Guest Article: Internal becomes external

Organisations today realise that communicating with employees should not be looked upon as a one-way information dump. Capturing feedback is of critical importance, and if an organisation is not seen to be “listening and acting” on what it is being told then, why should employees be sharing it, asks Rachana Panda, Alstom Projects India Ltd.

e4m by Rachana Panda
Updated: Aug 3, 2011 9:22 AM
Guest Article:  Internal becomes external

At a time when the world economy seems to be slouching towards another Lehman moment, India Inc. seems to have put forward a strong resilience and a buoyant spirit. Notwithstanding the dampening global economic reports, Indian companies have embarked on a hiring spree. Overall, the hiring mood has been positive and showed an upward trend across all sectors. According, to recent news reports the country’s second largest IT bellwether plans to increase its headcount by a whopping 45,000 during this fiscal. All this goes on to prove that the country today is witnessing a tremendous spurt in the recruitment drive.

However, recruitment is an expensive business. It takes time, money and effort to find the right people to join your team. Therefore, what a pity it would be to jeopardize this by forgetting the importance of communicating with new as well as existing employees on a regular basis.

As a communication professional, I, therefore, feel that communication should be embedded in all aspects of employee engagement. However, the advent of rapid and sophisticated new media, the long-held pattern of messages flowing one-way from senior management to the workforce has changed dramatically. Interestingly, the internal audience of an organization is no longer just limited to the internal world. Each of the employees is an ambassador to the outside world and is too important to be ignored and in a way they have become the external audience. (Now I hope you understand how I got the title of this article.)

Internal Communication
It has always made very good sense for an organisation to keep its employees informed about major events, initiatives and issues that will impact on their work. Theoretically, an informed workforce is an empowered workforce, able to go about its business with minimal fuss. However, for all those who take on the challenge of managing employee communication within organisations, the task has never been tougher. Organisations today take an enlightened approach while communicating with their employees.

In fact, a good internal communications programme not only affects organisational and operational success, but also has a considerable impact on external functions such as marketing/ sales, community and government relations and investor relations. Who could be more credible in telling an organisation’s story than its employees? If employees are misinformed, what message does that send to potential customers, investors, future employees and regulators with whom employees speak? It is, therefore, imperative to engage effectively with the internal audiences to create successful brand ambassadors and optimistic work environment which would then help in defining the final outcome and would further lead to creation of a positive word of mouth about the organisation.

But, how should an organisation establish a good internal communications program in this age of social media?

Communication in the age of Social Media
Usually it is seen that, internal communications can take many forms, via an intranet, emails, newsletters or message boards. But when it comes to important issues, it is always good to have a two-way, preferably face-to-face and town halls for keeping everyone up to date with what's going on in each department.

However, with the onslaught of technology, the complexity of the internal communicator’s role has moved up many gears. What was a simple choice of channels a few years ago involving e-mail, newsletters, town halls, in-person meetings and the like, has exploded into a smorgasbord of wikis, blogs, podcasts, tweets and social media profiles, to name a few.

It is vital that organisations come to terms with the available technology and decide how it best fits their business. Also, organisations should not lose sight of the principles of communication - ensuring messages are clear and sincere.

Social media: Boon or bane
As more and more companies are realising the value of engaging their employees online, social media is quickly becoming a preferred way of increasing knowledge sharing, encouraging teamwork and collaboration and adding value to the employee experience. To this effect, many organisations are using social media tools to enable their staff and stakeholders to converse, collaborate and connect. Managed well, they have the potential to solve some workplace ills when it comes to communication. Dealt with poorly, they might just aggravate them.

Using social media as part of your internal communications plan has a number of benefits. For one, companies are able to have real-time, authentic conversations with employees. Plus the very nature of social media means that anyone can participate in discussions, allowing communication to flow from the top down, bottom up, and even from side to side. If you are part of a global company it also means you can connect with people all over the world on a more involved level than just email and phone, thanks to the picture, profile and forum features available on social networking tools.

Social media helps employees feel included and connected. It’s also a good platform for helping individuals see how they fit into the big picture. Social media is also the perfect soil for cultivating brand ambassadors, and CEO Blogs signal to employees that leadership sees them as important in the communication chain. Social media helps employers achieve “preferred-employer” status. It is also critical for recruiting future talent as Gen Y joins the workforce. Because this age group networks better than any other group, they will recruit for an organization if the work culture appeals to them.

But, although, social media has taken our personal lives by storm, in the workplace, it’s often met with raised eyebrows, a little excitement, and a lot of caution.

What if negative content finds its way into the external environment? How will the organization keep a tab on user generated content? What if negative comments about the top management appear on the corporate blog?

The answers to those questions keep many organisations’ social media endeavors from ever getting off the ground.

Balancing the old and new
At the same time, the basics of internal communication have not altered. Some experts warn of the danger of focusing too much on the tools, and ignoring the traditional ones. Some of the traditional forms of communication still hold their own, depending on the type of message to be sent. Printed material such as newsletters and company magazines will never go out of fashion. They are still important as employees take home newsletters to their families. While online information can be quicker and more interactive, quality publications still have a value in internal communications. Also even today, the most effective of the lot is personal interaction like face-to-face meetings and small group interactions.

However, even without taking the plunge into newer forms of social media, combining new and old tools can be an easy and effective way of generating interest amongst employees. It can be as simple as adding supplementary content to a newsletter story by referring employees to the intranet. For example, a story about an employee doing something out of the ordinary can point employees to the portal, where they can view a video of the person in action. The story can take on a new dimension and attract added interest.

Whatever channels an organisation decides to use, it should be careful that there must be a fit between what it is telling to its people and what it is telling to its customers, shareholders and public. By the same token, there must be a fit between what the organisation is telling to its people, and what the external media are telling them.

Also, most importantly, organisations today realise that communicating with employees should not be looked upon as a one-way information dump. Capturing feedback is of critical importance, and if an organisation is not seen to be “listening and acting” on what it is being told then, why should employees be sharing it?

The other aspect that should not be ignored by organisations while communicating with its internal audiences is the: “what’s-in-it-for-me” factor. This means that any managers in the organization are able to translate the business strategy to understand what it means for their part of the organization, their team and themselves personally, so that they know what they need to do to deliver it.

Furthermore, it is of immense importance that an organisation’s internal communication strategy should emerge from, and be guided by, the organisation’s overall strategic plan. This is because strategic internal communication is simply a step towards helping an organisation achieve its aims more effectively.

Also, despite arguments to the contrary, transparency is the way forward. Proactive interaction with publics is vital for growth, reputation and trust. In an ever more competitive and challenging world, optimal internal communications should have a priority within any organisation as it is increasingly becoming necessary to be open about the next move in an organisation.

(Rachana Panda, Director, Country Communications, Alstom Projects India Ltd.)


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