Sunday, 2 March 2014

Internal Comms in India, meeting author Aniisu Verghese

Aniisu K. Verghese is an author, and friend of simply-communicate who lives in India. He writes extensively on the state of internal communications in his country. This week, for the very first time he came to visit our London office. It was a pleasure to sit with him, listen to him and talk about what I usually read throughout his work.

The meeting left me with a very positive feeling; afterward I could not help but re-reading all of the contributions he has made to our publication since 2006. In this global and networked economy, an understanding and appreciation of internal communications in different countries such as India is a prerequisite for organisations to grow. Aniisu makes this very clear through his writing.

With these Marginalia on Engagement I would like to recall some of his articles available on simply-communicate. These are extracts on employee engagement, social media in the workplace, corporate social responsibility, international and leadership communications. I hope you will enjoy them, and encourage you to explore the author's work even further.

The challenge is to work towards a ‘one’ global company.

Articulate the future clearly. There is always a sense of uneasiness when it comes to working with multi-nationals based on earlier experiences the country has faced. The ‘hire and fire’ methods employed by firms have been resented in a country where government-run units ensured security with pensions and union engagement. Questions are asked about the future in terms of the organization’s commitment and business stability. Companies need to articulate a vision and culture to keep the workforce motivated and energized. Be transparent and honest in your communication. There is no greater loss than an organization caught for hiding information from its own employees.”

The sea-change in internal communications is quite evident. From a command-control and formal – directive mechanism, it is today about inclusion and two-way transmission of meaning. There is greater emphasis on engagement and conversation. The options available for communicators have exponentially expanded. 

Each employee has unique talents and expertise and you can help harness it for the organization. By connecting experts and channeling a discussion, the time for information access is reduced dramatically. They say we are separated from each other by six degrees of separation. Make those six degrees closer than your employees can think.”

If you build it, they will come’. Not so with social media adoption in India. You may have the best infrastructure and invite your employees to participate but if the culture within isn’t open to criticism and feedback, you are going to run into issues. On the other hand if you have a robust social media system in place but your IT policies block freedom of expression and access to websites then you will end up with disengaged employees. 

If leaders don’t see value in social media or label it a ‘productivity buster’, employees understandably will stay away. Without a clear understanding of the medium, companies will continue to baulk at the idea of setting up discussion forums or allowing comments on blogs defeating the purpose of social media!”

Half of India’s population is below the age of 25 and the nation has the world’s youngest workforce. India, with the lowest median ages across major economies, will be the largest contributor to the world's workforce —136 million people —over the next 10 years.
The message is clear. To understand how social media can be adopted better, we need to revisit how communication is created and received by this important group.

Social media adoption is exploding in India and the scale and diversity offer challenges as well as unique opportunities. To be able to adopt social media in internal communications, organizations need to appreciate and understand the influences of sports, entertainment, culture and community.”

The internal communicator in the future can be more relevant to organizations by gaining context about culture and how it impacts communications, by acting as a bridge between staff and leaders, by becoming an expert in human behavior and psychology, as well as understanding organization design, tapping the potential of staff, and leveraging social media for knowledge sharing and internal branding.”

Conducted once every two years, Sapient’s Silent Auction is a community fundraiser program that aims to bring together approximately 7000 employees in a fun and engaging way. At the event, people offer services or products at a price which is ‘silently’ bid by others in the organization. Services can range from ‘table tennis coaching for an individual for one month’ to ‘conducting a fun event for a team of 20’. The highest bidder wins the service or product.

A Loud Auction run by senior leaders follows this program where the company bids for the most creative services or products. The funds collected from the winning bids are donated to charities Sapient engages with, including services that support education, underprivileged children, and those that build capacity and infrastructure in the communities Sapient serves.”

Internal communicators can play a leading role in ensuring leadership transitions are communicated well and that employees get to know the story direct and upfront.

In India, the tenure of CEOs and MDs has come down to 1-3 years. Their role is often examined closely and every action scanned. Apart from employees and the board they also need to gain the confidence of analysts, stock markets and the sales teams. Those organizations expanding globally also need to consider keeping leadership transitions smooth to avoid unnecessary media attention. Communicating in a timely and suitable manner can allow stakeholders to focus on the way forward.”

Recognize cultural barriers that may hinder the flow of information. A good point to start learning: Hofstede’s theories on culture.

Travel to the new offices, understand the framework in which they operate and how the connect with one another and the organization. Take the time to make this happen – the networks you build will be invaluable.

Watch your language: while English is the de facto language of business, words, phrases and humor don’t always convey the same meaning in different countries. If it helps, you may want to create a simple guide for different business units. Remember to set guidelines for content, including social media.

Meet with your network regularly to discuss issues around communications, engagement and collaboration. Encourage the sharing of ideas and best practices.
Create an incentive to share ideas from different regions.”

The opportunities to demonstrate leadership skills beyond work, the ability to interact with multiple stakeholders and the power of making a tangible difference to society are some of the ways in which organizations position CSR initiatives at work.

While organizations strive in India to make their CSR programming more inclusive, realistic and aligns with business goals they also can do a lot more to articulate their purpose better, engage employees through communications and report progress and impact more. I believe the opportunities to do greater good exists. Organizations need to be more mindful of their investments, be transparent, build platforms for employees and stakeholders to engage more and conduct sustainable campaigns that deliver long term results.”

For engineering students and college graduates in India joining a recognized organisation is important for their career aspirations and identity. The culture of the organisation comes a close second in their criteria of a great place to work. With numerous organisations seeking to hire from among the talented pool of professionals it can become a challenge to get a preferred slot on campus and then get the attention a brand needs.”