Erica Goodwin is the Global Communications Manager at Heifer International, a global nonprofit working to eradicate poverty and hunger through sustainable, values-based community development. With a 20-year career in communications, Erica is on a mission to put employees first by discovering the best ways to implement employee communications and drive engagement in the workplace.


Chuck Gose:
Hello there Erica, welcome to Chuck Chats!  

Erica Goodwin: Hello, Chuck! I’m smiling as I’m watching you type and thinking I want to interview people this way, too!

Chuck: This is a super fun way to do a chat.

Erica: Yes! I’ve been curious to experience how this works. (Typing skills, don’t fail me now.)

Chuck: I’m glad to hear you want to copy the style. In an era of alleged “transparency” when it comes to comms, there’s no script here at all.

Erica: I do love the authenticity of it.

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Chuck:
How do you think something like this could be used inside a company?

Erica: We all like to know questions ahead of time — to anticipate how we might best respond.

I could take this and use it internally as a different method to feature employees, highlight our work in projects around the world and even use it in H:20, or Heifer in 20 Minutes, which is a broadcast we do to give employees insight into the organization in a short amount of time.

Chuck: Doing this style of chat is no different than removing a teleprompter from a video. It’s so much more real.

Erica: Agreed!

One of the missteps I made early on with our H:20 series was making it overly scripted.

At first, I thought we needed it to convey a simple message. After a few months of going back and watching the previous episodes, I realized having it scripted wasn’t allowing my guests to shine in their respective roles or knowledge.

We use a lot of pulse surveys to measure our communications success.

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Chuck:
I’m curious about this H:20 broadcast. Some would say 20 minutes is a long time to ask someone to watch a video but it must work for Heifer International.

What goes into the 20 minutes?

Erica: As with any communication, it does take planning and coordination with both our guest(s) and our resident Livestream expert.

We found that 20 minutes was a sweet spot where people would watch almost the full broadcast without demanding too much of their time, especially when it’s information they can’t access elsewhere.

Also, we use the H:20 broadcast no more than once a month, so it is infrequent enough to highlight larger initiatives within the organization.

Chuck: Please tell me it is pronounced H-2-O, like water.

Erica: It is! Since Heifer is intentional about including water in our projects around the world, we thought it was a great fit.

(Also, it was inspired by ESPN’s 60-minute broadcast E:60.)

Chuck: I love the name. You’ve taken something that’s familiar to most but spin it to make it your own.

Erica:  We are also looking at how we can take the idea of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and making it work internally for a fun way to learn new information.

 

 

Chuck: It can totally be done and I expect to see that from your team with examples.

A friend/communicator of mine named Stephanie McCarty had her executives do Carpool Karaoke as a way to show their sense of humor. Yours is kind of the same.

Erica: I’ve wanted to do Carpool Karaoke with our executives for months!

 

We haven’t been able to pin down the right time, place, song, etc., so we’re hoping “Execs in Cubes Getting Coffee” gets some traction.

Chuck: Yep, you can totally pull that off.

I’ve always wanted to do something related to game shows, but the good ones. Like Press Your Luck or Hollywood Squares.

Erica: Circle gets a square, Chuck! I’ll send you the videos as soon as they’re ready.

We want employees to know we are listening, we care and we are willing and able to make changes based on what they need.

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Chuck:
But back to business, shall we?

For those who aren’t familiar, what is Heifer International?

Erica: Heifer is a nonprofit, often referred to as an NGO, with a mission to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.

We provide training and livestock to impoverished families in the more than 20 countries where we work.

First, they use the training and livestock to feed their families. Then, they use the excess to sell at local markets.

Now, we are moving in an exciting direction where we are helping farmers form cooperatives so the group of farmers can gain more access to local economies.

As a result, entire families are lifted out of poverty and to a living income. At a living income, the families can afford food; healthcare; education for all of their children, including girls; housing; and important sanitation, health, and wellness items.

 

 

Chuck: I love talking with communicators who work in nonprofits.

Some of my earliest comms experience was with the American Cancer Society. And a lot of people assume nonprofits are resource strapped but it’s not always the case. You just have to be more mindful of how you’re spending dollars.

Has this been your experience?

Erica: Absolutely. We are always mindful we are spending valuable dollars that come from our generous donors, so we make the most with what we have. We want to represent them well while doing what we can for our employees.

Chuck: And speaking of your employees, you are a global organization. Do you have employees spread around the world?

Erica: Yes, we have nearly 1,100 employees with about 300 in the United States and 800 who work in our offices around the globe.

Chuck: A few years back, I interviewed JoEllen Saeli-Lane. She’s now with American Cancer Society but then she worked for CARE. It was fascinating to hear the stories of the work their employees where doing, but also the unique challenges she faced communicating with a global audience.

What are your biggest challenges?

Erica: (I remember that interview and listened with great interest.)

She is right, with a global employee base, communications is tricky.

Right now, I see our biggest challenges as being technology and language. Technology in that we work in very remote areas of developing countries where an internet connection either may not exist or may not be reliable.

Also, Heifer has a great policy about hiring people from the country to work there, so some of our colleagues speak their native language but not English, which means we have to be mindful of communicating important messages in a way everyone can understand them.

We need to be more intentional about measurement and connecting it to our work internally.

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Chuck:
So very similar to what JoEllen said. I remember her saying that she thought it was funny when communicators complained they had to communicate with employees who weren’t at desks. And she was like, we have employees who don’t have electricity or running water.

Is the H:20 video the primary channel you use to reach this audience?

Erica: It does make me wish I were multilingual so I could communicate with every employee in their native language!

H:20 is one of several communication methods we use. Our intranet, aptly named The Corral, is our primary digital online space we use to share information, in addition to email. We also use Town Halls, informal meetings, events, and videos to inform.

Chuck: How do you measure communications success, whether it be data-related, behavior changes or anecdotal?

Erica: We use a lot of pulse surveys to measure our communications success. Quick surveys with a few questions helps us stay on track.

Also, we use the analytics on the backend of The Corral, which uses Igloo Software, as well as Google Analytics, to track what people are reading and where they are going on the intranet.

We also get ample anecdotal evidence what is and is not working well, and try to be agile in making adjustments to improve.

Chuck: On pulse surveys. Do you believe in “survey fatigue?”

Erica: Yes, people definitely get tired of answering the same questions over and over, which is why we try to time them well and consider what else people are being asked to do at the same time.

Chuck: Want to know what I think of survey fatigue?

Erica: Of course!

Chuck: I think it’s BS.

What you described as answering the same questions over and over is doing really bad surveying.

But people, in my opinion, will gladly provide feedback if something is done with it.

The problem is that so many companies ask for feedback and then either do nothing with it or maybe do something but don’t let anyone know what they’ve done.

Erica: I should have said similar; we don’t literally ask the same questions repeatedly.

To your point, we do — as much and wherever possible — make sure we communicate that specific changes, whether it’s to our internal comms, events, messaging, etc., came as a result of direct feedback we received from employees.

We want employees to know we are listening, we care and we are willing and able to make changes based on what they need.

We provide a bridge for employees to gain insight into decisions, strategies and priorities leaders are making.

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Chuck:
It was so wonderful getting to meet you face to face this past May in Nashville and also a delight having you up on stage to be part of my podcast.

But other than that, what was your highlight from that event?

Erica: Obviously, that was the highlight!

My key takeaway from the PRSA Connect Conference was that we need to be more intentional about measurement and connecting it to our work internally.

I’ve been in this role only about 18 months, so we’re still relatively new. (Before that, it had been several years since we had an internal communications team.)

Also, it was a great opportunity to meet internal comms pros like you and know that there are hundreds of folks who are just as passionate about internal comms as I am.

Chuck: Well Erica, keep up the great work at Heifer International, and your own contributions to the profession on LinkedIn and Twitter. It was great seeing you in Nashville and I hope our paths cross again very soon.

Erica: Agreed!

Also, I am very curious to hear more about a certain hungry communicator collaboration you have. Thank you for what you are doing in our industry.

I’m looking forward to more great content. (The kind that says there’s no such thing as survey fatigue. :)

Chuck: Oh there’s all kinds where that came from, plus more “Hungry Communicator”, too. 🐛

Let’s wrap this up with you sharing your passion for internal communications using only emojis.

Erica: 🌉👫➡️👨🏽‍💼👩🏽‍💼 👓📋 ➕ 👭🌏👬🗣🎉⭐️

We provide a bridge for employees to gain insight into decisions, strategies and priorities leaders are making. We connect colleagues around the world and offer them a place to communicate so we can celebrate success together.