Covid-19 comms Covid19 crisis communication Internal Communication

Video Interview | Kriti Pradhan | Managing Crises Like COVID-19 with Effective Internal Communications

Presenting the 34th edition of Intraskope’s Spotlight on Internal Communication Series featuring Kriti Pradhan. Watch the complete video interview on You Tube or read the transcript below.  Kriti heads Communications – internal, external and digital HR at the Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. (The Times Group) and has 20+ years of experiencein branding, events, internal and external communications, digital media and leadership communications. Recently, she was featured in a SMARP internal communications listing. She has been instrumental in launching companywide intranets and websites for leading brands. In this interview, she describes how her organization created a comprehensive communication plan to mitigate the fallout from COVID-19.

Interview

1. What does internal communication mean to you?

Let me start by saying that effective communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity and hence I prefer not to classify it only as internal and external. The lines between internal and external communication have been diminishing and hence for me communication is about enabling honest and continual conversations initiated with various stakeholder at various intervals. When you speak particularly about internal communication, I strongly believe it isn’t about telling employees what to think. It is more about flow of information which can be multi-directional, but which essentially aligns employees with the organization’s priorities.

2. How is it practiced in your organization?

As an organization that is backed by a strong legacy of more than 180+ years with the mind of a start-up, you can perceive the importance of communication especially with a multi-generational workforce. Communication is the foundation and core to our organization. More importantly it is practiced diligently and honestly. Let me share an example in the next question.  

3. Please share an example/campaign that you are personally proud of working on and that made a significant impact to an organization in the recent past

I have numerous examples to share with my experience over the years at HCL, NASSCOM Foundation and JSW. However, I want to talk about one campaign that we did recently and which all of you can relate to. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic snowballed itself from a health crisis to a global economic crisis, creating an unprecedented disruption in the world of business, our organization leadership huddled together to pro-actively address two things, the well-being of our employees and the continuity of our business.  The “Reset” button was pressed, meetings arranged, minds put together to address the demon looming large. Our work, workplace and workforce were aligned even before an official lockdown was mandated across the country (India). Being in the media industry, remote working was unheard of, yet we were successful in seamless transition on the business contingency journey from brick & mortar, to a virtual work model. The Government of India classified Newspaper as part of essential services and one of the best ways to address fake news. Our employee superheroes were working hard to ensure that “real news” was delivered every single day at the doorstep of our Readers, to ensure they were educated and informed. 

Our focused “People Strategy” made HR team to work closely with the business to help them strategize, stabilize and mobilize. A three-pronged approach was adopted to ensure business continuity, boost employee morale and ensure employee well-being: 

  1. Tool-set: Ensure work continuity by providing requisite support, infrastructure and resources for employees to be productive, especially as they adapt to the “new ways of remote working”. IT infra enablement, virtual working, VPN, informative sessions on remote working were all part of the plan.  
  2. Skill-set:  Assure every individual, build trust and communicate that we were all #InItTogether. We focused on creating a virtual learning & engagement ecosystem so that one could learn, engage, be aware and be appreciated. Hence, LEAP (Learn, engage, aware, praise) was launched with defined objectives – cross-functional collaboration, seamless communication, empower and engage employees beyond the workplace and more importantly deliver a positive employee experience. We achieved this and more as virtual learning and engagement sessions were segmented, designed and implemented. Subject Matter Experts conducted LIVE sessions ranging from financial planning to ways to keep self and family safe, as part of the Masterclass series. Efforts were made to engage the employee and encouraged to share their “work from home” experiences. 
  3. Mind-set – We consciously decided to focus on the well-being of every individual and interventions to drive the wellness quotient. Health and fitness initiatives were initiated involving the employee and family on Yogic practices, sessions on functional therapy, addressing and enhancing emotional quotient by engaging through quizzes, games, trivia, and challenges on multiple online platforms. Aligning with an “individual’s purpose” and involving through our virtual volunteering program which resulted in a 76% increase in volunteering activity while ensuring more rigor in the Diversity and Inclusion initiative across the Group.

Communication was a strong pillar driving this within and outside the organization and moreover interacting with multiple stakeholders in the digital world.

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

Influencing individuals and making your stakeholders understand the importance of consistent communication has been the biggest challenge. But every challenge is an opportunity and when you achieve the desired result, there is immense gratification. Over the years I have realized the need for an “Influencer” in the meeting room who would believe and support your idea and intent. And honest to God, the challenge has long been forgotten.

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

Internal communication is extremely important, and you have the “magic wand” to create significant value for the organization by ensuring that you align business strategic priorities with the interventions planned. You are there everywhere…from creating messages on behalf of the Leadership, to deciding the tonality that would be understandable and consumed to facilitating a dialogue and connect between Leadership and employees and so forth. This essentially translates into org wide event, creating a framework and even communicating about a policy. The biggest opportunity is to inform and engage the employees and thus positively impacting the morale and navigating the culture of the organization. 

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

Marketing your work is the key. Internal communicators add a lot of value to the business. They keep the employee informed, help people keep calm during crisis (and we have seen that example), create channels to connect with Leadership, discuss, deliberate and become the “Voice of the employee and leadership”. What is important is to assess the impact of the work you do and showcase the outcomes. For example, exceptional work went along with strengthening the culture of innovation, however designing an intervention, executing and then placing the results (new ideas created significant value for the organization and made employee feel empowered) worked wonders.

7. What skills must they have or develop?

I believe internal communicators need to be vocal, empathetic, agile and adaptable. When I say that I say it with conviction and experience. Sometimes you must stand up, speak up and push back because you are being empathetic to the situation on ground and which may not seem aligned. Similarly, you may have to think differently, think on your feet, be agile and respond to the situation around you. You need to think of the possibilities and not regret but learn from each experience.

8. What is your advice for people who are keen to join internal communication and make a career?

Learn, learn and learn. This is an ongoing process and there is no end to learning on the job, from others around you and from experts around the globe. You need to have the right mix of each ingredient – strategy, messaging, channels, engagement, enabled by technology. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer ie employee and think from their perspective while keeping your organizational priorities in perspective. Measure your outcome and show how you have been able to drive significant value as that will get you in the “conversation” and your “voice will be heard”.

9. What is your advice for women who want to make a mark in this domain and what must they do differently?

There is no separate advice to women. Look around and you will see Michelle Obama, Indra Nooyi and so many more powerful leaders who are articulating their beliefs and sticking by them. The only aspect I would suggest is to find a mentor and influencer (and make segregating based on gender), consistently invest in learning and with the “right intent” do your job.

10. Can you share one trend that you spot with internal communications?

With so much happening around us, virtual will be the “absolute truth” going forward. Digital media will continue thrive and it is critical that communicators gain as much knowledge and experience as they can. AI, chatbots will take lead but more importantly dashboards will be replaced with insight boards and help you plan for segmented communication. Customized communication for different segments.

Liked the interview? Post your comments and share it with your network.

Keen to contribute and participate in the ongoing series on Intraskope where we put the spotlight on thought leadership, great ideas, and practical solutions? Look up the previous stories from organizations featured on the Intraskope’s Spotlight on Internal Communication Series  here –  Samsung, Falabella, Brillio, UAE ExchangeApeland, M.H. Alshaya CoProctor & Gamble, InfosysSOBHA Ltd.ICICI SecuritiesFirst AdvantageCK Birla GroupTVS MotorsGE,  SuzlonTata SonsPerceptKnight FrankTCS EuropeVedantaOxfamDanske BankDiageoPandoraSymantecISS Global ServicesTeliaThomson ReutersIBMGeneral Motors, Intelligence India Software Solutions and Philips.

Intraskope (www.aniisu.com) is the first blog on internal communications in India and among the earliest around the globe. Begun in 2006, the blog has over 1000 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 1,50,000 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]

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