Video Case Study: Managing Internal Comms on a Global Scale

Managing Internal Communications on a Global Scale
Essence

In this episode, Joey Konkel, Senior Manager of Global Internal Communications at Essence, shares how he’s kept his global team of 2000+ employees on the same page during the challenges of 2020.

From authentic leadership communications, to creating space for “courageous conversations,” to launching the first-ever virtual global awards program, Joey details specific initiatives that have allowed his team to grow closer together and have helped make Essence one of the best places to work.

Managing Internal Comms in 2020

Joey Konkel is the Senior Manager of Global Internal Communications at Essence. Joey lives in Minneapolis, MN with his boyfriend and new puppy Raja.

Rachel Kaplowitz is the Founder/CEO of Honey, a reimagination of the corporate intranet, designed to help employees feel inspired, informed, and engaged at work.

RK: Let’s dive right in. Essence is an award-winning agency. 2000+ people around the globe from India to San Francisco to Minnesota. I bet you’re thinking “how do we keep everybody on the same page?” all the time, but even more so now when everyone is working remotely. Tell us, from a tactical perspective, how you think about making sure everybody is connected and moving forward together?

JK: We have a lot of different communication channels we use each week and throughout the year:

  1. Honey. Honey is the glue that holds us all together — our one single source of truth. We use Honey to manage all of our internal communications. It’s a place to keep everyone up to date with information, get across important messages from our leaders, and also a place to explore our culture and connect in different ways that can really bring us together. It’s a really great tool to stay connected, at all times.

  2. Regional Company Meetings. Every month our leadership hosts company meetings in the APAC, EMEA, and Americas regions. We share high-level updates, talk about community groups, share promotions, and introduce new starters. It’s a great way to bring us all into a virtual room, make sure we’re all on the same page, and stay aligned on business.

  3. Employee Newsletters. We send out our employee newsletter every other week. It’s called The Essentials. (We call all of our employees Essentials). We use this channel to share important news, culture initiatives, D&I updates, and business milestones. It’s a great way to keep the drumbeat rolling on internal comms.

  4. Global Town Halls. We have Global Town Halls quarterly hosted by our Global CEO. They’re a chance to bring everyone together and hear from the top about the most important updates that keep us all together.

Essence Company Feed

RK: Every company we work with talks about Leadership Communications. They say “now that we have a new platform for our leaders to communicate out, we’re finally going to do it!” But then they’re like… what’s the ‘it?’ What do we actually want to say to our team? What do they want to hear? Tell me a little bit about how your team thinks about leadership communications. What do your employees actually value hearing in those updates?

JK: People want to hear about the now. They want to hear about what’s happening with our leaders in a Covid World and how they’re dealing with it. Because we’re all human, we’re all on the same page. There’s no hierarchy when it comes to Covid. We’re all just trying to get through this together. So, we’ve implemented a few things:

  1. Leadership Office Hours. Once a week we host leadership office hours in each of Essence’s offices. It’s a chance for people to come and ask questions to our leaders, get more personalized updates, and talk about anything they want to.

  2. Diversity & Inclusion Updates. Once a quarter, our CEO, Kyoko Matsushita, hosts a D&I update and talks about some of the things that we, as an agency, are doing to reach our diversity and inclusion goals. I know people are really enjoying hearing those kind of updates. With everything going on in the world, that’s top of mind right now and it’s really important to Essence.

RK: For us too. On my team, we started a group on Honey called Perspectives. It’s a place where we can all come together to share things we’re thinking about — podcasts that we’re listening to or books that we’re reading that have really impacted us. It’s been a small space of comfort in this really uncertain time.

Perspectives Group

On that note, there’s so much happening right now. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. That’s scary. That’s uncertain. But simultaneously, there are so many other things happening that are incredibly important and incredibly personal. You’re in Minnesota. You saw the Black Lives Matter movement really gain traction right outside your window; we have upcoming elections; we have forest fires; we have soaring unemployment rates… there’s so much happening and impacting every individual so differently. How are you thinking about having those conversations at work and what do you think is the place of internal comms within that matrix?

JK: That’s top of mind right now for all of us at Essence. We’ve created two different programs that are designed to open up safe spaces for people to connect and share how they’re feeling — Courageous Conversations and Uncovering in the Workplace.

Courageous Conversations is an initiative we’ve implemented to give Essentials a safe space to have an honest dialogue about anything that can be sensitive.

Courageous Conversations

Uncovering in the Workplace. “Covering” refers to not being your true authentic self at work — whether that’s hiding your identity, who you are, what you stand for. In response to this, we’ve been running these Uncovering sessions in each of our regions in an effort to let our employees, our Essentials, share their stories about how they’re coming out and uncovering things that they’ve been hiding at work.

Uncovering in the workplace

RK: It can be super intimidating to post anything to a team of 2000+ people — let alone something so personal. What do you think it is about Essence and the community that you’ve built that people feel confident sharing these “uncovering” stories?

JK: I think we allow for people to be vulnerable and we, in many ways, try to show that it’s good to be empathetic. Empathy is the one thing that we can all use a little bit more of. Essence has done a great job creating spaces that allow people to be vulnerable, but also feel safe, so they can open up and really talk about things that they’ve been going through.

Here’s a specific example. In response to Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ve been inviting people to share their stories on Honey about some of the things they’ve been going through this year or some of the things they’ve experienced throughout their whole lifetimes. We’ve seen some incredible stories of people opening up, talking about some of their hardships, and the things they’ve overcome. People have really enjoyed reading these stories and connecting with people in this way. We are all going through a lot right now and if we can be vulnerable and share that with other people it will allow other people to open up as well. It creates a better conversation, which I think will lead to healing.

RK: It’s so meaningful to me to hear that these incredible moments are taking place on Honey. But, more importantly, I’m so inspired to hear how you’ve taken intentional steps to help foster this type of community. I think it’s something all of us can learn from.

One of my favorite cultural initiatives I’ve seen over the last 7 years that I’ve been working at Honey is a program that you’ve built — long before the world knew anything about Covid. You created a program called “The Essies.” I’m going to let you explain it — I will not do it justice — but please tell us a little bit about the program and how you’re adapting it now that we’re not in the office anymore.

JK: One of the things I was tasked with when I first started this role was to create an employee recognition program. The goal was to celebrate our people and the brilliant ideas and work that they’re doing, while also bringing everyone together for an amazing cultural moment at the end of the year.

We created an awards scheme called The Essies. We invited people to submit their work for consideration — whether it was a campaign for a client or an internal initiative. It doesn’t matter what your function is in the business — we all contribute to what makes Essence great — everyone has amazing work that they can show off.

2019 was our pilot year. We had a great response rate for The Essies. We had top winners in each of our regions and it culminated with bringing our finalists to our NYC office for a week full of activities. It all led up to a final grand prix dinner on top of 1 World Trade Center. It was pretty incredible. We had a finalist dinner with our management team and announced our grand prize winner of The Essies. That winner won an all-inclusive paid trip to any city in the world where Essence has an office — Tokyo, Bogata, San Francisco, London, Singapore…

RK: Wow. You have some pretty incredible locations to choose from! Okay… so that was last year. It was so successful, you were so excited preparing for the program’s second year. But then… February/March came around and the world changed. How did you adapt this program?

JK: We were about one week away from pressing send on Honey announcing The Essies 2020 and then Covid happened. Obviously, that amongst everything in the world, changed and came to a halt. We had to put it on pause. It was not something we were able to do at that moment or really think about. But I’m happy to say that just two weeks ago, we launched the Essies again. This year we will be looking for our best in craft and transformation from our employees. We’ll have finalists in each of our regions, as we did last year.

The Essies

We will most likely host a virtual ceremony in December where we’ll announce our winners. We’ll be able to create a moment bringing everybody together, but sadly, this year we won’t be traveling to any cool places. We’ll all be staying home and being safe. But the show goes on and we’re still going to show off our amazing talent and the amazing work that they’ve done throughout the year. I’m really excited to see what we get submitted.

RK: I think, in a way, it’s even more meaningful to participate in these kind of initiatives right now when every day sort of feels the same. I know a lot of people I’m talking to are thinking about how to make a day at work feel special. I think an idea like The Essies could be so powerful. Even for teams who have never done anything like this before. People are hungry for meaningful experiences right now and we shouldn’t let the working from home limitations get in the way.

On that more positive note, I have a final question for you. Despite all of the hardships over the last few months, which resulted in us needing to cancel, change, or postpone so many plans, there’s a lot of good and reimagination that has come out of us being forced to reexamine how we work. So, what’s your silver lining? What do you hope will be different as we eventually come out of this?

JK: A couple of things:

  1. The way we’ve been able to learn about each other as human beings, and not just as coworkers. We’re all going through something we’ve all truly never been through before and it’s catastrophic to a lot of our lives. I think we’ve all been able to really connect in different ways that we may have not been able to do before. I think, in the end, it has really brought us all closer together.

  2. It will allow for people to work from home more often and be more nimble. To spend more time with family or loved ones or maybe take care of the new puppy they just got. If we can find new ways to get our work done and still focus on what’s important outside of work, I think that’s a beautiful blend that I hope will go on much longer than just the lockdown.

RK: On that beautiful note, thank you so much, Joey. It’s always such a pleasure spending time with you. Your ideas are so inspiring and I’m so excited to share them with the world.

To our audience —thanks so much for tuning into this interview today! Please share this along to anybody you know who is hoping to make an impact on their company, like Joey has made an impact at Essence.