Stephanie Richard is the Internal Communications Specialist and Advisor at The Calgary Zoo where she works to take an innovative approach to managing the Zoo's internal communications channels. The Calgary Zoo is committed to excellence in animal stewardship and conservation leadership.

Chuck Gose: Stephanie, you know I’m a bit angry with you, right?

Stephanie Richard: I already know why. I’m sorry on behalf of the Calgary Zoo that the polar bear did not win as Canada’s Greatest Animal. Deepest condolences.

CG: Have you been able to confirm Russian hackers as the cause?

SR: No comment, but we’re vindicated.

CG: So for those who weren’t privy to the crime committed against polar bears, tell everyone about this campaign to name Canada’s “greatest” animal.

SR: We wanted a way to start the conversation with Canadians about the ways in which we need to care and support the species we are losing in our own backyard. It’s quite shocking when people realize the importance of protecting our own North American at-risk species. It was a clever way to start the dialogue and get folks involved in the campaign by voting for their favourite. We also ensured that the species were from all regions in Canada to be as inclusive as possible (minus the polar bear).

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And the alleged winner of Canada’s greatest animal is?

SR: The grey wolf! Or as we called them the “Leader of the Pack”

CG: How did you get employees involved in the campaign and voting? And were any of them upset about the polar bear, like I was?

SR: Funny you should mention it, employees were very committed to certain animals. Lots of rocky mountain goat fans here. On top of the Marketing campaign, I created an internal communications plan centred around engagement. I created a landing page on our Zoogle intranet site, built out graphics for cross-promotion on our other comms channels and also created a staff and volunteer contest. The contest was a big hit--it was a bingo card with each of the spaces representing an activity to do with the campaign. Say, vote for your favourite animal online, go visit Campaign Headquarters at Cequel Lodge, support by volunteering a shift at the face painting station. I had staff submit any completed row of their bingo card for some excellent prizes and I received plenty of cards that were fully complete. I know that food (tater tots are built into the company culture) and contests really make staff tick at the zoo!

CG: Okay, I have two questions now. First, one. Zoogle, the name of your intranet - well done. Did you come up with that?

SR: Yes it is. I held a poll for the name of the intranet site, the two top contenders were “Zoom” or “Zoogle” and Zoogle won out. I did however, come up with the name of our daily news vehicle that’s housed on Zoogle, it’s called the “Daily Wild”.

CG: Again, well done. My second question relates to how tater tots are part of your corporate culture. That sounds like the greatest culture ever.

SR: Thanks! It’s rare that I attend a staff function and tater tots are not on the menu! The zoo is a fantastic place to work and you can tell that the employees really enjoy and are passionate about their work here. Who won’t be? I mean, we’re all about animals and protecting them.

CG: And tater tots! Let’s talk more about the “Daily Wild.” Talk about the mechanics behind it, how it’s pulled together, distributed and measured.

"We’ve performed numerous surveys and discovered that yes, email is still king at the zoo. It’s hard to change old habits in an 88 year old organization."

SR: The Daily Wild was a brain child of the need to get information out to staff in a timely manner and ensure the content was related to “What core information they need to do their jobs effectively each day” for a diverse employee base. We wanted it to be front and centre when staff started their day, so we defaulted it to the homepage of Zoogle. Since Zoogle is a Sharepoint platform, we used a custom-built publishing feature that I schedule the posts which can include photos. I have weekly editorial calendar meetings with my social media assistant and marketing advisor and we pull together our content from that. I have broken the Daily Wild into internal and external sections to signify the difference in the content. I measure the Daily Wild using Google Analytics which I have built into Zoogle.

CG: And what has the measurement told you? Do you now have a good idea of what types of stories and information employees need based on the date of their previous readership?

SR: Yes and no. I have the ability to see how popular a day was, but the downfall of being on the homepage means that the site is the first hit on their internet browser as it’s defaulted for everyone. I use other techniques to determine success of my internal messages.

CG: Such as?

SR: Bananatag is one way I pull metrics, mainly from email messages. We’ve performed numerous surveys and discovered that yes, email is still king at the zoo. It’s hard to change old habits in an 88 year old organization.

CG: Doesn’t it make you wonder a bit how the zoo would have communicated with employees 88 years ago?

SR: Carrier pigeon?

"We have lots of zoo keepers share video and photos with us on Yammer. And one of the coolest things we received recently was a set of images taken each week showcasing our elk growing and shedding his antlers."

CG: Perhaps. So we know that tater tots are a big part of the culture there. But also love and care for animals. For a lot of your employees, it’s a lifelong dream of theirs to do what they are doing. I imagine the stories they share are amazing.

SR: Of course and they are deeply passionate about the animals they care for. We have lots of zoo keepers share video and photos with us on Yammer. And one of the coolest things we received recently was a set of images taken each week showcasing our elk growing and shedding his antlers. The keepers came to Communications one day and said, “Look at what we have done” and we ran with it and created a time-lapse video from these images.

CG: That’s a great example of employee generated content. How much of your content gets delivered to you, like the elk images, and how much do you have to go out and get?

SR: I would say that we receive 25% from staff and we have to curate the remainder. We always encourage staff to share their content and ideas--it’s that magic part of working in Animal Care that others may not always get to see.

CG: When you look at the goals you set out at the start, what are some key ones you’re trying to accomplish?

"We know that the best way to educate starts from the inside out. Staff have been the centre of a strategy around building their conservation and sustainability knowledge."

SR: Fantastic question and I’m glad you asked. In the last few years, our focus has been on educating the public about the fact that we are a conservation organization that also has a zoo. We know that the best way to educate starts from the inside out. Staff have been the centre of a strategy around building their conservation and sustainability knowledge. About a year ago, our President and CEO,presented this push for empowerment of knowledge being the key to educating our visitors. Since then, we have been sending out loads of content to build employee confidence in speaking with visitors, friends, family, really anyone about the amazing work we do with reintroducing species into the wild, community conservation and breeding programs.

CG: This sounds like a great example of how focusing on the employee experience is having a positive impact on the customer experience.

SR: You are very right. The results don’t lie, in the one year since we began rolling out our conservation and sustainability strategy, staff are 29% more confident in speaking to others, simply based on their knowledge of our zoo programs. It’s been a wildly successful internal communications win for us.

CG: And confidence really is key. Have you done anything specifically with managers to empower them as part of this?

SR: Of course! We encourage managers to talk to staff, who also love face-time, about each of our conservation and sustainability bytes. They host a morning huddle and chat about how to incorporate these messages into the conversations with visitors, especially for front-line staff in concessions, at the gate, and in our retail shops. Those staff might not have the most time in front of computers, but through their shift huddles that information gets passed on.

CG: There was a recent study that came out that talked about leader visibility. I don’t have the exact numbers but roughly only a third of employees know who their CEO is. And even less know who the rest of the C-suite leaders are. What do you do at the zoo to keep your leaders visible and accessible to all employees?

SR: In the fall, we held an HR Employee Solutions Group, basically a series of focus groups, to ask employees to find solutions to those top four to five issues that rate low in our Employee Engagement Surveys. One grassroots solution was to present leaders in a way that made them more familiar and accessible. On our Zoogle site, we built an Executive and Leadership corner with their professional bios and most importantly, a 14 point questionnaire to get to know them more personally. I make mention of it on Daily Wild to remind staff that it’s a great way to feel more connected to the leaders. But they also do a lot themselves, they make an effort to walk around and get to know employees and ask them questions about their work. It’s great to see!

CG: After snooping a bit on your LinkedIn profile, I saw that you have a degree in psychology. How has that come in handy in your communications role?

SR: More ways than you’d know. I know how to read a room-- whether in a meeting, chatting with employees one-on-one, sensing the energy in an All Staff Meeting. I find it to be an excellent degree to have and put in practice. Fun fact, before I found PR, I was interested in using my psych degree to pursuit forensic psych. Now, I spend my free time watching Investigation Discovery T.V. shows especially cold case files.

CG: And now we wrap Chuck Chats with the same question. Describe your feelings toward internal communications via an emoji.

SR: Growing_Pink_Heart_Emoji_grande

CG: Thanks for being on Chuck Chats Stephanie.

SR: I appreciate it and I want to mention that I totally think you’re doing a phenomenal job of educating others and sharing the joys/pains of internal communications. Keep it up!