Not long ago, Kim Clark had an ambitious goal in a time of change at GoDaddy.
The world’s largest internet domain registrar company was growing rapidly, with offices in locations from its Arizona headquarters to India. It had handed over the reins to a new chief executive.
“Employees really wanted to be engaged and felt like they weren’t getting all the communication that they were looking for,” says Clark, who is internal communications director.
Her goal: Increase trust in leadership by 10 percent among the company’s 5,500 employees worldwide. The result: Within six months, GoDaddy exceeded that, boosting the figure by 13 percent.
So how did that happen? In an interview, Clark offered a look at the tactics she developed after spending two months listening to GoDaddy staffers at every level. Her goal was to “have the conversation as much as possible around things that we had in common, rather than looking at the things that we have not in common,” she says.
Here are a few of the ways she increased engagement:
1. Tell their stories.
Clark started a storytelling series called GoDaddy Brave, featuring inspiration from the workforce. The stories are quick reads, ranging from 300-500 words and featuring a few photographs.
“The stories are personal in nature—them being human beings,” Clark says. “It’s not us pushing GoDaddy.”
The series started during breast cancer awareness month (October) and featured stories of staffers who had overcome cancer. The next month, Clark highlighted GoDaddy’s veterans.
Recent stories feature a series of stories about employees breaking free from old habits. One, titled “My 2016 Health Journey: From sitting on the couch to running up mountains,” is the story of a man who shed 100 pounds (and is still losing weight). Another employee tells how, after a divorce, he took a month’s leave, headed to Australia, went parachuting and did some scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.
“We’re a company that wants to share employee stories,” Clark says.
2. Answer their questions.
On GoDaddy’s intranet, there’s a place where employees can ask a question. As soon as Clark sees a question, she assigns it to an executive. She asks them to answer within a day. (“And they do.”) The answers are posted for all to read.
The company also hosts monthly executive hangouts online. Clark set a simple rule for these live-casts: 15 minutes of content, 15 minutes of Q&A. Chief Executive Blake Irving broadcasts from his laptop. “He’s looking right at employees, and he’s talking directly to them,” Clark says.
People can post questions, and they are handled live. The engaged workforce always asks more questions than can be dealt with in that timespan. Nevertheless, Clark makes sure all the questions are answered, even if that happens after the meeting ends.
“That sort of ongoing dialogue I have found far more to be far more effective than, say, a leadership blog,” Clark says.
Not all corporate bigwigs would drop everything to answer staff questions, but Clark pronounces herself “incredibly blessed with an amazing executive team.” They understand the value of communication. “They get it,” she says.
3. Hold a ‘story slam.’
GoDaddy rented a comedy club and brought in leaders at the director level or higher to tell a five-minute story each. It creates a fun, shared experience for staffers, Clark says. For the bosses, the events develop their communication skills, moving them away from talking about data.
Each story “has to be personal in nature, nothing to do with GoDaddy, and so allows us to get to know them as human beings rather than SVP so-and-so,” Clark says.
Local offices will be doing the same thing this spring.
4. Surprise them.
Once a month, employees arrive to find a surprise on their desk. The company also holds events, such as an ice cream social with a GoDaddy customer that the leaders want everyone to come over and meet.
The prizes get bigger than that. During a sponsorship of NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, the company had extra VIP tickets for races in various cities. Clark asked people to nominate a deserving co-worker and make the case for why that person deserved a trip to the location and the opportunity to watch a race.
Winners were not allowed to bring a spouse, a friend or a guest. Only GoDaddy employees could go. Each trip brought together five to seven people from offices all over to bond and enjoy the thank-you from the company.
“It transcended any kind of issues offices might have or teams might have,” Clark says.
5. Start a newsletter.
Well, this one was an inadvertent success. Clark stared the weekly newsletter simply to drive people to the new intranet. Each email is a roundup that carries the subject line, “This week at GoDaddy.”
“It backfired,” she says. “People love the newsletter. I can’t get rid of it.”