By: Ashley Law
Redpoint Office Hours is our monthly series where we bring together bright minds for spirited discussions on building and scaling great companies, as well as highlighting trends on the horizon. Previous topics have included developer evangelism, product-led growth, customer success game plans, and more.
We recently welcomed internal and executive communications expert, Daria Kissner, who previously built and led those functions for Google’s Ads and Commerce teams and YouTube. Now, as a strategic consultant, she helps early and mid-stage companies scale internal comms to support growth and evolution. Daria joined Redpoint EIR and former VP of Marketing at Segment & Envoy, Hollie Wegman, to discuss the role & importance of internal comms. She also shared some quick ways to have a positive impact internally.
Below is a summary and top takeaways from their discussion.
What is internal comms?
First off, internal communications can mean a lot of different things to different people. Daria broke it down as three main mandates: to inspire, inform, and engage a team.
- To inspire: Have employees believe in the company’s vision and mission
- To inform: Make sure everyone is on the same page and able to make decisions with sufficient knowledge
- To engage: Ensure everyone feels seen, heard, valued, and respected
Where does it live?
Beyond definition, the next big question Daria and Hollie get frequently is where internal comms should actually live in an organization. We have seen it reside under People Operations, Marketing, and Operations. However, Daria strongly believes that it should be its own department — just as PR and Marketing are separate. They’re all communications, driving behaviors and beliefs with different expertises, audiences, tools & tactics. As a company, you want internal communications at the table to be proactively thinking of solutions from the get-go. This will help maximize their impact.
What if you’re not quite ready to hire a full time Internal Communications lead yet?
That first full-time hire might feel like too big of an initial jump. As a transitional solution, Daria suggests assigning someone on the leadership team to be responsible for Internal Communications. There is likely a leader in the organization that is seeing the pain points with communication internally and genuinely wants to fix them. Give weight to the new responsibility by making it a part of that person’s job description and performance review. Also, be sure to choose someone in a leadership position so that they are in the room when key decisions are being made. Next, given this person probably isn’t an expert in strategic internal comms, pair them with an Internal Communications Consultant. The consultant can help identify some simple, scalable changes that can up the team’s internal comms-game in the short term. They can also coach the leader on how to think strategically about internal communications and get out in front of any potential risk areas.
Why should internal comms be prioritized?
People sometimes argue that it can be hard to get leadership on board with the importance of internal communications. That’s where Daria would remind them of the following:
- What internal comms does (referencing those three main functions above)
- How productivity and retention seriously decrease when it’s not done well
- Internal comms’ role in attracting — and retaining — top talent
If people feel respected and part of a transparent culture, if they are truly bought in and feel that they are key in building a team, and if they’re treated as partners in the future of a company, it really empowers them to come in and do their best work. In return, they voice this to their community. Their excitement and respect is felt by others, and that positive energy draws others to you. If you create a culture of both transparency and trust, it can be truly transformative.
Of course, the case can also be made with data. One tactic is to use surveys. It could be an annual company survey where you ask questions that answer one of the 3 functional areas above. For example, ask if someone knows and believes in the mission of the company. If 80% of people don’t know the mission, that’s something you can address through internal communications. Another idea is to send out quarterly communication surveys (but only to a subset of the company so people aren’t bombarded), that allows you to dig in. Ask what channels they’re using the most and the least. All of these will give you an idea of what is and what is not working.
That data can both make the case for prioritizing internal comms in the first place — as well as assessing how well you’re doing. Other critical metrics to track include:
- Viewership and watch time at your all hands and company meetings
- Links when you send out information
Then use that information to tweak what you do moving forward. For example, if you have somebody who is reluctant to speak at meetings or send emails, show them how many people read the emails and click on the links, or how many people watch the videos. You can track these metrics over time, and they will ultimately speak to the value of internal communication.
How to create a positive impact:
In addition to sharing her wisdom and recommendations above, Daria shared some of her favorite tips and tricks to create a positive impact internally, especially with COVID-19:
- Connect efficiently: People, more now than ever, are looking to their work environment for a sense of connection and belonging. It’s important for leadership to have face time with employees and show up during these times. For example, if you’re at an all hands where the CEO is speaking to a bunch of slides, try to have his/her face big on the screen (eye contact is key!) and/or reduce the number of slides. Remember that people are not as likely to have 60 minutes to watch a full all hands — so be creative, shorten the content to sizable bites so they can take it in on their coffee break, walk outside, etc.
- Make updates meaningful: A cardinal rule of internal communications is to never send non-update updates. Always make sure there is something meaningful to say, or else people stop paying attention.
- Provide context: Don’t just say, “this article is a great read.” Explain why it is. Will it make someone think something new about the customer base? Great! Say that!
- Consider a wiki: Over and over, we hear that things are just getting lost in tools like Slack. Have a home base where people can easily find information. Having it dispersed through different channels and then making people scroll can be a huge waste of time.
- Be conscious of time zones. As hard as we try, if you’re a global team, there will never be a time that works well for everyone. Daria recommends rotating the time of recurring meetings to accommodate different time zones. Just that small act can go a long way towards showing your global employees that they are seen and valued. Another idea, especially relevant now that everyone is virtual, is to pre-record presentations from team members who aren’t able to attend a meeting live due to their time zone. A pre-recorded presentation and a live presentation over video look pretty much identical, and this way you can include more team members and content in your meetings.
- Have fun: Don’t forget to play to the community element! People need to have some fun! One idea is by hosting a talent show for an all hands or company event. Have someone submit 30-second or less videos of a talent (real and funny ones), and intersperse them throughout an all hands or throughout different team meetings. Another idea? MTV cribs work area edition. Activities like these humanize things, create that sense of connection, and make people smile… and who doesn’t want that? It is even better when leaders participate and show that they too are just like us.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel: Utilize the content and communication you create more than once! For example, share the bite size content from the all hands with new hires during their onboarding.
Finally, we are always trying to promote further learning, so we gathered a few of Daria’s recommended reads and listens. Please see below and let us know what you think!
- Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle
- Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund
- Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
- Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant
- Throughline by NPR
*All books link out to Amazon since our readers are dispersed geographically, but please consider purchasing from local stores, too!
Thank you, and hope to see you at the next Office Hours on March 3rd!