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How effective communication can take companies to great heights

November 23, 2015 15:41 IST

Social media usage is now ubiquitous outside and inside companies. These platforms offer a new channel to communicate and interact with stakeholders, say experts

Company A had a problem. Some manufacturing defects were detected after a few batches of a new product line were released in the market.

There was a storm on social media and incessant queries from distributors. A complete recall of the product was in order.

But how does the management go through the process without hurting the morale of the product development and marketing teams?

There were already a lot of questions in people's minds: How will the rollback impact the company's bottom line?

Can the company come out of the crisis without tarnishing its image in the market and without ceding share to competition?

Most importantly, will heads roll?

When the human resources team learnt about the shimmering tension, it identified a crucial first step in the damage control process: communicating with the in-house teams on the plan, explain to them the repercussions of an exercise of that scale and lay out before them the company's comeback strategy.

In an era when volatility is the name of the game, when organisations work with a diverse and geographically dispersed workforce, the role of internal communication cannot be overestimated.

The emergence of multiple communication tools and the growing popularity of social media have further amplified the need for organisations to have an effective internal communication strategy in place to keep employees well informed and engaged.

Says Jeremy Hunter, president, Henkel Group India, "Strong internal communication systems can make a company more powerful and a brand influential, as it helps people connect and collaborate, thereby improving productivity and performance." For Henkel, empowering employees to deliver on strategy and business targets is a key focus area of its internal communication system.

The company uses various platforms and tools to communicate with its people. Apart from the quarterly town-hall meetings, an employee newsletter called Henkel Life and the Henkel portal (intranet) have emerged as key tools to facilitate the process.

Recently, the company launched Yammer, an enterprise social networking platform, which enables employees to connect with colleagues, experts around the world and exchange knowledge and experiences. Evidently, technology-enabled communication tools are not the exclusive preserve of new age corporations.

Jindal Steel and Power (JSPL), for instance, uses Gyan Dhrishti, an internal e-learning platform that not only sensitises employees on company policies, the code of conduct and best practices but also encourages learning across domains.

Apart from Gyan Dhrishti, JSPL facilitates top-down as well as bottom-up communication through structured collaterals like WeTalk, a fortnightly e-newsletter, Connect, a quarterly news magazine available electronically and in print, and SAMPARK, a quarterly Hindi magazine.

Says Rajeev Bhadauria, director, HR, JSPL, "The objective of all our internal communication interventions is creating a long-term value proposition for our people by empowering them with information, news, domain knowledge and skill development. In a way we are enabling our employees to overcome challenges and be future-ready." Some organisations use internal communication tools to introduce new concepts and platforms and to provide employees some opportunities to showcase their abilities.

Media company Viacom18 which has a range of channels in its stable, for instance, has initiated an open innovation campaign internally, cutting across business units.

Its crowdsourcing experiment, under The Big Belly, encourages employees to come up with a show concept that can be replicated by at least two brands in the Viacom18 stable.

Participants are awarded for collaborating, giving the maximum number of ideas and for sending in their entries early.

Sonia Huria, head of corporate communications at Viacom18, says, "We are home to many and diverse brands. Personalising employee communication and fostering the belief of 'one community' through it, therefore, is important. Viacom18's collaborative idea factory, The Big Belly, is the primary agent of internal communication." Huria says, if used effectively, internal communication can play a critical role in conveying a company's culture and values, which, in turn, help in aligning individuals with the organisation's goals, enhancing productivity.

If done in an inclusive manner, this has a direct impact on a company's bottom line. While the broader goal of internal communication-such as connecting management and employees, promoting collaboration and internal transparency- are common across organisations, some companies are using internal communication to address specific pain points.

For example, Ford India deploys a number of communication tools to engage with its people.

"On the shop-floor, communication is the most challenging thing, and hence we use visual tools, bulletins, exclusive newsletters to ensure that messages on safety and quality are always at the back of people's mind. Our internal newsletter. @Ford. is translated in local languages for the shop-floor employees.

@Ford works as a great tool and helps employees celebrate successes within the organisation and outside.

On the dealership side, we leverage the presence of a closed group on social media to inform and stay connected," explains Kapil Sharma, head of communications, Ford India.

Sharma points out that recent advances in technology, offering tools such as virtual town-halls and video messages, have truly beefed up internal communication platforms of corporations and given employees an opportunity to interact not only with their peers in India but with the global leadership as well.

Another company that is constantly working on sharpening its internal communication strategy is Snapdeal. Rajnish Wahi, senior vice-president, corporate affairs and communications, Snapdeal, says, "The company operates an all-purpose helpline called Just Ask that is designed to answer queries related to work and personal issues that employees may face. Many of the young employees at Snapdeal live away from their home and family. This helpline provides them ready access to counsel and guidance."

Further, with a large number of young people on its rolls, Snapdeal uses posters, graffiti and small handouts to reach out to employees

The online marketplace has recently launched its HR portal UNIFY to send out campaign messages to targeted groups.

For its part, Panasonic India has identified social media platforms as the primary tool for internal communication.

Adarsh Mishra, head, human resources and general affairs, Panasonic India, says, "Social media usage is now ubiquitous outside and inside companies. These platforms offer a new channel to communicate and interact with stakeholders."

The company uses an internal digital platform for collaboration that includes microblogging, social networking, file sharing and so on. Irrespective of the type of industry and the size of an organisation, the pillars of an effective internal communication strategy are establishing a dialogue and involving employees across locations in a two-way communication (top-down and bottom-up). One should keep in mind a few dos and don'ts while using internal communication systems.

Shailesh Singh, ·director and chief people officer, Max Life Insurance, says, "While communication needs to be regular and interactive, it should not be too many and over-promising."

There should be a healthy spacing out of messages and a limit to the multiplicity of messages. Also simplicity of the message sent out is important.

" It is an absolute must that all internal communication is interactive and collaborative, reiterating to the employees the fact that the organisation has a listening culture."

Most importantly, says Singh, "A key ingredient for internal communication in future would be having the flexibility to choose what one wants to consume, rather than communication being forced on employees."

EXPERT TAKE:

Satya D Sinha CEO, MANCER Consulting

Fostering innovation through internal communication Satya D Sinha Corporations are made up of multiple and interconnected internal organisational structures.

As staff and employees from different backgrounds are involved in these processes, they need to maintain coherence among its internal divisions. To attain organisational success it must be ensured that the members work in tandem towards a common business goal. Internal communication plays a pivotal role in maintaining this integrity among the diverse processes in a company.

Internal communication is not about just announcements; rather it is an open and ongoing process of collaboration.

Internal communication helps in employee review, to tap into their feedback and recommendations.

The success of internal communication depends on its utilisation. These channels should not be mistaken as spam or unofficial networks.

Many employees just dump irrelevant mails or messages in the network. Such disdain can undermine the whole effort. Sometimes the reverse is also true.

Employees hold back important information and updates from being circulated in the network turning the platform into an insignificant tool. For effective utilisation of internal communication every department should understand the functioning of other departments. Designating a point of contact for every department makes these channels more effective.

 

Image: Airline tycoon Richard Branson throws a globe in the air. Photograph: Kieran Doherty/Reuters

Sangeeta Tanwar
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