To my mind, Communication is not a process or a system; It is not a mere tool to achieve change management, the hot buzz word; It is not just another entry marked 2 (i) into the Best Practices Manuals; It is not a channel where oratory or writing skills are to be experimented with; It is none of that. ‘To communicate’ is a critical life skill. ‘To communicate’ is a critical competence in personal and professional life .
When juxtaposed to a company, it becomes a Corporate Value / a Competence. The way a company listens or talks to its employees or in other words communicates makes it Internal Communications. It cannot be viewed as a line function. It cannot be handed out for administration to any one department as it is quite possible that the department head or individuals manning the department attach no value, personal or professional, to communications! Ignoring this and doing so would be a mistake. If such a mistake is committed, then this department will take Internal Communications as a task; break it up into further sub-tasks to be periodically tick marked as done.
For instance : Newsletters - 3 Printed, Intranet - updated five times a day, five days a week, for fifty weeks in 06-07 ; Posters - 20 made on 5 employee engagement topics and reached to 40 branches ; Annual Picnics arranged ; etcetera. This, they will do, because every job is translated into a KRA (key result area) and a KRA ought to be SMART (M stands for Measurable) and therefore quantifiable work needs to be shown.
Instead, the corporate strategy should be to believe and practice Communications as a value and aspire to build capacity at all managerial levels in this competency. To achieve this, a trained CEO can drive it as a business competence in his senior management, from where it needs to be force cascaded down to middle management, a total of about 100 or maybe 400 executives, who in turn can be given corrective training, if required, to enable them to pass it on to junior management, a total of 1000 which will then make the connect with the teeming employee base of 10,000 or more. While this is being done, a company must watch out for delinquents who refuse to learn and can often be found hiding in senior management ranks, factory shop floors or corporate office cadres.
Two reality check routes can be employed to assess communication health of a company. For both, an initial stock-taking is required. Route number1: Ask two questions a) how do I talk to my people? b) How do I listen to my people? Then list out the existing tools to do both of these. If there are no existing tools then the Communication job is clearly cut out in creating these, and if there are some available then the result of their to-date effectiveness is in the attrition rates, employee happiness levels and company culture. Based on these parameters, new ones can be created and old ones adapted to a new style for more effectiveness and these run by people trained in driving Communications as a corporate value.
Route number 2 : Ask another set of two questions a) what is it that is doing the worst damage to my company culture; b) what is it that will automatically do the worst damage to my company culture. Some answers will relate to the communication lapses and these can be mapped into the future tools to be used in the belief that Communications is a competence that will help overcome either of these or both.
Charlie Munger, a close associate of Warren Buffett in a recent speech told law students of USC “the safest way to get what you want is to deserve what you want”. I find it relevant to mention here. If a corporate wants effective communication, it has to be ‘SEEN’ as deserving. This translates into many different things - the top management and head of departments have to be seen as worthy of being communicated with ; all communication lapses by individuals in team lead positions should get a swift and sharp rap on the wrist ; the communicators job should be seen as deserving of management backing and full support.
To put it in a nutshell, employees must show a competency that irrespective of their positions in the hierarchy, they talk and listen well. All delinquents should be put in training. That is too difficult a task, says a friend, the managing director of a private enterprise. Ask the elephant who was brought down by an ant! It took one bad chicken to spread SARS. Companies have to admit that it takes one bad manager to destroy a team's morale. "What, I personally found very apt in your column was the need to monitor the leading abilities of the head of department (HOD). The leadership of a team in a manner that is "long term" beneficial to the company is a major part of HOD’s responsibility. Its just not enough to get new business and strike good deals, " a colleague from Mumbai wrote in her feedback.
When communications is driven down as a value, then, when there is a corporate vision message sent down, the employee ranks or bad news about low increments, the ground is already fertile enough to soak it in. Despite competition there will be less attrition. If as a company, you are not yet a target of no holds barred poaching, then either you soon will be or you have deadwood whom nobody else wants. Before my friends in top managements fly off the handle at this statement, take a moment to reflect why a Human resource is against job hopping - salary, job satisfaction and career progression avenues, job location, comfort level with the immediate boss, or lack of adequate qualifications/ experience for the next level.
These reasons are my understanding, I may have missed many, you may have yours and some others may be staying in their companies for totally different reasons. But, what remains true is that there is no single factor that contributes to the employee staying back and therefore every company needs to rally their people around their brand. “A well planned lesson on internal branding & employee engagement is a must for all HR people who juggle the carriers of so many people across, not realizing compensation is just a part of one's happiness package.” says a colleague in Delhi. Another one from Mumbai points out in her feedback, "since HR has now become more of a development activity, it must work actively to become the official 'grapevine. "
Both are right. In a company where communications capacity is being built steadily, the grapevine is actually helpful despite its negative connotations. For instance, you will agree that from a job, one wants professional and financial fulfillment with some personal time thrown in. There is a wish list one has but it is not what the employer can or should provide since running a company is not a non-profit initiative!
But, for a corporate to know that wish list is important! That way, efforts can be targeted towards persuasive communication appealing to interest not to reason. This always works! One of my friends was sent by his employer to see the World Cup semis and finals to Barbados. For days he behaved like my diabetic granny did when given the prohibited sweetmeat. I felt like shaking the hand of his immediate boss/ HR for thinking it up. What do you think? Will he resign for a few lacks more? I don’t think so, not at least in 2007.
Once Communications is a corporate value/competence, internal Communications function can be broken down into tasks. The vibrancy of the corporate commitment to this value will reach the employee base in not only what they read in known communication tools (newsletters, Intranet, posters, pod casting, videoconferencing, etcetra) but also what they see and feel during intra-personal interactions (one on ones, team / HOD / off site meetings, CEO get togethers, away days, etcetra)
Once capacity has been built within the organization, then valuing employee / colleague / team-mates inputs will be a shared responsibility! The evidence of success of this strategy will be visible on the very first day a new recruit joins the company and in each interaction he has with the Brand and its people. Therefore, finding the barriers and enablers to communications within your management ranks makes sense. Driving internal communications as a business value makes sense. Concentrating on uprooting what is not working no matter how traditionally embedded it is makes sense. Giving valuable management time to think through what will work best makes sense.
Now that universe of Internal Communications makes sense - Go ahead and give it a high heading - Best Practices, put it in HR Manuals and hand it over to one Department to administer. At least, you will be sure you started at the best place to start - the beginning, Nurturing Communication as a corporate value / competency.
By Renu Kakkar