When food and agricultural consulting accounting firm Pinion added half-day Fridays this past summer, its communications team came up with a clever way to celebrate the initiative on its intranet.
‘Aloha Friday’, named for a beloved contemporary Hawaiian song marking the end of the workweek, saw Pinion create a new Aloha Doodle every week. In the spirit of the Google Doodle, employees could click on illustration to see a video, recipes, or something to celebrate the arrival of the weekend. Pinion also added a new song to its ever-expanding Aloha Friday playlist.
Pinion senior internal communications specialist Joanna Him designed the campaign, prepared graphics and collected relevant resources.
The campaign was well-received by employees and a win for the comms team. Then, on Aug.8, a deadly wildfire began to spread in the Maui town of Lahaina. Him brought the situation to the attention of leadership.
Debra Helwig, internal communications director at Pinion, remembers that meeting well.
“We knew we couldn’t keep doing Aloha Friday,” remembers Helwig. “This was horrific. How were we going to not lose the energy of this campaign and instead turn it into energy for good?”
From ‘Aloha’ to ‘Ohana’
Helwig’s team came up with the idea of moving from ‘Aloha’ to ‘Ohana’ which educated employees about the shift in meaning. Aloha, a Hawaiian word referring to a spirit of joy and welcoming was no longer appropriate, but another Hawaiian word — ‘Ohana’— meant a family that’s bigger than your birth family.
“Our clients are there,” Helwig said. “We have family there, we have an employee that lives there. This is time to gather around them and here’s how you can help.”
Helwig’s team got positive feedback about this, which she attributes to pivoting rather than throwing out the whole campaign altogether.
“We didn’t want to pretend that we weren’t doing this,” she remembered. “How could we pivot in 24 hours and figure out a new way to express this same energy, still have our Friday and still do all the things but make it something that’s valuable and meaningful?”
Another dimension to this: Pinion’s principal annual meeting was in Lahaina this past June. “All of our partners were in Maui about a month before the fire,” said Helwig. “So there’s a lot of personal investment on the part of leadership because they’d physically just been in this place. They interacted with the people who lived there.”
Helwig quickly crafted a compassionate, thoughtful and resource-laden message about the shift in focus:
Throughout the summer, we’ve celebrated our Fridays in the spirit of Aloha, which the Hawaiian culture embraces as a spirit of love, generosity, and life energy. We’ve enjoyed lots of recipes, videos, and other tidbits of Hawaiian culture as our way to welcome our half-day Fridays. This week, however, we must shift our focus from Aloha to Ohana, a special Hawaiian concept of embracing relatives, friends, and neighbors as family who work together and support each other. This week, the people of Hawaii suffered terribly under the destructive force of wildfires on Maui and the Big Island. Over 50 people have died, and the historic town of Lahaina, Maui is completely turned to ash. Hundreds of businesses and historic sites are reduced to rubble, and thousands of people are displaced. Some of these people are clients of Pinion. Some are our family and friends. They are our Ohana. If you wish to know more about the fires and the progress in assessing the damage, two good sources are the Associated Press and Maui Now.
The process of recovery from this devastating event will take a long time. Please keep the people of Hawaii in your heart as they mourn their losses and begin to rebuild their lives from the ashes.
She concluded the post with a list of vetted organizations that employees could donate to if able, including the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund, Maui Mutual Aid Fund, Maui Food Bank, Maui Humane Society and more. She also shared two GoFundMe pages for employees at clients of the firm.
Helwig credits Him for taking lead on not only the design of the initial campaign, but the pivot, too.
“Joanna Him is a glittering unicorn,” says Helwig. “She’s an amazing human being.”
Why it worked
This pivot stood out from past examples of the word ‘Ohana’ being used as a corporate culture-building tool, like when Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff wielded the word to describe Salesforce’s employee culture and then instituted massive layoffs. In contrast to the Benioff blunder, Pinion’s internal message wasn’t born from any employer branding aspirations or desire for external optics — it centered around employee experience and involved the input of employees and leaders from the outset. That goodwill was already amassed when it came time to shift focus.
It’s also worth noting that Helwig’s statement was simple and to the point, with compassionate language that made the stakes personal from the outset. It provided just enough context around the fires, but also linked to news stories with more detailed reporting. It also offered vetted resources, including the two GoFundMe pages that Pinion set up on its own.
Rather than undo the goodwill generated by ‘Aloha Friday’, Helwig is grateful that the team kept its initial spirit of celebrating the workforce and found a creative way to reframe it.
“We’re all part of something special,” she said. “Let’s celebrate it by going from taking care of ourselves with this half-day Friday to taking care of everybody else.”
Justin Joffe is the editor-in-chief at Ragan Communications. Before joining Ragan, Joffe worked as a journalist and communications writer specializing in the arts and culture, media and technology, PR and ad tech beats. His writing has appeared in several publications including Vulture, Newsweek, Vice, Relix, Flaunt, and many more.