Internal communication outlook in India – 2009 and beyond


With 2008 posing numerous challenges and highlighting enormous opportunities for internal communication in India, I believe 2009 will be a year to introspect and rationalize. The years ahead will serve to consolidate and revitalize. The impact of the downturn will be visible more this year – job and salary cuts, reversal of benefits, cost management initiatives, greater expectations from employers to deliver more with lesser perks, investment and consolidation of internal telecommunication assets, improved processes and in-sourcing of communication needs.

 

Stretch of tree-lined highway between Bangalore to Mangalore

Stretch of tree-lined highway between Bangalore and Mangalore

I would think the trends will pan out on two levels – strategic and tactical.

 

On the strategic level, we will probably witness the following:

 

a) Rationalization of communication means – leveraging invested channels of communication, a move to social media avenues. There is a belief that internal communication can achieve more with less at this juncture.

 

b) Emphasis on messaging: What is being said will drive more that how things are being shared. The message will involve employees more; engage them through social media tools, focus groups, internal bulletins and forums. Frills like take-aways, freebies, fancy town halls at external venues and celebrities at employee recognition events will drop off for simpler, more austere means of communication.

 

c) Leadership expectation on change management: Leadership will turn to internal communication professionals to deliver more value with employee engagement and change communication – planning, design, timing and measurement.

 

d) India will be central to decisions: I expect to see improved focus on India due to it being among the most important destinations for outsourcing and business. Not withstanding the recent terror attacks and the war rhetoric in the sub-continent. India will be for most MNCs the largest geography and a strategic node in their global delivery system. For example, Accenture and IBM have over 37000 and 50000 employees respectively in India. I recently met up with an American professional who runs a marketing communication boutique.  She was doing the ground work in Bangalore and Mumbai to set up an office to be closer to MNC branches – some of them were her clients already.

 

e) Helping others get better at communicating: I foresee more emphasis by internal communicators in developing self-help models, modules and resources for internal teams to help them get better at communicating downstream. Most research points to managers as the key players in driving internal communication. Internal communicators will be forced to relook at team structures and design for planning, strategy, execution and coaching.

 

f) Social media and stringent monitoring of employee behavior: While organizations in India struggle to understand the impact of social media, there will be risk management and marketing efforts to tap the presence of employees’ behavior both online and offline. That would mean providing messages to share with peer groups, presence on social networking sites, monitoring ‘blog speak’ and forum dialogue. Some organizations have proactively included employee blogs to project the right brand message for recruitment marketing while others have provided employees with suitable disclaimers to use to avoid legal implications.

 

g) Localization of messages: To gain the cost advantage, most companies will move to smaller cities and towns in rural India. This will lead to efforts to localize communication messages to ensure employees are on the same page.

 

On a tactical level, I believe we will see important changes too.

 

a)  Multi-tasking: Internal communicators will be called on to play multiple roles – role of internal communication will extend to defining crisis communication, business continuity planning and training. Cases in point are around the economic slowdown, terror attacks at Mumbai, sharing the ‘not so good’ news on job and salary cuts, withdrawal of incentives and benefits.

 

b) Leadership communication will come under even greater scrutiny: Employees will be expecting to seeing, reading and watching more of their leaders though it may not be enough for them to avoid the critical viewpoints of their staff. Satyam’s decisions raised the wrath of shareholders while their employees are seeking jobs outside in droves – leading to erosion of brand value. Leaders will need to invest for deeper connection with employees who will demand a seat at the table on company decisions.

 

c) Collaborate and improve: That will be the mantra for internal communicators when it comes to discovering their strengths and learning from recent episodes. 2009 will draw the community closer with collaboration among peers in the industry on best practices. I am already seeing improved interactions with communicators sharing notes on optimizing team structures and policy construction.

 

d) Converting market dynamics for internal communication: Internal communication professionals will be valued as advisors based on their ability to convert market dynamics into potential opportunities for communication. Public relation, marketing and internal communication professionals will join hands even more to deliver consistent messages. For example, some organizations channelized employees’ energies and anger from the recent Mumbai attacks to constructive opportunities to share their talent, funds and viewpoints.

 

e) Quality and efficacy for ROI: Internal communication will no more be about the ‘number of mailers that went out’ or ‘total pages views for the benefits site’ or ‘number of posters printed and pasted on notice boards’. The focus will be on getting employees to adopt, change, manage and overcome resistance while assimilating messages. Regular feedback will help dwell on expectations of communication vs understanding and outtakes. Internal communicators will be expected to innovate more to help employees assimilate messages.

 

Have a viewpoint on potential trends for internal communication in India? Love to hear from you.