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Guest Interview | Varghese M. Thomas: How Internal Communicators Can Step Up Their Game

How can internal communicators step up their game? What skills are relevant for the future?

In the 6th edition of  Intraskope’s Spotlight on Internal Communication Series Varghese M. Thomas, Vice President & Global Head – Corporate Communication at TVS Motors addresses why internal communication is critical to the success of organizations. Also, what makes the role of internal communication relevant in unifying the business and empowering employees to be their best. Read on to know more!

Varghese M. Thomas, a corporate communications leader who served with organizations such as Cisco, Blackberry and Intel driving innovative marketing and communications strategies that transformed brands knows a fair bit about internal communications.

He believes that internal communicators need to be excellent influencers, great writers, patient listeners, creative thinkers, trusted advisors, and last but not least – excellent project managers.

What does internal communication mean to you?

In simple words, internal communication helps ensure that all employees of the organization are working collaboratively towards a common goal.   In essence, internal communication is not telling people what to do; rather it is an endeavour to create shared understanding and meaning. Only when this happens can an organization develop a cohesive culture and empower employees to make the right decisions in line with organisational goals.

How is it practiced in your organization?

In a manufacturing organization, the need for internal communications has never been more important. To cater to employees from varied background has its challenges and opportunities.  Some of the key initiatives that we have undertaken in our organization are as follows:

  • Total Employee Involvementis an employee empowerment initiative where employees participate by providing suggestions to improve activities across the organization. The best suggestions are recognized and awarded every year. It promotes creativity and constructive thinking amongst employees and encourages employee involvement and participation in planning and implementing their own ideas.
  • Sparshis a large annual carnival where employees are encouraged to participate in cultural and sports events. These events engage all employees across the length and breadth of the organization. A core committee is established across departments to ensure wide participation.
  • Town Halls:At the beginning of every month, the CEO addresses the entire company which is streamed live across all offices in the country. This helps every employee align their goals with the organization and know where the business is heading.
  • Ask the CEO:At regular intervals, the CEO addresses questions employees want to hear from the leader.
  • TQCis a quarterly bi-lingual newsletter which is circulated extensively to every employee of the company. It is a snapshot of the quarter with case studies, details of best practices employed by some employees, news about the organization and racing (since we are a 2-wheeler manufacturing company) updates.
  • INSPROis an initiative that encourages employees to come up with new ideas which can be patented. Under this initiative, TVS Motor Company has won two awards, National IP award 2017 & World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Enterprise Trophy 2017.

What is the biggest challenge you face while going about managing internal communication?

Unfortunately, internal communications is usually treated as a stepchild in the communications family confined within the walls of the organization creating newsletters and occasionally organizing an employee get-together. And while excellent internal communication has never been more important, it also has never been more difficult to attain.

Some of the challenges I foresee are:

  • Changing the mindset
  • Elucidating the narrative
  • Defining the organization’s culture
  • Lack of transparency
  • One-way communication
  • Lack of clarity on information
  • General bonhomie and camaraderie
  • Engagement with management
  • Discipline and process adherence
  • Suggestions, innovation and quality excellence

How can internal communicators add more value to the business?

It is observed that internal communication helps develop a unified culture and empowers employees to make the right decisions in line with the organisation’s goals.  This, in turn, leads to far better efficiency, productivity and customer service. These outputs are relevant to every organisation, irrespective of the size. Internal communicators facilitate the engagement between employees and the management.  An internal communicator adds value by;

  • Driving a purpose
  • Creating consistent messages
  • Empowering and supporting managers across levels
  • By living the brand promise and satisfying stakeholder needs
  • Managing crises
  • Creating a better work environment (climate of openness)
  • Limiting speculations and enhancing transparency

An internal communicator helps to present a valuable opportunity for companies to understand their workforce better and, hence, train managers to be effective communicators. This is especially important for millennials since they often feel ill-equipped for their new roles.

What is your advice for people who are keen to join internal communication and make a career? What skills must they have or develop?

I talk to a lot of people who are embarking on their careers in communications, and the vast majority of them want to work in external communications (PR), but I think they may be missing a trick.

Unfortunately, the internal communication discipline is not given much priority as a career choice by students, though it has a lot to offer and uses many of the same skills as other PR disciplines with some interesting and varied work.  I suspect this to be the case because they don’t recognize the domain well enough and partly because it doesn’t have that ‘PR’ title that some really crave or because they perceive it to be less ‘flamboyant’ or ‘visible’ as compared to external communications.

Internal communications requires an expansive set of skills; you need to be impressionable, a skilled writer, a patient listener, creative, be a trusted adviser, and an excellent project manager.  Not everyone who works in internal communication has to have the same education or background either – there’s no one size fits all.  If you’re looking for a role which is linked to the strategy of the business, a career in internal communication might be right up your street.  I think as communicators we play a hugely critical and valuable role in driving the culture and ethos of a company both internally and externally.

I love my job handling internal communication as part of my larger responsibility.  The job expects you to collaborate and is at the heart of its success. You meet people who do completely different jobs, are passionate and skilled, and want to talk to you about what they do all day long.  No two individuals you meet do the same type of work, no two projects you work on are the same, and you have to look at the bigger picture to find the story. Communications is all about storytelling, and we communicators love telling stories with different twists.  My advice for anyone considering a career in internal communications is to go for it!

What according to you is the biggest opportunity that internal communicators have?

Starting a career in internal communication can be a daunting prospect.  Internal communications have arguably never had a higher profile than it enjoys today. No doubt bolstered by the need to understand the true value of effective employee engagement has soared in recent times.

With the rise of social media, communication has become something of a global obsession.  What’s perhaps, not so apparent, is the growth of internal communication as a profession. It is a discipline whereby employers, employees, and colleagues share information and talk to each other, yet effective communication is vital to ensuring that there is mutual understanding between management and staff.  Internal communication has been gaining prominence and sophistication while embracing the latest technologies.  Of course, this rise in stature has, inevitably, resulted in more people eyeing a career in internal communications.

If you are an internal communication practitioner working in a firm or a not-for-profit and have an internal communication case study, campaign, research insight or a guest blog post to share please contact me on intraskope@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Guest Interview | Varghese M. Thomas: How Internal Communicators Can Step Up Their Game

  1. Hi Varghese. Thanks for the insights into TVS Motors. The comment about IC being treated as a stepchild is one that practitioners regularly highlight. What is also generally recognised is that IC regularly struggle to prove the value of what they are doing to their executive leadership, and this is why they often receive the stepchild treatment. When IC can produce hard data to show how they are contributing to company objectives, (the outcomes they are driving), then they usually find their ‘status’ in the organisation starts to elevate.

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