Episode Transcript – How to Make Internal Communications More Inclusive

Stories and Strategies Podcast

Episode 92

Guest:  Aniisu Verghese, Ph.D.

Published June 25, 2023

Listen to this episode

Doug Downs (00:05):

Nike is an iconic brand going all the way back to 1970 when it first introduced the Nike Swoosh. But in 2018, allegations of a boys club culture rocked the brand. Female staff in Beaverton, Oregon began circulating their own surveys among other female staff to get their take on how they were being treated. 30 surveys were circulated anonymous. In each case, they outlined situations in which male co coworkers were sloppy, drunk, embracing female employees, or inviting them to work dinners. One survey respondent called Nike a giant men’s sports team where favoritism prevails and females can’t possibly play in the sandbox. They became known as the Starfish surveys. And when C E O Mark Parker saw them, he was horrified. He immediately issued a public apology and a management reshuffle. A short time later, 7,000 Nike female workers were given raises. Women now number 43% of vice presidents at the company up from 36% four years ago. Internal communications has always been critical to company success, but it’s evolved over the years from a top down. What’s going on? Kind of approach to one more about engagement and now inclusion today on stories and strategies making internal communications more inclusive. And that means everyone.

Music Director (01:42):

And cut

Doug Downs (02:10):

My name is Doug Downs Music off the top, the man by Taylor Swift, written by Taylor Swift and Joel Little. My guest this week is Aniisu Verghese, joining today from Krakow in Poland. Hello, Aniisu.

Aniisu Verghese (02:24):

Hello. Hi, Doug. Thanks for having me.

Doug Downs (02:27):

How is Krakow? Is that the capital of Poland, officially the capital? How are things?

Aniisu Verghese (02:32):

No, it’s one of the cities, the biggest cities in Poland. Warsaw is the capital of Poland, but it’s known for the tech technology talent. So that’s what Krakow was known for.

Doug Downs (02:48):

And relatively mild today, or was it a chillier day?

Aniisu Verghese (02:52):

It’s getting hotter, so it’s about 26 or so the hottest that temperature 27 degrees.

Doug Downs (03:01):

Right. And in Fahrenheit, we’re in the low eighties there somewhere. Mid eighties. Mid eighties, yeah. Right. Aniisu, you hold a PhD in organizational communications from Alliance University in India. You are a globally recognized communicator and C certified change management practitioner. With over two decades experience, you’ve authored three books, including your latest inclusive internal communications. There’s a link to it on Amazon within the show notes. And you were a public relations council of India’s Hall of Fame winner in 2015. Congratulations on that, by the way. Thank you. You’ve also given lots of time to I A B C. I can see that. And you have a boutique communication and personal branding consultancy in Krakow called Intraskope.


So Aniisu, let’s start at the top here, and then low 10,000 feet. And then let’s slowly land the plane into the blades of crass internal communications. For decades now, it’s been stressed how important internal communications is for organizational success, but more and more studies over the last couple of years. Maybe it goes back a little further, but I’ve noticed them over the last couple of years showing that internal engagement is declining. What’s your view on what’s happening from this 10,000 foot level in the clouds?

Aniisu Verghese (04:23):

No, that’s a great read and a great observation. I think the way I look at it, there’s a deep riff between employees and employers. I think it’s further excavated by the fact that there are trust issues within organizations. Staff realize, have realized that they can’t trust organizations and their leaders because on one hand, the leaders and organizations have said something during the pandemic and then they go back on their words after the crisis is over, for example, about remote work and all of that. So that was one part. And then staff can’t really rely on them because jobs are not stable. They’ve been a ton of layoffs happening. There’s been so much of uncertainty and people just need to fend for themselves. So it’s been hard on The other aspect is that leaders and managers continue to be a bit misaligned about what’s what staff really want and what they really appreciate.


Leaders believe that staff want better pay, they want better benefits, and they want to focus on wellbeing. But on the other hand, and there’s been studies done and research, which clearly points that staff are looking for more respect. They want their managers to recognize them, they want to belong in organizations. They want to have a clear sense of purpose, and that’s this mismatch, which creates a lot of friction. And as resentment staff also want to care about issues which go beyond work, and they want to see that reflected in organizations. And you can see that a lot more these days, especially when it comes to ESG fact topics, which are taking center, center stage. They want to be activists of change. They want to make sure that they can make a difference. And so you can see employees trying to take leadership positions in a lot of these core issues, which they believe organizations should really be driving and leading.


But unfortunately, organizations aren’t playing along. And that’s again, a course of resentment. And on the last point, which I like to call out, is that personal fulfillment, learning growth, also valuable for staff, but organizations aren’t investing in that space. They believe that if they give better benefits, they improve the infrastructure in the offices, that’s going to drive better engagement and experience. But it’s not really helping because staff are looking for personalized experiences. They want the organization to think about them deeply and appreciate the individual and from a personal professional and the community angles. And again, all these factors really come together. And that’s really where staff want to reclaim their lives. They want to be part of organizations or where they really feel that they belong. And if you notice all this is really driving the great resignation, the great resentment, and all these coinages that we keep hearing

Doug Downs (07:29):

And hearing you describe that they think it’s higher salaries, great, but that’s not getting to the nub of it. They think that it’s better benefits, terrific, but that’s not getting to the nub of it. It feels like they’re measuring the wrong things and not understanding their own audiences, which ironically, when it comes to internal communications, these are two big pieces that you are huge on. It’s about who do you really want to communicate with, what do you want them to do, and what exactly are you measuring? That’s it, right?

Aniisu Verghese (08:02):

Yeah, no, I agree. So I’m a strong advocate of measurement and especially with internal comms. And I believe as internal communicators, we can make and break our credibility and reputation as professionals with measurement. The more we are focused on demonstrating value through metrics, the stronger we get in terms of our own assertiveness when it comes to talking about better resources and asking for better opportunities for the function. The way we look at audience segmentation has also changed because in a world where staff prefer personalized communication, we are still in the catchall mode of communication, understanding choices, preferences, attitudes towards communication can also help internal communicators revisit these approaches. So I believe yes, measurement is definitely key, and I think we need to do a lot more to invest in this space.

Doug Downs (08:53):

And you’ve got a key, I don’t mean to use the word recipe, but it’s the word that comes to mind. One key methodology for doing this. Digging down in your newest book, you outlined the internal communications Framework 2.0. Describe that for me if you could.

Aniisu Verghese (09:10):

Right. So I think to help understand what internal comms 2.0 is, I think it we really builds on its predecessor internal Comms Framework 1.0, which was articulated in my first book, Intel Comms Insights Practices and Models, which I wrote in 2012. Now, the earlier framework was focused on aligning internal communication with the business, making assumptions about the practice and remaining flexible with resources and opportunities. And I think that was how most organizations were thinking about the internal comms function and how the evolving landscape of internal communications, particularly influenced by the pandemic and remote working scenarios, has really necessarily the change or shift in how we kind of look at the practice going forward. So internal Comms 2.0, the internal Comms Framework 2.0 goes beyond just being solely aligned with the business and assumes a more proactive role as a catalyst of change within the organization. It recognizes that the internal communication should now define how the organization’s communication climate from the should be from the inside out rather than being limited to a functional role.


So in effect, it basically believes that to effectively utilize internal communications to achieve desired outcomes, the framework has what I put together emphasizes the importance of cultivating a strong culture within the organization. So often we think that communication culture rests within HR of the organization’s ambit, but that’s really not true. It entails aligning with strategic priorities, employing a systematic approach to progress, and also about how do we connect the dots with the corporate narrative. So this framework is structured into multiple segments, and the way I’ve kind of outlined it is in a few parts of the first is an appreciative approach. Then there is an evaluation approach, there’s an implementation approach, and then there’s the assessment approach. So there are these multiple segments, which it teases out the, to kind go deeper into each of these approaches, the appreciative approach involves assessing the current state of internal communications by understanding what the team does, what’s the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and strengths and threats.


And then it looks at insight derived from existing studies, focus groups or research reports to green, a comprehensive understanding of the comms landscape. Now, this is usually not given a lot of importance. Most of the time internal communicators kind of dive in to what’s happening on the spot and they kind of make do with what they have on their hands. And I think that’s primarily where the gap is. Then when it comes to the second part, which is the evaluation approach that focuses on measuring employee satisfaction with internal communications and their level of engagement with the messages. Now often we rely a lot on HR to come down with engagement survey, and then we hope, hopefully plug in a few Intel comms questions into that particular survey and try to figure out if internal comms is working or not. But this approach believes that we should be able to then identify the areas that really require intervention and guide decision making based on how we locate resources and training and how do we manage budgets and expectations.


So there is a more proactive approach towards engaging on internal comms when it comes to the evaluation evaluation approach. Then moving on to the implementations phase, which is really stressing the importance of principles of effective internal comms and this more of being consistent, being authentic, timeliness, clarity and simplicity. And I’ve also put together a kind of simple model around call the seven piece of internal comms. The first piece is about planning. So P for planning, and there’s P. There’s P for people, which is about audiences. Then we get to the process, which is the communication methods. Then you have the practice, which is about the context and culture. Then you have the platforms, which is of course the communication mediums. Then you have the placement. How do you kind of get the message to be dealt with? And lastly, the pitch, what’s the audience specific narrative?


Now, all this is great to have as a framework, but then if you don’t really measure it, don’t assess how it’s working, that’s really not helpful. And going back to your previous question about measurement, that’s where this plays a big role. So the last segment is really about analyzing the impact of internal comms on employees perception and engagement with the organization. So when employees are satisfied with the communication they receive, they develop a very positive internal image of the organization. And this in turn helps them identify better with the organization and then they become ambassadors and they can advocate for the organization. So if you can see that this, it goes beyond just the traditional role of what internal communications team does. It connects the dots between how employees feel, it connects the dots between what an external communications team would do, and basically tries to play a catalytic role and a kind of change and transformation intervention that will help organizations achieve much more than what they can do.


So as a result, the organization reputation and trust improves generating positive sentiments within the network where these employees promote the brand. In summary, I think the internal comms framework 2.0 builds upon the earlier version, recognizes the need for internal communications to go beyond just alignment with the business and become a catalyst for change. And really it emphasizes the importance of a strong communication culture. It aligns with strategic priorities. It thinks of a systematic approach to engaging employees and achieving organizations’ goals. And some of these factors are really not thought as much as we should be thinking about as internal communication professionals. And it opens the minds of leaders as well. When they start seeing internal communicators engaging in this particular fashion, they are more willing to partner and provide more support and encouragement. So that’s how I see it.

Doug Downs (15:53):

I think every leader should hear that. And as you were describing, I thought there’s my whole plan, there’s my internal communications plan. So two key pieces I want to pull from that. How do people prefer to be engaged? That’s always been a thing that’s not new. And how do you see that changing here in 2023?

Aniisu Verghese (16:14):

Well, yeah, I think all to your first question on how people prefer to be engaged, I mean, I do have a different take altogether on this isn’t the organization’s responsibility or even the manager’s role to engage staff. And I think somehow it seems to be thrust upon either the internal communications team or some other function to manage the other people’s engagement. The way I see it, staff join organizations come and they come in with the zeal and passion so that they expect to be engaged, the role of the organization and the managers to ensure that the barriers and bottlenecks that prevent staff from bringing their full self to work are removed so that they can get the support they need and they can deliver high performance. So if organizations are still expecting to engage staff, I think they’re doing it wrong on the narrative question.


I think it’s, it is consistent and authentic pitch that you want your audience to take away and go and take action on. It’s flury of messages that leaders want to share to make staff happy. To get the most appropriate. Narrative will mean investing time in learning about the audience, the context, the need, the big picture, and the implications of changes taking place. Internal communicators need to be able to let go at times and not try to control everything because that’s really not going to help. And in today’s world, information is available almost at the fingertips of everyone. So I think the role of staff are smart enough to get the information they think is right from sources they believe is authentic, and that usually is in the corporate channels. So it helps to realize that inviting staff and involving them in the process of creating communication helps immensely because they f believe that yes, the organization trusts me in the process, and that way you’re doing it right from the start and you don’t have to fake it. So I think that’s how I would put it.

Doug Downs (18:15):

Aniusu I almost can’t do an episode these days without asking how generative AI, that Chat G P T thing, is going to play a role. How do you see generative AI coming into play for internal communications?

Aniisu Verghese (18:30):

Well, yeah, I do understand. Cause when you know Chat GPT became the thing, I did write on the topic and about whether it was a pain or boon for internal communications, I believe it is a blessing and a huge productivity. Safer. Safer if it’s used well and right. So Chat GPT or generative AI isn’t a crutch you use when you feel lazy as meant to be partnered with to create something better and smarter than what you could have possibly done independently. I do see the potential of it analyzing trends, teasing about insights, providing ideas, building on existing perspectives. It is as good as the prompts that you feed in. And also it’s the responsibility of the person keying in all these prompts to check for what it spews out. Because finally, there are issues on reliability of sources and content. So it’s always helpful to check out output for using it. But I believe yes, it has potential. It is definitely a game changer if used in the right way.

Doug Downs (19:35):

You mean I can’t just use it to write all my internal newsletters and get it done in two minutes

Aniisu Verghese (19:41):

Two Minutes? Well, not as easy as it looks. Maybe

Doug Downs (19:44):

If I’m not, yeah, that might not be as engaging. Listen, thank you so much for your time today, Aniisu. So I really appreciate it.

Aniisu Verghese (19:51):

Thank you so much, Doug. I appreciate. Thank you for calling inviting me for the show.

Doug Downs (19:55):

If you’d like to send a message to my guest, Aniisu Verghese, you can email him and the link is in the show notes. We started this last week. I love seeing all the places around the world where we get consistent and sizable numbers of downloads. Each episode, I’m going to name a location where I can see from our analytics that people are listening and not just a few people here and there, but that we’ve actually got numbers. If you happen to live in this location, send me an email and we’re going to send you a small gift just to thank you. So for this week, if you are listening in Johannesburg, which is in the Gauteng province in South Africa, I think I’m saying Gauteng right? Send me an email, let’s say by the end of August, 2023. If you live in Johannesburg, email address is doug@storiesandstrategies.ca. We’re going to send you a small gift hoping that you’ll mention this podcast to a friend of yours and that will help the podcast. Thanks for listening.


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