January 27, 2017

Skills required to be a successful professional in the field of Corporate Communications

I have often been asked by students and aspiring professionals to share what I think are the skills required to succeed in the field of corporate communications. Just like any other field, here too there is no magic key which will open the golden gates for aspirants. However, I am happy to share whatever my wonderful profession has taught me. I will start with the skill I think is one of the most important – perhaps, the most important – to excel: Passion.

Why I think “Passion” ranks slightly higher than other skills is that the field of communications is a lot of art and only a little bit of science. Hence, any aspirant wishing to make a career in the field of communications will have to do a lot of learning herself.

If you study medicine or engineering, there are precise textbooks, which, if followed scrupulously, ensure that you know the basic working. A textbook of anatomy, for instance, can tell you how the human heart operates. No matter the gender, age, ethnicity and so, this fact will always remain true.

A textbook on hydraulics will help you study the various scientific characteristics of water and water flow. No matter what, these characteristics remain largely unchanged.

The reason is simple: anatomy and hydraulics are exact sciences.

Communications is different: it is largely an art. What words work well with individual A cannot work with individual B. In fact, the same words that worked for individual A today, may not work tomorrow for individual B. That means you have to have the passion to constantly learn, try, observe, correct and improve. The principles of communications that you used yesterday may turn completely ineffective tomorrow.

Let me explain with an example: some fifty years back, children were expected to follow whatever the parents and teachers asked them to do. That was the communications policy then. Today, things have changed. Children of all ages are a good deal more assertive and demand proper logical explanation for everything. Teachers and parents have to be more democratic and open in their communications today than they were fifty years back.

Twenty years back, the print media was a dominant force. Today, slowly but steadily, the digital media is overtaking all other forms. The strategies that produced results in the print media aren’t necessarily effective in the digital media.

This is where Passion comes in. The Passion to learn on the go, the Passion to never accept anything as the final answer, the Passion to always question the status quo… all because communications is an ever-evolving art. If you think a certain practice has worked today and intend to keep using it forever, you will be proven wrong very soon.

So friends, that’s what Passion is. Being passionate about your chosen field will ensure there won’t be a dull moment. There will be numerous challenges, but never a dull moment. If you are passionate, I would say you’ve won half the game already.

I will share other skills in my upcoming posts. Meanwhile, let me know what you think.

Image Courtesy: Google

January 11, 2017

Demonetization: 7 Lessons on Communication

Note: This is not an economic or a political analysis of demonetization; this is an attempt to study the communication strategies used while the government declared something extremely important.

The Modi government’s demonetization raked up a hornet’s nest, to say the least. People have vehemently argued on either side. Opposition parties have cried hoarse on how insensitive and counter-productive the decision will turn out. Modi supporters have whole-heartedly welcomed the decision, expressing strong optimism.

We will not discuss the social, economical or political aftermath of the decision – we will study the communication strategy Prime Minister Narendra Modi used during the entire announcement and what lessons management professionals can learn from it.

Nothing about the declaration could have been easy. A seasoned statesman like Modi and his entire team would have known all along what they were attempting was extremely delicate. That is where using a great communication strategy was not only important, it was critical. Let us take a look at the strategy used.

1. Be direct: When PM Narendra Modi announced that Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 notes will cease to be legal tender within hours, he didn’t mince words – he was direct. However tough and potentially unpopular the decision may turn out to be, he did not beat around the bush. That prevented baseless speculations.

Additionally, notice the way Modi chose the audio-visual medium (the television) instead of relying on print. When you see a leader in flesh and blood (even if virtually) announce a strong decision himself, it contributes to his image as somebody who is direct and forthright with his people, and reinforces the image of a strong leader.

2. Appear logical: He made sure the decision didn’t sound Quixotic or Tughluq-like. In his speech, he carefully explained the entire rationale behind the decision, the likely problems people might face, the way the administration was expected to respond and the potential benefits.

A true leaders doesn’t merely announce, because he knows a true leader needs not only the full support of his team but also the co-operation of the masses. The way displayed the long-term benefits, he completely silenced extreme remarks from the common man. Notice that the reactions from the common man have been extremely mild, considering how momentous the decision was.

3. Keep it simple. Had Modi chosen, he would have shared the dais with RBI governor, deputy governors, finance secretary, senior economists or top officials. Prima facie, this could have added more credibility to his decisions, as the economists and others would have brought out all the economic terms to explain and justify the decision.

Modi apparently knew it might be helpful to a very few people, but the majority of common man would only be more confused. He explained everything in the easy language so everybody understood what the government was trying to do and what objective the government was trying to achieve. Without jargons, he sold the idea in simplest terms possible.

4. Show how the listener would benefit: Two of the biggest ills troubling the common man were terrorism and the rising gap between the have’s and have not’s (brought about, at least partly, by a black-money economy). He claimed the decision to withdraw the notes would fully or partly solve both the problems. While the problem of black money is still wide open to debate, terrorist activities came to nearly a standstill – no major terrorist attacks have been reported for a long time.

Demonetization seemed to cripple financial support to terrorist activities that was fully fuelled by black money and counterfeit Rs. 1,000-notes. By derecognizing the Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 note, he almost pulled the rug beneath the feet of the nation’s enemies.

5. Appear sensitive, be diplomatic but not overly emotional: During the 1-hour speech, Modi empathized with the masses. He acknowledged that the coming weeks may not be easy. That, however, did not conveyed a sense of helplessness; indeed, he presented it as a short-term sacrifice every citizen was to make for long-term benefits.

The tact with which he asked for a 50-day window for things to settle down was a sound diplomatic approach: anyone momentarily scared was assured that the hardships were really short-term. Besides, the way it was put showed his was a participative approach: he had taken a decision that he felt was in the best interest of the country and he was asking the people to co-operate.

6. Show you are in control of the situation: When you impose such a severe measure upon a 1.3 billion people, you simply cannot get away without putting emergency measures in place (Government hospitals, for instance, were instructed and permitted to accept currency notes that were to be unacceptable tender elsewhere.).

Modi and his team very well knew the kind of chaos demonetization was likely to unleash. To contain it and to prevent the situation from going out of hand, the PM conveyed the sense of having thought of everything and that everything was going to be under control.

How successful or effective these measures ultimately were is a debate that belongs elsewhere, but the government tried to show it was trying to be as helpful in the situation as was possible without ruining the overall objective.

7. You don’t have to respond to everything: There were countless criticisms (and even allegations) against the announcement. The common man criticized the measure wasn’t executed well, some economists said the decision did not make sense in the long run, and parts of the opposition parties questioned not only the wisdom of the PM but also the very intention behind the decision. Modi sat silent. He had said all he had wanted to and wasn’t too keen to respond to every allegation floating around.

How far this strategy of not responding was fruitful is debatable. But he got a few benefits too. One, because he did not respond (mostly), there was only one version of the action. Had he clarified over and over again, it might have brought up newer interpretations which his critics might have termed self-contradictory. By choosing to mostly ignore criticism, he could contain his contents.

Two, by not responding, he refused to play the game his critics or political rivals wanted him to get involved in or get defensive. He could focus on what he wanted, instead of wasting energy on debates. While in a democracy, a leader must be accountable and answerable for every decision, Modi’s shrewd approach of choosing to respond only when he decided to ensured communication was properly delivered in the right quantity, at the right time and not in a haphazard way.

Even the worst of Modi detractors confess Modi is one of the top communicators of our generation, so any lessons we can learn from such situations must be more than welcome.

Views expressed here are personal

January 5, 2017

Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader by Linda A. Hill, Kent L. Lineback

You never dreamed being the boss would be so hard. You're caught in a web of conflicting expectations from subordinates, your supervisor, peers, and customers. You're not alone. I believe this book is a good and quite complete one - at least for me :) being a manager/lead for 2 months now when it comes on the duties and challenges of a manager.
The idea is to be aware of the 3 imperatives of a great manager.

Manage yourself: if one wants to be an effective and trusted manager of people, he/she should start with managing the self. What means to be a boss, the role, the relationship with others. Being aware it is all about results in the end, but the ones around you who need to achieve them still have brains and hearts.

Manage the network: - exercising influence super important to understand who are the ones around you who can make you and the team succeed and whom you can also advice. There are 3 types of them: operational (for day to day activities), strategic (resources, see the potential, being the sponsor) and development (people who you need to trust that will give you candid feedback about your performance.

Managing the team: clear roles and direction, clear sense of where the person as an individual and team member is. Always asses when to delegate (low, moderate, high touch) and constant discussions around performance and perception are needed.

It is so useful to remind yourself about the pitfalls of friendship, the extreme authority, the loose ends, the fear of having strong team players, the lack of trust, the always better self-perception... etc. I would recommend this book as I think one can take away lot of info and put them into practice.

Image Courtesy: Google