Voltas achieves swift and efficient internal communications

By Karuna Kumar

Driving through the second most populous city in the world, surrounded by over 14 million people, it’s eye-opening to see how daily life moves on in Mumbai – a city that generates the highest GDP among the cities of Central and South Asia.

According to the latest statistics, Mumbai, accounts for 25% of industrial output, 40% of maritime trade and 70% of capital transactions to the Indian economy. It houses the most significant financial institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India, the Bombay Stock exchange and the National Stock exchange.

Being the financial capital of India, the need for strong internal efficiency and employee productivity is indispensable for businesses- small or big. To enquire about the current state of internal communications in India and the scope of issues around employee engagement, I stepped into the Mumbai office of Voltas to interview Mr. B.N. Garudachar, the company’s Head of Corporate Communications. Founded in 1954, Voltas today stands as the world’s leading engineering solution provider and project specialist and is a part of the TATA group. Voltas’ operations have been organized into three business clusters, namely – Electro- mechanical projects & services, Engineering products & services and unitary cooling products.

From a general picture of internal communications in India to the various employee engagement initiatives undertaken by Voltas, Mr. Garudachar spoke with a passion that defeated the doubts I had about the seriousness with which Indian companies approach internal communications.

KK. How significant is internal communications to organisations in India?

BNG: Internal communications have become a critical part of task held roles. Post liberalisation, the task before India was to make organisations very competitive and focus on the right businesses that would drive growth. We realised that the only underlying source for that is operating efficiency. The need was to drive a better productivity out of our guys (employees).

When you need to get better productivity, you need to communicate, you need to motivate and need to make sure the employees are positively engaged. Hence with a view to improve internal efficiency, internal communications became very important for Indian organisations. The spending on internal communications also increased over time. If posed with the same question 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have considered it important enough but today the scenario is just the opposite.

KK. When did this realization dawn upon Indian companies and what drives it?

BNG: The real realisation began five to six years back. Unfortunately, India was not in a competitive environment till 1995. We were in an environment consisting of domination of a few companies.

What drove it was the need in the market place. The need today is to have extremely motivated, committed and contributing employees. Today their contributions are better recognized as the work environment is moving towards performance. Almost 40-50% of the take- home comes from the employees’ performance. Hierarchy is slowly going flat.

In addition, the importance of employee engagement has increased at a time, where there is nothing called a ‘loyal’ employee. There is a meaningful employment on both sides. Organisations need to ensure that they retain people and make employees company ambassadors who carry a positive message to the external world. The employees have now taken the role of partners in the organisation.

KK. Moving to your organisation in particular, when did Voltas feel the need for internal communications?

BNG: A few years ago, the need in the organisation was to shift the attitude of the staff towards being performance-oriented. 1995 was the first time when the company showed a loss. The need was to move towards profitable and sustainable growth. We underwent the whole process of understanding a new direction. We shifted our focus from being just a development and technology- oriented company to a service-oriented engineering company.

The first phase was to communicate that it is important that each one of them contributes so that the company develops.

The second phase was to communicate to our employees that we wanted to become more a service provider than a product manufacturer. We wanted to add value to the product for the consumer.

During the third phase, we started educating people as to what and how they could innovate. We had a series of campaigns talking about what innovation is all about and encouraged staff to contribute their own ideas to the company.

We are now leading a new campaign – the idea being to improve internal efficiency. We have categorized that under an acronym called SWIFT.  Each of those letters stand for something in the organisation.

Our first initiative is to create awareness towards what would create a new Voltas act. Second, we want to recognize that people are already swift in their field of activity. We are doing that through a contest in which we are asking employees if there are any initiatives that they have undertaken that qualifies as SWIFT attributes.

The winner gets a lunch with the MD, coverage in all internal magazines, a SWIFT t-shirt and other small incentives.

The third phase will take place after 4 weeks, when we will be sharing the inputs vis-à-vis employees will be encouraged to offer their ideas in helping Voltas to swiftly address the issues.

KK. So what is the purpose of this exercise?

BNG: It is purely for engaging them. You are creating excitement and subconsciously sending them messages. The idea is to organise programmes through management that meet certain needs, create an environment where employees become engaged with these issues and do so sustainably.

KK. What are your usual channels of execution?

BNG: We have:

Traditional print

We execute our programs through the use of traditional media like posters, brochures and computer wallpapers. We also have a Voltas board and Voltas notes. This communication runs through all our companies globally, not just in India.

Till yesterday, our communication was targeted to permanent employees. Today we have realised that 50% of our staff are on contract basis. So we have extended our reach to those employees. Our online presence is limited at the moment. We are re-engineering our intranet to build a new system that is much more interactive than the previous one. After that, we might experiment with social media.

Walk the talk with the MD

In addition, twice a year – once after the half-yearly results and once after the annual results – the Managing Director speaks to all his employees via a broadcast. This year we have exposed not only the MD on that platform but also the complete corporate management team. They all sit together for a Q&A.

The format of this presentation is such that the MD reviews the past performance, recognises achievements, identifies the future challenges and suggests future direction in issues that relate to corporate intervention. After the 30 minute presentation, there is a Q&A session for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Anyone in our branch offices or project sites is invited to participate via a chat mode.   This is the most effective way of engaging employees – it is a very open forum and people can ask any questions they want.

Voltas Anthem

Launched 2 years ago, our Voltas anthem has done wonders for our people. It is sung by Voltatites and is played before all our broadcasts. Our employees actually stand when this is played. Such is the power of the anthem in uniting people.

The melodious radio – pride of the past

In the past, we created a Voltas Geetmala (radio) and we sent messages through this medium. It used to be played in the canteen mixed with various songs. The normal player was used for this and the production was outsourced.

Voltas management meet

Another approach to our problem solving is the two-day ‘Voltas management meet’. 70-80 people representing all levels and classes in the organisation attend this. In the 2-day meet we share various issues that impact all businesses. We sit together and design a path towards the solution, taking a ‘bottom-up’ approach.

All these initiatives are being undertaken against the backdrop of various company goals. By 2012, we wanted to be a Rs. 10,000  core company (of which Rs. 7000core would be contributed by organic growth) with a 10% profit. Considering the growth accomplished in the last few years, we are hopeful of reaching our organic growth targets.

KK. Does communication change when speaking to white collar and blue collar employees?

BNG: Absolutely not. It is communication at the end of the day. Nothing much changes in that regard. We don’t believe in a white collar and a blue collar employee. We feel that organisational issues are one. The response has to be the same for all employees, unless there are issue-based activities within the factory. Also, most our employees understand English as this is a service-oriented company. Just 1% are Hindi speaking.

KK. How do you see the future of internal communications in India?

BNG: This is a field that very few people understand. For example, no advertising agency would understand internal communications. There is a big need for internal communicators in organisations. We need to develop teams who understand internal comms and work in partnership with the employees to aid organisational efficiency.

For us, being a company that is service-oriented, engagement is necessary. The challenge for us is much more than in the West as we are multi-cultural, multi-lingual and have multiple classes. However, Asia is growing into a huge market and I can say it with much certainity that it is, slowly but steadily, successfully dealing with all barriers in the pursuit of achieving internal efficiency and productivity.

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