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Elevating presence and thinking among internal communicators
13 July, 2012 - 10:01
The Internal Communications 201 Workshop was just held in Bangalore, India where participants from leading organizations engaged in wide ranging discussions to build a shared future for this growing function. Aniisu K. Verghese reports.
By Aniisu K. Verghese
At the workshop – the first of its kind in India - practitioners from companies such as HCL, Philips, Subex and VMware debated the implications for change management and communication and shared ideas to strengthen the role of managers in driving engagement and strategies to elevate presence and educate leaders on internal communications.
The event covered current trends shaping the business landscape and function and how theory and practice can be blended to influence change. Also debated: the role of managers and leaders in improving staff’s experience and the future of internal communication. The group also discussed various elements that can go into creating a measurement dashboard.
The dialogue on best practices encouraged participants to revisit how they handled cases at their organization and what would make a difference to their careers. It became evident that everyone faced similar challenges at their workplace in getting internal communications on their leaders’ radar and to drive change within their firms. However, the group also realized that to change the game they need focus, resilience and drive to be seen as experts at internal communications.
Internal communications in India
As a function in India, internal communications has received lukewarm support from organizations. There is limited understanding of what internal communications stands for and can do for an organization and practitioners haven’t done much to take the message to their leaders. According to the 2011 India Internal Communications Survey only a third of India-based communicators accepted that they had leaders’ buy-in for internal communications and less than half were confident of pitching a business case for internal communications. When I probed further I wasn’t surprised to know that many didn’t have a recurring meeting or regular face time with leaders.
Participants at the Bangalore workshop were keen to gauge where they stood in relation to their team’s internal communications maturity and I shared a guide that helped determine if a team ranked at a ‘basic’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘advanced’ stage by assessing how organized the team was. We also looked at their leadership’s interest and commitment, measurement metrics and the team’s influence within the organization.
Our discussions moved to helping staff cope with change and how internal communicators needed to be sensitive to the ‘change curve’. Global reports such as the 2011-2012 Change and Communications ROI Study indicate that internal communicators aren’t involved early in the change management process. While face-to-face communication is preferred as the best medium to deliver change messages, trends indicate that social media as a channel continues to grow among organizations. India-based communicators were most often called in to support organizational changes such as values and mission communication and leadership transitions. Policy updates and implementing systemic changes were also top themes for internal communicators.
Among the many obstacles of change for participants are lack of planning, leadership inertia and inability to decode cultural nuances. However everyone agreed that line managers are crucial to the success of change communications since staff believe messages they communicate and also look to them for information.
The group discussed a case study where an organization needed to move locations due to the economic slowdown and in the process, had to lay off staff. The conversations were centered on conveying transparent and positive messages about what it means for the organization and employees, how the organization expected to move forward and stay focused on giving those leaving - as well as those staying - respect and support.
Understanding workplace changes
This made up the next part of the workshop and focused on ways to enable managers to become effective communicators. For supporting managers to elevate their thinking, internal communicators need to get a better sense of how and on what tasks managers spent their time in organizations. According to research studies there are 10 key roles performed by managers and learning more about how supervisors in each organization can give insight into what can be done better to accelerate their communication skills.
In ‘Managers who make a Difference’ by T. V. Rao (Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad Business Books, Random House India, 2010), the author reflects on internal characteristics that make effective managers and communication as a core skill that needs to be demonstrated. Internal communicators however were mostly executing tasks in which they had limited time learning about – namely business strategy or how to create impactful communication. Content writing, cranking out presentations, managing supervisors’ expectations and relentless follow-ups took up a great deal of their time!
Internal communicators need to reflect on the obstacles preventing managers and themselves from doing what is expected of them – be it managing information overload, overcoming conflicts at the workplace, understanding what staff want, recognizing employees often or learning more about why staff stay.
More critical is the lack of perspective, understanding and training for managers to articulate the employee value proposition effectively. Internal communicators have a role to play in helping managers make sense of content they receive and then articulating it in ways their teams understand and act upon. There is a case for manager coaching and it means organizations have to invest more time to get better value from communication.
Managers need to first understand messages, have a point of view, make sense of how the organization defines a message and learn from peers and leaders about ways to communicate effectively by practice and coaching.
One of the biggest challenges most internal communicators face is getting a seat at the table, as I witnessed at the workshop. The issues of getting buy-in, helping leaders see value in internal communications and demonstrating the impact of the function were important reasons for internal communicators to invest effort to build presence. Most internal communicators weren’t aware of skills and expectations needed in their role. By understanding the organization’s position, their stakeholders’ pain points and their own team’s goals, internal communicators can make progress in improving not just their presence but also showcase the value of the function. I shared the Learn – Develop – Apply – Share (LDAS) model for internal communicators to gain respect and elevate their presence.
At entry level, internal communicators can assimilate knowledge, invest in core skills, learn basic measurement methods and apply their learning in process development and execution. They can also seek out experienced professionals to shadow or be mentored. As they move up in their careers communication planning, change and stakeholder management will become very relevant in making stakeholders successful. At this level they need to network and learn more from best practices and contribute to the growing body of research work. At senior level, internal communicators are expected to be change catalysts for culture, engagement, organizational design, citizenship and benchmarking.
Gaining the support of leaders has been cited as a challenge by internal communicators. A 2011 Institute of Internal Communications survey found that leaders were a block in getting internal communications done. In India, internal communicators have limited understanding of what leaders grapple with. In the 2011 India Internal Communications Survey, most indicated gaining consensus, managing attrition, articulating messages, engaging staff and communicating tough messages were issues plaguing leaders. The internal communicator needs to proactively propose a plan for action, help leaders to make sense of their environment and be consistent in their communications. The internal communicator’s ability to ask relevant questions will ensure a fruitful partnership with the executive. It also helps to understand the leader’s style, the perception of internal communications and get a concrete commitment on time.
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.
About Aniisu K. Verghese
Aniisu recently conducted an internal communications workshop – Internal Communications 201 in Bangalore, India. This is the 2nd in the series of internal communications engagements for practitioners in the industry and is India’s first and only such forum for sharing knowledge, learning and practice.
It follows the October 2011 Internal Communications 101 workshop which covered topics such as integrated internal communication planning, selecting channels, messaging, crisis communications, storytelling and measurement.
You can follow Aniisu on his blog. His forthcoming book on internal communications - "Internal Communications - Insights, Practices and Models" - is due out in September.
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