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Guest Interview & Blog | Sumathi Rao | Keep Your Fingers On The Organization’s Pulse With Internal Communications

Do we know how employees think? Why must we align forces with external and internal messaging? What can internal communicators do to be ahead of the curve?

Learn more about these questions in the 23rd edition of Intraskope’s Spotlight on Internal Communication Series featuring Sumathi Rao of Philips.

Sumathi is an award-winning, strategic corporate communication and social responsibility leader with experience in advising corporates and NGOs to manage business goals, CSR portfolios and deliver social return on investment. She has experience in leading, mentoring and monitoring social sector programs in healthcare, sanitation, education, nutrition and skill development. As a communications professional with a passion for building healthcare and technology brands, Sumathi has deep experience in journalism and worked with B2B, B2C brands as well as start-ups. She is based in Bengaluru, India.

Read on and share your feedback.


  1. What does internal communication mean to you? 

A critical employee engagement tool that enables top-down and bottom-up communication contributing to high staff retention. Internal communication is an enabler to build organizational culture and upholding values and purpose. However in a world where people switch loyalties swiftly, it plays a role in building pride among employees.

  1. How is it practiced in your organization?

While global guidelines are available and provide a good framework, there is a lot of freedom to define it locally. There is a lot more freedom to do small initiatives office wise as well such as fun initiatives around country festivals (Holi in the north of India and Pongal in south India).

  1. Please share an example/campaign that you are personally proud of working on and that made a significant impact to your organization.

It’s been a decade since I began working, so choosing one is difficult. But one remains close to my heart and that is at Philip Innovation Center‘s “PIC’s Got Talent” – it is perhaps the most engaging and sought after event by employees. It gives employees a platform to demonstrate their talent – from sketching to skits to jugalbandi (a form of interactive singing) and shadow play, we have seen it all! Also the ten year annual celebrations the CEO and leadership team invites families of tenured staff for lunch to celebrate successes and the journey.  The gesture is very touching. We also communicate through our communication channels such as banners in offices that recognize employees. This builds camaraderie among staff.

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

The challenge is to communicate with a multi-generational workforce. At Philips, we have very low attrition and a majority of staff have spent over 10 years with the organization. There is a large set of millennials joining the workplace and they have varied preferences for communication. Managing these expectations is a challenge for us.

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

Getting to work closely with the leadership allows us to positively transform our business and contribute to how we are perceived as an organization.

  1. How can internal communicators add more value to the business?

My expectation is that we have to go beyond just looking at the HR goals. How we can align with business goals is fundamental to the success of our business.

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

Excellent grasp of English is key. It is essential to hone your presentation skills. Read, read and read! If you don’t enjoy interacting with people, this profession is not for you.


How Staying Clued In Can Help You

External and Internal communications are merging! Being a great places to work is no more about operating these two functions in silos. It is about blending them, keeping your ears to the ground and acting on feedback.

Employee storytelling is the future and what will sustain your brand over time. But In the age of social media, everyone is a journalist, and an opinion. When they tweet, write internal blogs or express themselves anywhere in public, they are your brand ambassadors. It is essential that they project the right image of your brand while doing so. You can have the best PR practices, but if your internal communication does not manage the right messages and engage, you may have lost the ‘employer of choice’ battle. I remember an occasion when I was driving to work and listening to the radio. An MNC had hosted a radio show, where they were showcasing some amazing employee benefits such as employee buses with wifi among other features. In between bytes from employees who generally sounded excited, came a new kid on the bloc who said: “Oh what buses with wifi? They are not clean at all”. OUCH!

The social media outburst that followed not only warns internal communicators to be on their toes but leaders also to listen well, stay close to the action and have their internal communicators clued in. Bottoms up communication, coffee corners and walk arounds are the new way to stay connected. Else you never know what a Glassdoor comment may say about your brand.

While a lot is expected from us as communicators there is definitely one concern I have and that is the language of expression – in other words, good grammar. We really need to encourage good writing skills and reduce depending on agencies for everything. The art of writing seems to be less evocative these days, It does not need to be poetic but basic tenets of the language need focus. During the course of my journey in the corporate world, I have witnessed spelling errors in presentations, mailers and brochures. That is scary. Internal communicators have to read a lot more. Reading is like breathing in internal communications.

Missed previous stories from organizations featured on the Intraskope’s Spotlight on Internal Communication Series? Look them up here – InfosysSOBHA Ltd.ICICI SecuritiesFirst AdvantageCK Birla GroupTVS MotorsGE,  SuzlonTata SonsPerceptKnight FrankTCS EuropeVedantaOxfamDanske BankDiageoPandoraSymantecISS Global Services, Telia, IBM and Thomson Reuters 

Intraskope ( is the first blog on internal communications in India and among the earliest around the globe. Begun in 2006, the blog has over 530 posts on topics such as employee engagement, leadership communication and employee branding and receives thousands of visits from across the world. The blog, receives over 50,000 visits every month from over 50 countries globally, offers learning resources for practitioners, academicians, and students including industry workshops, research reports, and checklists. Intraskope has been featured on leading global internal communication forums like Simply-CommunicateIC Kollectif and International Association of Business Communicators. It is hosted by Aniisu K Verghese, author of Internal Communications – Insights, Practices & Models (Sage, 2012).


If you are an internal communication leader working in a firm or a not-for-profit anywhere in the world and have an internal communication case study, campaign, research insight or a guest blog post to share please contact me on [email protected]


You can also visit my website and You Tube channel to know more about my work


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