Is internal communications still the poor cousin of external communications?

Even as the world moves to the next level of communications with increasing automation and AI; internal communications has not moved as quickly in recognition of its role in keeping a company human in the age  of online connections.

Gaurav Singh, who leads corporate communications for an iconic automotive firm outlines this very bluntly, “Internal communications is the poor cousin of external communications and the step sister of HR. The internal communications function in a company is almost like that child in the family, who does everything right as told — gets just about the good scores, finds a decent job, gets married at the right time, has two perfect kids, never parties or comes home late, never fights with anyone anywhere, is extremely responsible. Yet, in spite of doing all the right things, every time there is a party at home it is always found sitting in one corner of the house, somehow no one seems to remember or care if it’s around or not!”

Internal communications still a relatively new function in India

Senior communications consultant Radha Radhakrishnan, has an explanation for this. She feels, in India, internal communications only really started off when the services sector, mainly IT opened up in the 1990s.

Explaining this further, Radhakrishnan says, “In India, particularly the technology sector, which depends on quality talent has used internal communications well to build their brand and build the perception among employees that they are working for the best company- from poster based communication to emails to creating an intranet that goes beyond employee self-service tools and software, IT companies have really used internal communications well.”

According to Neha Bahri, PR consultant, a decade ago, the advent of social media again brought the focus of firms back to internal communications as employees began to have avenues to express their views instantly and publicly.

Unlocking internal communications

Melissa Serrao, specialist, PR & Communications – Otis India admits that, she only understood the full power of internal communications after advancing further in her current role.

Serrao says that, “The tool is a great way to communicate with all employees simultaneously and consistently. It cuts across formal reporting structures and communicates with all employees uniformly. The scope and potential is immense. Internal communications is becoming even more important than ever before, at a day and age where employees are exposed to a multitude of external media. In such a scenario, it is best that companies speak directly with employees — it retains positive control over the message.”

Serrao adds that, “Internal communication can be used to cut water cooler and grapevine chatter. It can help allay employ fears of change and speak to them of benefits to come. A well-structured and executed internal communication plan can be an effective tool in change management.”

Sushmita Bandopadhyay, communications leader with medical equipment major, BD-India agrees saying, “Internal communications can create stories and micro moments of goodwill that can go a long way in attracting and retaining talent.”

“I see many communications specialists being engaged with HR and CEO’s offices to drive this function that once was considered to be a notice board job! “ BD India’s Sushmita Bandopadhyay

 Sonia Huria Head-Communications & CSR, Viacom18 points out that, “ Employee engagement is directly co-related with retention and therefore, internal communications is pivotal for both talent acquisition and retention. While most organisations understand this, archaic workplace policies, at times, hinder the communications policies.”

The problem with internal communications says V.V Sundar, senior communications professional is one of structure. Sundar explains that,, “ Structurally, it is a mistake to arbitrarily keep internal communications as a stand-alone function. It weakens its case. Unfortunately, internal and external teams spin in their own orbit and live in parallel universes. To achieve the goals — branding, internal, external, PR should be accorded similar weightage. The trend to cut these functions vertically robs the organization from reaping the benefits of these inter-disciplinary synergies.”

Rajiv Sarkar,  deputy GM, marketing and head of group communications for India’s largest steering wheel manufacturer, JTEKT India Limited - formerly, Sona Koyo Steering Systems comments that inspite of the structural challenges, the focus on internal communications is growing, “While external communications certainly has taken up the lion’s share of budgets and efforts, the attention now being given to internal communications is growing. Maintaining the favourable reputation of an organisation is no longer restricted to external networks or even social media alone, say, FB@Work per se; It has become a strategic consideration even at the board level while developing corporate strategy for many companies.”

Pratishtha Kaura, consultant with Text 100, concurs on the growing value of internal communications. She says, “In the absence of a thorough internal comms function, employees who can be brand custodians can become the reason of a damage of a brand’s reputation. Last year when four ex-employees of Swiggy had revealed how the company was fooling its customers and partners alike by posting a blog on Tumblr, the company set to become the biggest technology startup of its time was shaken by that crisis situation. Therefore it is important to have a sound internal communications strategy with content at its center.”

Communicating to the millennial employees

Offering another example of how internal communications can look like in the future, Girish Balachandran, founder, On Purpose Consulting says once an organisations gains scale, internal communications should matter more than external communications, “ With scale, the priorities should reverse with internal communications taking a lead over external communications. That’s because the fulfilment of a brand promise relies heavily on an organisation’s ability to live and breathe that promise as a way of being, rather than simply an external offering.”

“As millennials grow in the workforce, organisations will feel the need for deeper and more intense forms of engagement. That’s because this lot has grown up on social media and is used to a constant flow of validation in the form of likes, shares and comments. “ Girish Balachandran, On Purpose Consulting. 

Organisations such as Viacom are well aware of this reality. Huria explains that, “Our brand promise at Viacom18 is to ‘Open New Worlds’. And an organization can’t open new worlds for the external ecosystem without being open with one’s biggest stakeholder, i.e., employees. The average age group of our employees is between 25 to 35, hence we are constantly evolving ways to engage and communicate with this millennial audience.”

Giving an example of how this works at the organisational level, Huria says that, “Breaking barriers of hierarchy, our Group CEO regularly interacts with employees over lunch, through content ideation sessions called ‘Content pe Charcha’ and even trains with them for the Mumbai Marathon through ‘Donate a Mile’. Every important organisation announcement is first communicated internally within the organisation to all employees, avoiding grapevine and building a culture of clarity.”

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