The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30th January 2020 after it spread across over 100 countries, killing over 4,000 people. The first case in India was reported on 30th January, 2020. On 24th of March, 2020 Prime Minister Modi announced a nationwide lockdown from midnight of that day, initially for a period of 21 days. Later, PM Modi extended the lockdown till the 16th of May 2020.
In India, as the crisis snowballed, public authorities implemented social-distancing measures at an unprecedented level. Educational institutions — primary, secondary, and tertiary — were issued government advisories to postpone ongoing tests and examinations. Students, especially in higher education sectors — technical, management and vocational — faced postponement and cancellations of summer trainings, internship projects and even job offers. Both the faculty, and students, were confined to their homes. However, online technologies and mobile telephony ensured faculty accessibility and support in Covid-19 times.
A major challenge in COVID-19 times is stress, with virus fears, seclusion, social stigma and news acting as triggers. In such times, there are many organizational responses that are deemed promising as future areas of inquiry “to learn about how businesses can respond to broader societal problems” (Bapuji, 2020). One such method was adopted by the Indian Institute of Management Lucknow, India (IIM Lucknow). IIM Lucknow, is an AACSB and AMBA accredited postgraduate management institution in India. One of the four older IIMs in India, it has a rich academic history chequered with distinctive social and environmental contribution to nation building. Confronted with isolation and lockdown possibilities for another two months, it was a time for introspection. Could the institute go beyond classroom teaching and make the learning accessible to the general student population? What communication topics would likely to be appealing to the students waiting for their internships and new jobs to materialise? Finally, how could the faculty make a difference to the social landscape in these troubled times?
The importance of soft skills and business communication
Workplaces today demand more soft skills than technical ones as the former are more important for productive performance (Anthony and Garner, 2016). Soft skills include listening, communication, self-management, empathy, social intelligence, business writing, cultural intelligence and related social skills. Many college graduates and prospective job candidates lack these skills (Anthony and Garner, 2016) and therefore it is important to help the students (DeKay, 2012) more so in difficult times.
Communication skills are considered as major “survival skills” in organisations. Robles (2012) in his research on business executives found that they considered communication skills only second to integrity; communication competency ranked the highest especially when recruiting new graduates (Clokie and Fourie 2016). At IIM Lucknow, the communication area’s discipline focus is on “how should business communication contribute to organisational success.” The primary emphasis is to develop and hone the oral and written communication skills of the students and to help them imbibe effective workplace communication techniques and practices.
In early April, opportunity presented itself when IIM Lucknow was approached by UNICEF India (Lucknow office) to contribute to an FM Radio outreach programme, “Mirchi Home Tuition”. Both UNICEF and Mirchi are big brands in India with pan-India presence. UNICEF is dedicated to advancing the rights of all girls and boys in India, especially the most disadvantaged, while Radio Mirchi is India’s largest private FM radio broadcaster with radio stations across 63 cities in India. The aim of the special programme (see Exhibit 1) was to invite select experts across the country to motivate and guide the students who were facing issues relating to the postponement or cancellation of their summer internships and even job offers. The theme of the specific programme was ‘making use of the lockdown to learn about effective communication skills from experts in the field.
The Director of the institute asked the UNICEF representatives to contact the business communication faculty for the radio talk. The area was approached to give insights on how students’ knowledge of business communication could help them in this stressful environment. A telephonic chat with the UNICEF office head in Lucknow apprised the communication faculty the overall vision of the said programme (Mirchi Home Tuition). The faculty were then informed that the radio channel head would call them to give a briefing about the programme.
The channel head informed the professors that in the current ‘work from home scenario’, all radio programmes were being conducted from home, and hence, the recording would be captured on mobile phones. It would then be broadcast via satellite. Voice quality, he warned would not be that good, but that was unavoidable in the present circumstances. The two senior faculty were given a different set of seven questions to respond to in a span of 20 minutes, each spread over seven telephone calls. These, the faculty was informed, would be format of an informal radio chat. Specifically, the following areas needed to be covered: Importance of communication; effectiveness in communication; key points to remember while interning in an organisation in terms of communication; writing a compelling resume; writing emails; interacting with seniors and supervisors; avoiding communication blunders at work; and communication styles at work.
The interviews for the talk show were in the nature of advice. For instance, the author spoke on utilising the lockdown time by augmenting resumes. Suggestions in this direction were made such as adding online certifications, revisiting their online profiles especially professional networking sites such as LinkedIn; enrolling for professional memberships, volunteering in NGOs, to name a few. The author also made suggestions with respect to managing interpersonal relations at the workplace especially if one was interning in an organisation, or was scheduled to join the workforce. This included attention to listening skills, upward influence strategies, and even miscommunication on account of unconscious bias.
The response to the programme was indeed heart-warming. Interspersed with songs, COVID bulletins and motivational messages, its run time was for three hours in the morning 8 am to 11 am prime slot. The radio talk has since been replayed three times since on radio in April. It was a constructive method of collaboration giving impetus to the business faculty to forge a collective path forward during a pandemic.
Anthony, S., & Garner, B. (2016). Teaching soft skills to business students: An analysis of multiple pedagogical methods. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 79(4), 442-463
Clokie, T.L.., & Fourie, E (2016) Graduate employability and communication competence: Are undergraduates taught relevant skills?
DeKay, S. (2012). Interpersonal Communication in the Workplace: A Largely Unexplored Region. Business Communication Quarterly, 75 (4), 449-452
Robles, M. M. (2012). Executive Perceptions of the Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4), 453–465.
Radio Mirchi. https://www.radiomirchi.com/
Payal Mehra, Ph.D., is a professor of business communication at the Indian Institute of Management Lucknow, India. She is the recipient of the ‘Kamala Award’ for Best Paper by a woman awarded by the Indian Society for Training and Development.
Recommended Citation: Payal Mehra. (2020). Professor turned radio guest in Covid-19 lockdown era. the Western ABC Bulletin, 2.1.