organization, Robust Inc. She applied for an internal job posting in the corporate communication team. Robust Inc., a leading player in the education business has operations in 5 cities in the country and provides online support for 10 countries globally. Anna has been keen about corporate communications and believes her passion for writing and engaging employees will hold her in good stead in her new job. During her interviews with senior leaders she convinced them of her capabilities to operate in completely new environment. However, after starting out she is beginning to feel that the role doesn’t give her much satisfaction. She calls her friend Paul to discuss her concerns.

Anna: “Paul, I am in a dilemma and thought I could get your advice.”

Paul: “Sure Anna. What is it? How is your new role?”

Anna: “That is what I needed to discuss. I spent 5 years with this organization and wanted a change. This new role looked exciting and I applied for it and got the job. Now, after meeting with stakeholders and listening to what people had to say about my predecessor it seems I may have made a mistake!”

Paul: “So what have you heard?”

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Anna: “From what I hear this is a back-end role with no visibility or respect. I need to be pushing out communication and reviewing badly written drafts. Also, the person handling the role wasn’t the best suited so she became a note-taker for many leaders. That further eroded the credibility of the role. In the end no one takes this role seriously.”

Paul: “That’s unfortunate. Do you know what the job description of the role states?”

Anna: “It does read impressive and calls out how the individual can champion key initiatives for the company. It also explains one can grow into a larger role. Somehow it doesn’t seem to match with the expectations on the ground.”

Paul: “You mean people see the role differently? Does your manager think differently too?”

Anna: “I guess so – basis my conversations they feel this role is over engineered and no one has the capacity to do anything meaningful. It is just an ordinary role and there are many obstacles which come in the way. My manager is supportive and has been telling me to give it time and focus on what is on hand. He encourages me to think differently and make an impact.”

Paul: “That’s great. There is no reason to fret if you have such a supportive manager. Are you interested in this role or not? Do you think you want to do something meaningful?”

Anna: “I am completely interested – just that I feel people think otherwise and therefore may not cooperate. I may end up not contributing enough or making an impact.  I don’t have the professional degrees to back up for this role.”

Paul: “But, you are just starting out. You can learn the ropes, can’t you? You can also get the certifications you need. What’s holding you back?”

How can you help Anna get a hold of her new role? What do you think is preventing her from getting ahead? How can Paul coach her to get started?

Share your views. Keen to hear what you think.

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