speech

These are definitely tough times and while the rest of the media is going ga-ga over everything downturn – layoffs, salary cuts, forced vacation, sabbaticals, bonus/ hiring freeze and what not – very few people seem to be talking about internal/ employee communications. One of them who is talking, is Aniisu, one of the very few employee communication enthusiasts I know. His latest blog post has a few ideas on what a company should do and how it should plan before communicating tough news/ messages to its own employees.

Its utterly baffling to see Indian IT stalwarts treating employee communications so callously. As a former corporate communications professional, I have seen employee communication tagged along with either HR or corporate communication itself. Techies do not care for messages/ emails from HR, most of the times and many of them even have filters in their mails to dump them straight into the trash. One of the first things I did was to customize the subject line of every mail that the HR intends to send. The idea was to create subject lines that induce a techie to open a mail. The content has to be interestingly worded too, of course.

In tough times, companies need to be far more participative then ever – this is the time for each group (employees and management) to lean on one another and go out of their way to show solidarity towards a cause or an objective. All this talk of increasing work hours could easily be done after consulting employees – I’m sure every company cries out aloud that it is optional or not true at all, to avoid negative media coverage. But, if you take the employee into confidence, I’m sure they’d gladly see the justification and work towards helping the organization.

I shudder to think about the plight of Satyam’s employees right now – the Maytas fiasco and the World Bank ban (what’s with the 8 years, by the way? There’s a phrase ‘Ashtamathu Sani’ in Tamil, that refers to something terrible and is associated with Saturn and number 8 in one’s horoscope…Is Satyam going through one of these phases?) – I’m sure they’re one heck of a worried lot. Besides all the endless hammering the company is getting in the print media, is Satyam doing anything to assuage and communicate with its employees? If so, what are the messages and how are they being delivered?

A CEO sending a email to all employees is NOT employee communication. Its mere hierarchical, top-down communication and is oh-so-factory’ish. Educated, techie crowd deserve to be treated with more respect and inclusion. They are sensible enough to see sense in frank and open talk – if you faff, they will ditch you anyway. As always, it all boils down to ‘conversation’, my pet topic in social media. Such conversation with large employee groups obviously needs to be multi-modal and multi-layered. Employees trust their immediate bosses more than the upper most set of leaders and the reverse is true too – people leave their managers, not companies.

So, it would be prudent for a CEO to take his management team into confidence and craft a crisp, unified messaging document to handle tough news. Honesty is the best policy, however cringe-worthy it may sound. And let the messages cascade down the organization through various modes – townhall meetings, intranet message boards, creatively designed posters et all. Every one of these mode MUST have a response mechanism that is easy to use and is extraordinarily open. In townhall meetings, employees should be encouraged to speak back and ask questions. Message boards should allow comments and the management must make sure that they address the most relevant and sensible comments. Posters could sure do with a blank white poster next to it for comments – anonymous or otherwise. Are you paranoid about utter crap written about the company and its message? Let it flow, its part of the conversation and should not be discouraged. It’ll stop on its own once a larger set of employees understand the sincerity and seriousness of the message.

Digressing a bit, PR-wise, what Satyam perhaps needs now is to be completely honest, own up the mess and talk about its ambition to turn the whole thing around by hiring a credible senior member to revamp its corporate governance policy. And, set a publicly-announced target to win an award for best corporate governance in say, 2011. People may scoff at such audacity, but this is daring enough to let people give Satyam a second chance. And yes, Raju and his team need to listen carefully to what their PR firm (ipan) is telling them now. More than ever.

Picture courtesy: David Foster Nass via Flickr

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