Video Case Study: The ROI of Internal Communications
The ROI of Internal Communications
This is the transcription of the fourth episode of Between Us, a video series focused on tactical ideas by internal comms leaders, for internal comms leaders.
In this episode, Candace Nicolls, SVP People & Workplace and Katie Webber, Director of People Operations at Snagajob share specific investments they’ve made in internal comms that have led to a measurable increase in employee retention and engagement. We cover:
Where to find quantitative and qualitative data to prove the ROI of internal comms tools and secure executive buy-in.
Detailed spreadsheets, plans, and messaging that led to the successful rollout and adoption of their intranet to 300+ employees.
How consistency, tone, and reliability of internal communications has led to a reduction in anxiety and helped establish a culture of trust.
Snagajob is the country’s largest platform for hourly work, with 100 million registered job seekers and job opportunities at 700,000 employer locations in the US and Canada. They focus on helping hourly workers and employers find each other faster and more effectively, removing the frictions typically encountered in the hiring process. As of March 2021, Snajagob has about 260 employees. Before the pandemic, they operated from three primary offices; but as of this interview, everyone is working remotely.
Candace Nicollsis Snagajob’s SVP, People & Workplace. Candace has worked at Snagajob for 10 years. She started her career at Snagajob as a Technical Recruiter and now sits on the Executive Team as the head of the People Department.
Katie Webberis Snagajob’s Director of People Operations. Katie has worked at Snagajob for 6 years, where she does everything to help employees feel “happy, healthy, and engaged.” This includes employee onboarding, compensation, benefits, compliance — everything to make sure Snaggers stay happy and healthy.
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.
Rachel: Today we’re going to be focusing on employee engagement at Snagajob, how internal comms has made an impact, and what you’ve specifically done to make an improvement over the last couple of years.
So let’s go back to 2019, when you rolled Honey out across Snagajob. Can you tell me a little bit about what was happening at the company? Set the stage for everyone — why did you think, at that time, that internal comms was really important?
Katie: To fully understand our decision in 2019, we need to go back to 2018 and even before then. Snagajob had a great culture, as demonstrated by being on Fortune Magazine’s Great Places To Worklist eight times within eight years.
We just always had this culture of having a lot of a lot of respect, great people, a worthy mission… and then in 2018, we saw some market challenges that caused us to scale back some of our operations and focus on one product line. That resulted in two rifts — the closure of our Oakland office and the removal of our CEO. So, a lot of change.
Following those big moves, our employees started to get poached by competitors and we started to lose some of our best talent. As an HR team, we got together at the beginning of 2019 and said “we have to do something.” How were we really going to help the situation people-wise? We found that we didn’t really have a lot of data — we had a lot of anecdotes about what was going on, but we were missing important data. At that point, we decided to launch an engagement survey to really get a full understanding of what was in the thoughts and minds of our Snaggers.
We had really great participation from that survey, so that helped us get the ear of our Executive Team. Through a really deep analysis of this engagement survey, we realized that communication and collaboration were really impactful drivers for our Snaggers and were rather low. It became our focus area — we created a pretty detailed plan about how we were going to spend the remainder of the year — even going into 2020. It wasn’t just going to be a point in time situation — we were really going to try to improve this.
That became our guiding light. It’s what led to the research into some of our tools and ultimately led to the implementation of Honey.
Rachel: Thank you for speaking so candidly about the hard times. It’s something we all experience and something that’s so hard to get on a platform and tell other people about. We’ve all been there — it’s scary and it’s hard. To know that other people have sort of gone through their own version of it is really reassuring to everyone listening today.
Tell me a little bit about how you thought about internal comms — for the cynics in the room — sometimes they put internal comms and employee engagement in the fuzzy, “nice-to-have” bucket. How do you think about it from an ROI perspective? How does investing in internal comms tools and strategies to support them contribute to the bottom line at the company?
Katie: As HR Leaders, ROI is always one of the most difficult calculations to come up with, because so much of what we do is indirect. But, we do link it to turnover. Specifically for this initiative, we only have anecdotes to tie it back to turnover. We don’t have exit interviews where people say “I’m not leaving because of communication.” We do have many anecdotes from Snaggers that say the work that we’ve done around engagement and communications has improved our leaders and is keeping them at Snagajob.
We saw our turnover rate stabilize after 2018 and we attribute some of this to our work in this front.
Rachel: From my personal perspective, more importantly, how do you think internal comms impacts employee happiness, retention, and just loving being at work?
Katie: We know, as HR Leaders, in our everyday conversations that communication is key — it’s vital — it’s the lifeline to employees feeling and knowing how to do their job.
More specifically, we have really seen communication helping to relieve anxiety for teams, especially amidst all the change in 2020. We’ve seen a difference in regards to prioritization — it’s not like teams have infinite resources. Enabling communication allows them to self manage, which is empowering for them. Then to work through prioritization between those resources, which is really important — not just focusing on what we are going to do, but what we’re not going to do, which is pretty vital right now, because we all know that burnout is pretty common. Communication is not just the warm and fuzzies — not just the connection part. We’ve really seen it be an enabler for productivity.
Rachel: I think burnout is more real than it’s ever been before, given the context of the world right now. That’s really an important thing to bring up.
Candace: I’d actually piggyback on something Katie said, I think it’s so important in what we’ve seen, even over the last 12 months, around these communications tools and employee retention is making sure that leadership communications is impacting your team. I think, for us, one of the things we saw early on was that there was a lot of instability in the market, a lot of misinformation coming from the news. People were glued to their screens all of the time and getting misinformation from Twitter.
Having one internal source of truth that they could lean on, that was coming from our Executive Team, to cut through the clutter was really important.
I think we’ll probably talk a little bit more about that, but when we talk about reducing anxiety, improving happiness, making sure your Executive Team is leveraging those channels to share relevant information was so helpful for us.
Rachel: One more question around happiness at work before we move onto the tactics here — you mentioned that your company has been on the Greatest Places to Work list for nearly a decade, which is incredible. Is there anything else you’d add in that context about what you think it means to be a Great Place to Work?
Candace: I talk about this a lot, because I interview everybody that we hire. I talk about Snagajob’s culture quite a bit. I think all of the components that we’re talking about today really do feed into what culture means. I think the last year has proven that if culture means you’ve got ping pong tables and kegs, you’re kind of out of luck, because nobody can take advantage of those things right now.
When we talk about what makes Snagajob a great place to work, the first thing I think about is trust. There’s trust in the message that people are getting from leadership. There is a feeling of pride in what we do. Snagajob is a very mission oriented organization, people can see the impacts of the work we do on hourly workers and hourly employers — especially over the last 12 months, we’ve seen it in a way we’ve never had before. There’s camaraderie. People like what they do and they like doing it with the people they’re around every day. People feel like they are treated fairly and with respect — no matter what their position in the company, no matter what they look like, no matter who they are, no matter how they identify, that’s really important for us when we think about what makes Snagajob a great place to work.
And if you think about all of those things — trust, pride, camaraderie, respect, fairness — the unifying factor in those things is communication. How are we making sure we’re sharing the right information at the right time with the right people to make sure we’re enhancing all of those things that make Snagajob a great place to work.
Rachel: All of that is such a wonderful testament to the two of you — what you’ve done at the company, how long you’ve both been there, the different types of roles you’ve been exposed to there. It seems like Snagajob is a place people come to grow, build, and stay, which is an amazing thing to be proud of.
Shifting into a more tactical question — tell me about the 0–1 phase with the implementation of your intranet — the implementation of Honey. After you conducted your research and selected your vendor, how did you manage implementation, rollout, and adoption across a 300 person team?
Katie: Where do you even begin with this? First, we created lots of spreadsheets. The favorite tool of HR teams.
Let’s get specific here:
Emails saying “hey this is coming” and we hung up posters in the office. We didn’t just send emails to the whole company, but to different stakeholder groups, really trying to tailor it to what was going to change for them, so that when we did go live, it wasn’t the first time people were hearing about it.
Involving Moderators from the very beginning.
We, pretty early on, created our content architecture, which helped to determine who was going to own content and who needed a seat at the table from the very beginning. Some of the things that we did — obviously, we met with them individually, but we also had a Moderator Training, probably a week before go-live to make sure everybody was on the same page, knew how to use the tool, and understood how to create a Group. It was a little bit of a “train the trainer.” That was really helpful.
And, I know you said 0–1, but 2 is really important in regards to adoption. You can’t just set it and forget it. For example during post-pandemic, we were planning our first communication from our CEO. I was working with his Executive Business Administrator, trying to decide what the right channel was for our first weekly update. She was trying to determine if email was the most appropriate channel — and we were both like, “No, it has to be Honey.” This was a perfect time to drive adoption and to model the behavior from the Executive team for use of this tool.
Leadership Communications. The more that you can get leaders modeling and using the tool, the better. I think that sometimes, if you don’t have access to that team, but you have access to their support team that enables their success, then that can be a really great way to get in the door and drive behavior change for a group that may be harder to influence.
Rachel: That’s a good segue to my next question. I think one of the hardest things that a lot of people face rolling out a company-wide project — whether that’s Honey or anything else, there are many company-wide tools that require strategy and buy-in — is about getting their leadership team on board. I’m curious to know, what did that look like in the beginning stages for you and what advice do you have for someone who might be in your shoes at a different company trying to get executive buy-in.
Candace: We know our Executive Team really well. I’m fortunate enough to sit on the Executive Team. Knowing the particular pain points that would resonate with our Executive Team was our initial driving strategy. We knew that communication to build trust was an imperative. We knew that getting good ROI was an imperative. I think that might be my one tip for anybody approaching this is understand what pain points this will solve for your Executive Team, knowing that it will probably be a little bit different everywhere.
Katie: We had to start with the audience and then what we wanted them to walk away with. Leading with that, we then supplemented it with data. We’re not unique in saying this, but data is so important. We had data from our engagement survey, but sometimes data is harder to come by in the People space. In addition to our engagement survey data, we pointed to turnover in high potential employees and common themes in exit surveys. You can get data from other sources to help create your case. And then, we broke it down to a cost per user per month.
The ROI component — it wasn’t a full cost analysis of projected benefits — but we tried to show the full impact of what we were proposing. We weren’t just proposing to use Honey, we were expanding our use of some other tools and consolidating others, so we wanted to be very upfront with them about what the total cost was going to be per employee per month. And then we framed that cost in relation to payroll cost to give them a perspective to realize that it wasn’t that much in regards to the benefits we were going to get — specifically around our retention pain points.
Rachel: That’s a great tip. I think that everyone can use that framework at their companies, regardless of how big they are or where they are in their scale.
You mentioned a little bit about leading up to your kickoff — you mentioned moderator training, you let people know it was coming. But you’ve talked a little here and a lot more outside of this interview about how important you thought the kickoff was to get right. Can you tell me a little more about what that kickoff looked like and what, specifically, you thought went really well?
Katie: It started off with literally having a baby. Literally on the day we had kickoff scheduled. That part wasn’t planned.
Planning & Spreadsheets. The importance of planning and spreadsheets — I can’t stress that enough. Up until that point, we had a very detailed go-live agenda, down to the night before to the day of. We partnered with Tech Ops throughout the entire implementation. It was really important to us to cadence out when we were turning certain systems off, when we were going to activate Okta and other integrations that we had, and then how we were going to communicate to the general audience, and then to different user groups. Obviously, I wasn’t there. It was important for us to have a second person in command who was able to run all of this while I was out. It was on auto-pilot on that point.
Scheduled Posts. Using Honey’s Scheduled Posts feature was a really helpful tool. I was able to create two Posts that went live at certain times on our go-live date. They both got really high readership. The two topics were pretty tactical. They were:
How do I make a Post on Honey?
Where’s all of my old content?
We had an intranet prior to Honey and we knew the most popular pages. So we were very, very clear as to why we were decommissioning our other intranet, what that meant, and how employees could find their new content on Honey. Using Scheduled Posts made it easier for us to manage this rollout, instead of needing to remember to publish a Post at a specific time. Using automation helped.
Rachel:And a big shoutout to your design team. I think you have the most beautiful groups that I’ve seen throughout any Honey organization. I love that you tied in the visual aspects into kickoff as well.
Candace: It definitely created a more seamless user experience than our previous intranet did. Having that consistent branding was really important for stickiness. Extra credit if your team can have a baby at the same time this launches — because my announcement that baby Adam had arrived was the first thing I posted on Honey and it got a ton of engagement!
Rachel: Haha, great advice. Speaking of having very careful plans. I know your team now and know you always plan ahead and are very thoughtful and understand the importance of being flexible. We can’t talk about internal comms without talking about the challenges that came along with 2020. I imagine you had an entire year planned out and you probably had a very different reality than what you were anticipating. So, tell me a little bit about how you adapted your internal comms plans for last year and how you used Honey to bring it all to life.
Candace: When you think about the last 12 months, not only have we — along with everyone else — shifted from an environment where, odds are, most of your employees are co-located to an environment where everyone is virtual, you are also navigating health challenges you’ve never navigated before, and you’re probably navigating business challenges you’ve never navigated before. We had the biggest civil rights movement in history unfold in the midst of all of this, again when we couldn’t necessarily be together to support one another and we were also all struggling with mental health in ways that have never popped up in a work setting this vocally before.
Cadence. So, for us, we were able to use a strategy, like posting on Honey, really making sure we had the right cadence down. We asked questions like, how should we be thinking about the frequency that we were sending out information? How do people know when to expect these regular updates about what was happening in the business, about what was happening in the market.
Transparency. We are in a space that serves hourly employees. We saw business impacts really early on in March. So, seeing those Honey Posts that were coming out from our CEO once or twice a week, back to the beginning of March of 2020 were really critical for the rest of the organization to understand not just what we were seeing, but how we were making decisions. I think getting that level of granularity in that format was not something we had anticipated, but it was the right way to make sure we were getting all of the information out to everyone as quickly as possible in one place that they could go back to. That was really important.
Tone. Then, it was around setting the right tone for what we were messaging. One of our core values is candor. How were we making sure we were giving people the right level of transparency into what was happening? We probably would never have thought we’d be putting out this business critical, meaty information, with data from Goldman Sachs around how we were predicting what was going to happen next in the market. Seeing this type of information and knowing when to expect it became really important for the people in our organization.
Inclusion. Then, I think it was about the type of content we were starting to share. I hate to say that I never thought I’d be sharing anti-racist resources in a company intranet before, but we did. We had a lot of very substantial conversations around race last year, as I’m sure many other companies did. Having one avenue where we could say, “hey, we know this is something that people are struggling with. We want to acknowledge that people need some time and space to process their emotions. Here’s the conversations we’re going to start to have about these things. In the meantime, here are some resources you can use to help have conversations with your family, to help process this better yourself. And, again, sharing that in one central “inclusion section” on Honey was really helpful for us to be able to disseminate that information in real time across the organization.
Same thing with mental health resources. Again, this was something that we felt was really important to share as we started to see our internal employees start to struggle with mental health. We saw it in the community, we saw it all over the place when we were talking about the covid impacts to employees. Having a single source where people could say “hey, I don’t know that I feel comfortable talking about this, but how can I make sure I’m taking care of myself? How do I know what’s available to me?” Being able to have a self-directed page on Honey where people could actually think through what they needed was incredibly helpful. We actually just had a meeting with our benefits broker last week where we saw a really major uptick — over a 150% increase — in usage of our mental health resources that are available through our insurance. So for me, as much as I hate that people are struggling, we knew that it was happening, and I love that people were able to get access to the information they needed to meet them where they were at that particular time.
For us, those kind of critical things were important. But, it was also really important for us to make sure that we were keeping up with the cadence of things that were already really important to us. How were we keeping up our patterns of recognition? How were we still sharing the same regularly scheduled information? That sense of consistency was really important for us last year. Continuing to post things like new “Snaglets” that were arriving, continuing to post things like sales gongs when we had really cool deals that happened.
People were looking for that single source of information because they couldn’t walk to the person next to them and get it.
So, I think for us, it was keeping that consistency of what we were already doing as well as layering in important information that people needed to have repetitive access to in ways that we never thought we’d need to.
Rachel: I’m so thrilled to hear that Honey played a role in all of this. In the context of pandemic, there are so many specific things that you’ve done that are remarkable. But, we know that a tool itself is never the magic bullet. I’m curious, maybe outside the pandemic context, what kind of tactics have you implemented using Honey that you think helped drive the results of the employee happiness, engagement, internal comms improvements over the last couple of years?
Consistency. This is pretty tactical, but honestly, it’s the consistency that Candace was mentioning earlier. It’s actually the consistency across our channels, too. Not just with our use of Honey. Really driving as much communication, as opposed to email, as possible, because the more that we did that, the more that we could link back in future conversations, future trainings, and future Slack messages. This is the benefit of an intranet — it’s just so beneficial to have everything on one page. You know, you can’t link to an email. That is huge in regards to driving that change.
Leadership Involvement. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have our CEO use Honey weekly (at least). And when he did that, then his other team members started to do it too.
Strategic Announcements. Finally, we were really intentional in our use of Announcements. We really tried to cut down on the noise. Using Honey’s Announcement feature sends a real-time notification to people, so we really try to respect that people have different preferences and they’ve each customized their own Honey notifications to truly support how they want to digest information. So we try not to override that when possible.
Rachel: Last question — it’s two years later — we started this in 2019, what kind of impact do you think it’s had on your company to have an intranet in place?
Candace: It’s a summary of everything we’ve talked about. Katie just hit on a really important one. We run really lean here, so having that efficiency of how we are delivering information and being able to have a repeatable resource of where we can direct people to has just been a huge time saver. It’s provided us consistency — certainly across the last year — but beyond that. It’s really set the tone for how we’re going to put out communications in the right cadence and consistency going forward.
The other kind of big, meaty thing that wasn’t available in our previous intranet, that Honey has done such a great job with is being able to customize the communication to reduce the noise that Katie mentioned. If there are some people who don’t want to know about baby announcements (for some weird reason), they don’t have to know about them. Honey helps us make sure they’re getting the important information. There are some Groups we sign all employees up for, because we want to make sure they have that really pressing information, but allowing people to have that kind of control over the noise and level of information they’re getting has been really impactful.
Katie: We do have, hot off the press, our engagement results from 2021. It’s great. The three questions out of the thirty-five questions we asked our employees, that improved the most since last year were around communication and collaboration. Those questions gained between 13–16% year over year, which is pretty surreal.
Overall, we saw a lift in our engagement and people who think Snagajob is a great place to work. Can that all be contributed to communication? Absolutely not. But, seeing material gains in those questions shows us that everything that we’ve been talking about is making a difference.