The role of internal communications in a growth company is much more than sending out employee newsletters. As internal communications consultant Daria Kissner explains, one of the practice’s responsibilities is to reinforce company values that help inspire, inform, and connect colleagues — especially at a time when real-life connections among coworkers are hard to come by.
“When you’re still a small company, you’re doing internal communications without even realizing it,” says Kissner, who previously managed internal communications at Google and YouTube. “Good leadership, running meetings, capturing meeting notes — all of these things are essentially internal comms, and they’re happening naturally. The tricky thing as you grow is that these organic processes start to break down, as people have less access to leadership.”
Four phases of the value-development process
Once a company grows, how does “inspiring, informing, and connecting” play out in terms of creating values? The “inspire” goal, says Kissner, is about getting people motivated to come to work every day and do work that matters. “Informing” is about information flow — are people getting the information that they need to do their job to their best ability? “Connecting” is about the individual and is tied closely to the human resources function — ensuring that people are seen and heard.
A company’s values should serve these goals, creating an inspired and well-informed workforce that can drive connections, even as the company grows and the workforce becomes dispersed. Kissner suggests a phased-in approach to creating values that stick.
Phase 1: Pushing the boulder
Kissner equates the development of values to “pushing the boulder” because it can seem like a task with a lot of work and not a lot of payoff, at least early on. “But values pay dividends for years to come, so you need somebody to champion the process and push it forward,” she says.
And how do you push that “values boulder” forward? First, limit the initial effort to a small team — you don’t need absolutely everyone weighing in at the start. Gather a group of about 10 people, Kissner suggests, with a diverse set of views and some passion for values. “Just like any product design decision, you don’t want to be self-validating,” she says. “Bring in people who are new to the company, more junior, people who are really senior, as well as product, design, sales, etc.”
Then, “let it simmer,” Kissner says. “Company values aren’t something you crank out in a half-day offsite. Have the small group meet over the course of several weeks and let others know that you are working on this. It helps get the broader organization on board if people hear this is happening.”
And finally, give some thought to the format of the values statement. If the list of values is too long and wordy, it won’t resonate with workers. She thinks five to seven values — a headline for each, accompanied by a sentence of explanation — is a good place to start.
Phase 2: The big reveal
Announce the values to the broader company, but keep the presentation simple. “Be proud of the work, be really clear, but don’t be too slick,” advises Kissner. “You hear about companies who put together a marketing video to show off their internal values, filled with happy employees … in my experience, employees tend to bristle at things that are too slick.”
Kissner suggests introducing the values at a simple all-hands meeting. “We’ve had people from the values committee get up and talk about the process that went into creating them and how they arrived at the values they chose,” she says. “We also frame the announcement as a first step — that we know that from here on in, it’s about living our values and embodying our values, and we’re committed to that.”
Phase 3: Every day after that
“Coming up with values and launching them is really important, but then you have to live them,” Kissner says. One way is awareness through repetition. Look for every opportunity in communications to mention them. If the company regularly shares messages about employee promotions, note how the employees embody the values and restate them.
Another way to drive awareness of values is through recognition. “Set up an awards program where anyone can recognize somebody demonstrating a value at any time,” Kissner says. “I call it a ‘virtuous cycle’ because you’ll see that if an employee gives an award to someone else, then that person turns around and nominates another employee. It leads to people looking out for the behaviors in a way that they might not have otherwise.”
Phase 4: Resonance > permanence
This process is about being realistic — the values may evolve over time, which is fine. “If there’s even one value that’s not resonating, it compromises the credibility of all of them,” Kissner says. “Hold yourself accountable by doing check-ins on the values as a leadership team, and listen to what you’re hearing from employees.”