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Internal Communications: Creating Brand Ambassadors

Posted: April 13, 2015, 2:36 p.m.
by Ethan Wiggins.

In the past, employees were regarded by CEOs and managers as unimportant, replaceable parts of the company. Now, more and more companies realize the importance of employee satisfaction and superior company culture. Even with all of the knowledge of the benefits of employee happiness, some companies do not have strong internal communications systems. A recent CNBC article revealed the power of employee satisfaction:

“For example, anyone who bought shares in all 36 companies listed on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work list in 2009 and held those shares through the end of 2014 had returns topping 236 percent, twice as good as the S&P’s performance during the period. Those buying shares in Fortune’s list of the Best Companies to Work For in 2009 also tripled their money over five years.”

Magoosh-logo-purple-200x45Bhavin Parikh is the CEO and co-founder of Magoosh, an online tutoring company that helps students prepare for standardized tests like the GRE and SAT. Recently, Parikh wrote a few blogs concerning employee relations. In his blog “How to Boost Employee Happiness Without Spending Any Money,” Parikh gives six key points that influence employee happiness — three of which, I found, can be successfully accomplished through internal communications.

The mission
The first is to give employees clarity and purpose. This is achieved by creating a “clear and well defined mission.” In my discussion with Parikh, he elaborated on this point. “[Employees] need to rely on the mission as [they] make decisions,” he said.

Southwest Airlines is a great example of a company with satisfied employees and a clear and defined mission statement. Its mission statement emphasizes the value of customer service: “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.”

“For my company, there is a huge importance on employees because they are interacting with our customers,” Beth Harbin, senior director of communications for Southwest Airlines, said.

The second point that Parikh made in his blog is for managers and CEOs to show mentorship and support for their employees. Parikh said that many managers in both large and small firms are so busy with their own work, that they don’t have time to offer this needed mentorship.

“Every manager should have a weekly one-on-one with every individual on their team,” Parikh said.

This conversation should not serve as a lecture to the employee, but as a method of support in which the manager can connect with the employee and help them accomplish their tasks.

“[These conversations] should serve as a course correction and find out where the employee is struggling and their long-term goals,” Parikh said.

Magoosh is moving to a system with lightweight performance reviews every four weeks, instead of the annual performance review that most companies conduct. According to Parikh, this regular feedback keeps employees motivated and focused on achieving their goals.

Southwest Airlines has a unique take on connecting its employees to the CEO. The company has launched a video Q&A titled “Ask Gary” (Gary Kelly, CEO Southwest Airlines). Employees submit questions to the CEO (they are encouraged to be in video format), and then Kelly responds personally through a video of his own. The videos are posted on the company’s intranet, which Harbin calls “the hub of our information capabilities.” Harbin said that the videos have a very high viewership, which for a company of 46,000 employees across 93 cities in the U.S. is very hard to do.

Another way that Southwest connects its employees with its CEO is through its “Message to the Field” events, in which Kelly travels to the top five or six locations to host more than 5,000 employees for a social event filled with fun, celebration and a live Q&A session.

“[The Message to the Field] happens during the first part of the year,” Harbin said. This initiative helps Kelly and the internal communications team properly gauge the employees’ mindset and helps set goals for the year.

A place to share ideas
The final — and most important — point that Parikh made in his blog was for a company to always have a place to share ideas. Magoosh has two forms of employee to CEO communication: Asana and TINYpulse. Both of these are software programs that can be applied to companies of any size.

Asana is a project management software in which Parikh and his team at Magoosh have set up a separate project labeled “Ideas” where any employee can submit an idea to the company in an open form of communication.

“[The Ideas project] is not for managers to say yes, but to respond and let the employees be heard,” Parikh said.

Southwest uses its intranet to help foster two-way communication between its corporate headquarters and its field employees. The company has email systems set up for different positions in order for them to communicate to the proper assistance. Harbin and her team have also set up a blog feature on the intranet that allows employees to read and comment on blogs. Harbin calls this, “the most broad technique for two-way communication,” as her and her team are able to reach every employee and monitor and respond to the comments made by employees.

TINYpulse is a software used by Magoosh that serves to gauge overall employee satisfaction.

“It’s a way to keep a finger on your company’s pulse,” Parikh said.

Magoosh surveys its employees with this program every week by asking a randomly generated question. Every fourth week, the program asks the simple question: “How happy are you?”

Southwest: Keeping employees informed
In an effort to aid the clarity and purpose of employees, companies must make sure that their employees are informed about the company. Southwest does this in a variety of ways.

“My team spends a lot of time making sure information is provided to our employees,” Harbin said.

Most of the employees that work for Southwest do not sit at a computer during their work time, so Harbin and her team need to find ways, other than email updates, to reach the employees. The company has a variety of techniques from the old-school printed newsletter, to digital signs posted in break rooms, and even opt-in text info updates.

“We survey our employees on a regular basis through a comprehensive survey every two years to determine if employees feel that they are informed,” Harbin said.

Through these surveys, Harbin’s team spotted trends that show that employees favor information presented in digital format over print. Also, they found that employees want more pictures in their content.

Southwest is in the midst of upgrading its intranet to be more tailored to each employee.

“Our vision is that the employees will be able to customize [the home] screen to what’s important to them,” Harbin said.

For example, pilots may choose to have weather content emphasized or included on their home page from the intranet. Harbin said that Southwest plans to be in the beginning stages of the upgrade by the end of this year.

In the posts and comments on social media, emails to the company and her direct conversations with Southwest customers, Harbin learns a lot about Southwest Airlines.

“By far the comments about Southwest Airlines are about our employees,” Harbin said. These comments have helped Harbin understand that for any company, “Employees are brand ambassadors.”


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