5 ways internal comms can thrive amid change and chaos

Twitter and Lyft offer lessons in how to keep employees on board in hyper-growth companies and other topsy-turvy environments.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

When you chart profits or share value in a hyper-growth company, the graphic line can look like an ascent up a steep mountain peak.

From within the company, however, the employees’ journey often feels more like a tangle of wire, zigzagging every which way, says Libby Laveson, head of internal communications at Lyft.

How can you establish a successful employee culture in the topsy-turvy world of technology—or other rapidly evolving industries? Laveson explains in the Ragan Training video, “Thrive in chaos: Build a change-adaptive culture in your organization.”

Silicon Valley and San Francisco are two areas famous for such businesses—think of Facebook, Google and Twitter. Often in such workplaces, however, every time employees “get to know their manager, their manager changes,” she says. “Every time they get to work on a project they feel really passionate about, it gets thrown out the window.”

Her pointers can be equally applicable in more traditional companies that face high levels of external pressure or demands for innovation. Here are a few lessons:

1. Remember the external when communicating internally.

Twitter, where Laveson used to work, draws an enormous amount of coverage. The press loves Twitter: Reporters, editors and producers are on the platform all day.

“Not only is there a crazy amount of press going on externally, but internally all the employees are seeing it and they’re believing it,” she says.

That means even seemingly mundane news, such as run-of-the mill quarterly board meetings, draw gaggles of reporters, hungry for crumbs of news. But employees, too, read the news stories (such as the one headlined, “Twitter (TWTR) Board Meeting Thursday Could Include Cost-Cutting Discussion“), making it necessary to message them as well—even when the CEO pushes back.

2. Invite employees to join a revolution.

“They want to feel that they’re changing the world,” Laveson says.

Isn’t Lyft just an app for securing car rides? No, it’s bigger than that. It’s a vision for the future.

In September, Lyft President John Zimmer predicted that by 2021, most rides on its network will be in self-driving vehicles, Laveson says. By 2025, Zimmer says, personal car ownership in U.S. cities will be a thing of the past.

The mass adaptation of will transform cities and travel. As they travel, people will be able to watch a screen, take a nap or finish that report for work, Laveson says. Fewer people will choose to own cars when they can quickly and cheaply summon a set of wheels through a service such as Lyft.

“All of the parked cars on the side of the road, imagine those all gone,” she says. “The majority of parking lots and spots gone. … It could be housing or a park.”

Make employees are part of your vision, Laveson says.

3. Evangelize the vision.

Beat the drum. Spread the word everywhere, from digital platforms to posters. If you have an internal event, use it to press your case, Laveson says.

With every email or every time someone talks in an all-hands meeting, ask yourself, “Is it connected to the vision?”

Also, she says, invite external viewpoints. Lyft has a Q&A for drivers so they can understand users’ perspective. Bring in people who love your product or business.

4. Learn to pivot.

Facebook’s philosophy, Laveson says, is, “Move fast and break things.”

In the tech sector, people often put a great deal of work into a project, only to hear, “Hey, I need you on something else,” and the project is abandoned, Laveson says. That can be hard, especially for engineers.

“The nice thing about this is there’s so much opportunity,” she adds. “Change brings opportunity.”

At Twitter, Chief Executive Jack Dorsey once called Laveson and said he wanted to bring together 100 global leaders within two weeks for a three-day onsite visit. She dropped everything to chase it.

In such situations, Laveson says, “Focus on what you can control.”

5. Celebrate failures.

At Twitter, they conduct “retrospectives” on failures to examine what went awry—even if it’s “an email gone wrong,” Laveson says. When Lyft developed a product that flopped, the company didn’t engage in finger-pointing.

“The message to employees wasn’t that, ‘We failed, we didn’t do this right,'” Laveson says. “It was, we were trying to solve something really, really hard. This didn’t go as well, but these are learnings we’re going to take to the next stage.”



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