May Al Mousawi

The power of communication – an interview with May Al Mousawi, Corporate Communications & Brand Executive

Since 2013, May Al Mousawi has been the creative force behind keeping employees informed, engaged and excited. We recently sat down with May to learn more about the importance of communicating with employees and how it supports our corporate culture.

Most businesses know that communicating with customers is a crucial element of their success. How does that translate to internal customers?

The customer comes first”; you hear that mantra throughout many organisations. Do a Google search and 562,000,000 results later, it must be true! No doubt customers are important, but we need to also think about our internal audience. At BMMI, we always try to put our people first. After all, as employees, we are all brand representatives of our organisation, and if we aren’t aware of our future goals and strategy, how can we contribute to them?

As employees, the most common question asked is ‘why?’ Why do we exist? We need to understand how we contribute to goals, know what the ultimate goal is and how we’re going to make it there together. As humans, we need to feel like we’re being heard and that we’re a part of a team; especially with the majority millennial workforce at BMMI who rely heavily on feedback and interaction. By having internal communications put front and centre, this creates a sense of purpose and motivates our employees to work towards common goals.

Communicating with employees is all about aligning them to work towards those common goals. It isn’t just about keeping everyone in the company informed of what’s happening and what’s going to happen, it’s about encouraging communication between employees, from both top down and between peers. Although important, it’s not just about weekly team meetings and quarterly reviews. Take the time to get to know your colleagues because that’s the only way that ensures a line of communication is always open. Sometimes the best ideas or solutions are thought up over a cup of coffee or a casual lunch.

What role does communication play in keeping employees engaged and fostering a good corporate culture?

Employee communication and engagement go hand in hand. But we have to keep in mind that the phrase ‘employee engagement’ could limit our thinking - it assumes we just want to engage. But what we actually want is to make BMMI somewhere you’re excited to experience every day - somewhere that’s fulfilling, meaningful and fun! These attributes are what make employees committed. You have to like BMMI to be engaged; and in order to like BMMI you must know BMMI very well. How is that going to happen? Through communication, of course. You must keep employees informed, in order to feel like a part of its family.

It’s important to remember that communicating with employees isn’t just the role of the Corporate Communications and Marketing department. In order to engage and foster a good corporate culture, we all have a responsibility to share information and news.

Why are honesty and transparency so important?

Transparency has become a hot topic in recent years. It cannot be defined in one sentence – simply put, it’s the information that is needed and wanted, not just the information that is willingly shared. Facts need to be put on the table, even if uncomfortable!

We should all share information freely. Power is knowledge, and by sharing it, it empowers employees, resulting in a happy and productive workforce. When knowledge and ideas flow, that’s when employees feel invested in BMMI’s growth – making us perform better in our roles.

Transparency is essential in our culture. It builds trust, which leads to shared learning, collaboration, less back and forth, faster decision making and creativity. All these are plus points - but the biggest impact of transparency: it keeps leaders honest! BMMI’s HR department carried out a survey asking which value employees believe is most important in our Winning Hearts culture. The result was 45% see honesty as the top priority. This is over 750 employees!

So how can we make sure we’re being honest and transparent?

I believe having genuine conversations with your team is key. This will encourage tough and even uncomfortable questions. This might even push employees to ask what they want to know.

Our employees are the ones on the battleground – they know where the problems lie! Leaders’ role is to make employees feel comfortable with being uncomfortable. This can be done by holding Q & A sessions or monthly one on one coffee catch-ups, for example. It’s simple conversation that has the greatest impact.

Giving and receiving feedback that is constructive is essential. Train your teams to give honest critique and improve the team’s performance. However, giving feedback is just as difficult as receiving it - we all respond differently to it. It needs to be practised. When done a few dozen times, it gets easier and the impact will be apparent.

One of my worst experiences was being kept in the dark and then expecting to know how to communicate it. I could sense something was happening, but I wasn’t informed…because it was bad news. Did I not matter? Quite the opposite! It was deliberately not communicated to avoid demotivation and confusion. However, hearing it through the grape vine is a lot worse than knowing the truth. A game of Chinese Whispers never ended well for anyone. Sharing bad news is vital in building trust. It’s all about being honest and reassuring that the solutions are in place. In the Corporate Communications & Marketing team we openly talk about our experiences, how the business is doing, mistakes and offer learning points. You’ll be surprised at how much help your colleagues are willing to give.

What have you learned over the years about what people want from their communications?

Honestly, everyone is different and it’s challenging to satisfy every single person across the company, especially in an organisation that has so much diversity. I think the best way forward is to keep researching different mediums and ways to deliver information. It’s difficult to cater to everyone, and it can be just as frustrating to them as it is to you. So, I think the most important thing is to accept feedback and regularly ask questions. Keep the conversation going and make everyone feel included.

What are some trends in internal communications right now?

The world is changing a mile a minute and sometimes it may seem hard to keep up. The first thing to note is that the working force is getting younger. The modern employee prefers everything short and sweet. It can be said in one sentence rather than five!

When communicating to our employees based here in Bahrain, it helps to keep in mind that in our culture, we rely heavily on those we trust the most – so word of mouth is important! “I heard from Ahmed who heard from Mohamed who found out from his brother” could be even more reputable these days than what’s landing in your email. It’s keeping it real. At BMMI we have set up committees made up of volunteers who use word of mouth within their divisions to spread the word about upcoming activities - it seems to be one of our employees’ most preferred method! So, it’s crucial to always keep listening to what your audience has to say.

Being creative is essential. No one likes to see the same design, with the same text every day – so, we try to change it up before you see it. There’s more work that goes on behind a communication than you think!

Lastly, video. This will forever be the most interesting way to communicate. Sometimes watching something on the screen helps with authenticity, leaving a more impactful message.

Many office-based employees still rely heavily on checking emails regularly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go visit Fatima in accounts who works in the same building to see how she’s been before following up on a payment. Pick up the phone or get some exercise in – everyone appreciates the extra effort, and ultimately, it helps strengthen relationships.