For an Internal Communication professional and leader, it is always a challenge coming into a situation where you are taking over an existing internal comms system and IC platform. You are looking to improve on the work of those who came before you.
Now, imagine that you are given a clean slate. You get to start the process of building an internal comms system from the ground up. There are definitely challenges, but the idea of creating something from scratch can be exciting and inspiring to your creativity.
That’s how it was for Ben Matthews, Senior Director of Internal Communications at NVIDIA. Ben sat with Amanda Berry, Manager of Corporate Brand & Communications and Head of Internal Communications, for Simpplr’s Cohesion Podcast #12–The Value of Understanding the Employee Experience.
NVIDIA is a PC gaming graphics firm. But to say that vastly underestimates its reach, purpose, and accomplishments. NVIDIA is known as the “AI computing company.” Starting in 1999, NVIDIA began by redefining modern computer graphics. Utilizing a revolutionized parallel computing process, the incredible GPU spawned a whole new era of computing. Their GPU, acting as the brain of computers, develops deep learning. Combining it with modern AI has enabled everything from computers, self-driving cars, and robots to understand users and the world.
With such a great work environment, Ben found the challenge of building an IC system for NVIDIA motivating to him. But how he found his career was what we at Simpplr found inspiring.
Falling into Internal Communications
Ben has the classic story for most IC pros in the industry. He didn’t find internal communications as a career. It found him.
He was working at a call center for a bank in the United Kingdom at the time. Large volumes of manuals filled with policy and process documents were kept on his desk. Ben realized that the information could be more easily stored on an intranet and accessed by every employee. Intranets were new, and Ben was deeply interested in them. He pitched the idea to his call center boss and began with a pilot that led to setting up an internal communications program for the entire bank. The rest is history.
Building From the Ground Up
When given an opportunity to discover what building blocks were used to design and develop an IC system, Amanda is always ready with great questions. Even the most simple of queries can reveal the best advice.
Ben related that the first step is to understand your organization’s business objectives. If you don’t know what your company is trying to accomplish, the internal comm platform can’t do what it is created to do. It won’t be an asset and won’t bring value.
Next, align the internal comms team you have brought together to the objectives. Ben’s advice for this process? “Start small and build.”
Ben also shared with Amanda that while the process can be complicated and overwhelming, you need to have high aspirations for yourself and your team.
“I don’t think any established business avatar really has no internal communication,” Ben explained. “So there are always things happening. There’s always communications going on, but the key is to bring those together, to go and talk to your stakeholders.”
He further shared to lean into the concept of employee experiences as a reason for developing internal communications. Partnering with IT, facilities, HR, and security was key to getting Ben’s process started and off the ground. The best way to accomplish this task? Build your relationships.
Building relationships is essential to any position within a company. But when your job is to facilitate communications, the ability to foster connections is core to your existence. Ben believes that you need to begin with a conversation.
“Just go and talk to people,” Ben said, “without having an explicit or implicit agenda.”
Ben suggested a book about Silicon Valley coach, Bill Campbell, called “Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell.” Campbell recommends starting meetings talking about anything other than what you were gathered to do. The purpose is to build rapport and understanding. It is essential in developing these relationships to get to know who people are and their interests.
Ben felt that it was also vital the more you advance in your company to emphasize relationships. “I think particularly the more senior you go in any organization, it all becomes about reputation and reputation is built on trust and trust is built on the understanding of that person.”
He conveyed the lesson to understand executives from what they are going through as leaders, decision-makers, and human beings.
“Understand them for the amount of time pressures they have,” Ben shared, “and the amount of headspace they have available for the things that you’re looking to talk about. Being able to listen, to understand, and then to take action from those things is really important for senior leaders. I think the more senior a leader is, the more they’re looking for you to listen to their point of view. So, understand what they’re trying to do, and then challenge or activate it.”
Building With Curiosity and a Different Perspective
There is always a need to include diverse perspectives within internal comms. One of the first is learning from the past. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It can be a gift for future tasks and projects, knowing what works, what doesn’t, and what is repeatable. As for Ben, he believes there are indeed things he would have done differently while building the IC system for NVIDIA.
“I would have pushed more on continuing to build out different channels,” he explained. Ben further detailed that having a CEO with a similar perspective was especially lucky. When it came time for the company to build a new office building, the CEO appreciated Ben’s point of view and involved him in planning the physical office space.
That leads to another good viewpoint–that of your invested leaders and stakeholders. However, to have a fair exchange of ideas, you may need to get a seat at the table. The truth is that IC professionals can bring a different point of view to any situation. Ben shared that it’s not that others’ points of view or jobs are more important or they aren’t performing their jobs. The IC pro and their approach can supplement the overall picture in a slightly different way. It is mainly due to the element of curiosity that every internal comms person must embody.
Internal comms leaders and workers have an interpretation based on experience and inquisitiveness. It forces people to move out of their comfort zone and the flexibility to create a place for everyone to be included.
“We need to get out of our boxes more. Go and use that curiosity, Ben stated. “You know, I’ve heard, listened to the podcast many times. People always talk about curiosity on here, and that’s true. Use that curiosity.”