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Communicating through the economic crisis in Spain
13 July, 2012 - 10:02
We caught up with Larisa Tatge, IABC’s emerging chapter co-founder in Spain and independent communications professional, to discuss the current state of internal communications in Spain during these uncertain times.
By Sonsoles Lumbreras
According to Larisa Tatge, the internal communications sector is emerging in Spain thanks to new collaborative tools used to boost employee communications. Internal comms have also become fundamental in reducing uncertainty among employees during the current economic crisis engulfing the country.
SL: In general terms, how would you define the state of internal communications in Spain at the moment?
LT: Internal communications are advancing steadily in Spain, with the rise of new technologies and communication channels. Most of the companies that have taken major strides in internal communications are large, global companies. In small and medium-sized companies (fewer than 250 employees), which make up 78 percent of all employment in Spain, development has been slower. In recent years, however, even smaller companies have started taking advantage of many new tools and platforms to facilitate internal communication and information sharing.
SL: Do you think Internal Communication is considered a fundamental area for companies? If so, why?
LT: Internal communication is critical for boosting productivity, helping employees focus on the same goals and reducing uncertainty. The current economic situation in Spain has put the importance of internal communications into sharp relief. But more on that later.
SL: Do you think organisations in Spain should improve their internal communications policies? Why?
LT: Spanish companies should increase their investment in internal communication for all the reasons mentioned above. The problem now is often a lack of resources. New technologies are driving down the costs of improving internal communication though, so even small companies do it. And since Spaniards – particularly young Spaniards - are avid users of social networking tools and platforms, there is a great opportunity to improve quickly. But organisations and their leaders first have to be informed and convinced of the importance of internal communication initiatives.
SL: What have been some of the major changes and improvements taking place in the internal communications sector in Spain during the last few years?
LT: Spanish companies have embraced new tools such as intranets, blogs, wikis, electronic bulletins, video conferencing and online employee surveys. Some organisations have set up online communities, where members can share information and updates on their latest activities.
SL: What is the IABC in Spain doing to enhance skills and opportunities for internal communicators?
LT: Our IABC chapter is just getting off the ground, but our intention is to put an important focus on this area. Recently, at one of our IABC events, blogger and author Cristina Aced discussed how companies should take advantage of the potential that social media offers on an internal level. Her presentation ignited a lively discussion about the future of social media. We plan to invite more speakers who can address internal communications topics in the future.
SL: Since Spain’s economic crisis has resulted in mass layoffs, do you think the role of internal communications professionals is becoming more important?
LT: In Spain, the level of uncertainty is very high and many companies are cutting back on investments and jobs. Communications departments are working with fewer staff members and resources. In this context, internal communications becomes more important for business success, since it reduces uncertainty and helps employees focus clearly on short-term, as well as long-term, business goals. Since growth in Europe is expected to remain low over the next 4-5 years (1 percent in a best-case scenario), I believe successful companies in Spain will be the ones that are able to leverage internal communication in order to maximize efficiency and give employees a unified sense of purpose in the long run.
At the same time, Spanish organisations are increasingly looking outside the country’s borders to tap into new markets to offset the local downturn. They are hiring more professionals from outside the country with global business expertise needed to meet the companies’ international objectives. In this context, internal communication becomes vital for articulating a firm’s goals clearly, increasing transparency and fostering a sense of belonging among a workforce that is now more diverse.
SL: Do you think we are moving from a hierarchical communications model to a collaborative one? That said, are Spanish organisations moving forward with the establishment of internal social networks for example?
LT: Spanish companies are transitioning slowly from a hierarchical model to a more collaborative one, with numerous communications channels that flow in multiple directions. However, the pace of change is slow since many companies are more focused on the risks they perceive than the benefits. This appears to be a global phenomenon though. Barcelona-based Prof. Evgeny Kaganer of IESE Business School has led some interesting research in this area. He analyzed the social media policies of 40 organisations around the world and found that, although roughly half of the companies surveyed said they had formal social media policies in place, most of these policies were focused on mitigating risks. He argues that in order to be successful, companies should create more mindful and strategic social media policies that will focus on benefits and generate value for employees and customers.
SL: Could you give some examples of Spanish organisations using these internal collaborative tools?
LT: Zara, the Spanish fashion retailer, is well known for its powerful internal communication channels, which help the company’s designers to respond quickly to new trends in consumers’ tastes and preferences. Other companies that stand out for their efforts to create active internal communities are the global bank BBVA and Ficosa, the multinational automotive group. Both of these companies have extensive global reach and recognize the value of strong internal communications.
SL: How do you see the future of Internal Communications? Will there be a boost towards a more collaborative culture within companies?
LT: As we move towards more collaborative forms of communication – Web 2.0 - internal communications will also shift in this direction. Social media has now become an integral part of people’s lives outside the workplace. In the future, companies will have to choose between simply focusing on keeping risks at bay or discovering new ways to tap into its benefits, internally as well as externally.
Sonsoles Lumbreras is a contributing writer to simply-communicate.
(Spain photo courtesy of theaustralian.com.au.)
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