In the first decade of the century, BlackBerry (then known as Research In Motion) was an unrivaled leader in the smartphone industry. The introduction of the Inter@ctive Pager brought emails to users wherever they went and with each subsequent device, they further refined their capabilities, bringing in phone features and internet connectivity—making them a household name with prestige across the world.
That all changed with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the Android operating system in 2010. These competitors, along with the substandard device launches, left BlackBerry in an extremely vulnerable position in 2011. In July of 2011, they announced the first in what would be a substantial number of layoffs over the coming years, initially letting go 2,000 employees, but in the end letting to of nearly up to 10,000 employees — with 4,500 alone being announced in September 2013.
Imploding Employee Morale
This landscape led even the most passionate employees to question not only their decision to stay with the company, but the likelihood of their own careers within BlackBerry. The management team knew that they would never be able to perform their critical turn-around strategy if employee engagement stayed low, so they looked to the Internal Communications department to make sure employees were heard and valued during the upheaval. They knew that fear would not be a motivating factor in ensuring performance, so they needed to appeal to their own motivation and job satisfaction.
Though the company was known for emails and was an extremely email-heavy culture, the team decided that they best way to foster that engagement was to have a single space where employees could go to hear from leaders, find out the latest news internally and externally, and communicate with each other. They decided to invest in their intranet.
The Rebirth of BlackBerry’s Intranet: BlackBerry Square
For years, the intranet at BlackBerry was a barely tolerated site that housed important forms and documents but made no effort to engage readers. In 2011, the Internal Communications team made it their mission to create a new site that would keep employees informed in real time while sharing content that would specifically help them in their roles.
They named their new intranet BlackBerry Square because they thought of it as a meeting place where people would gather to socialize and hear from speakers. They made the site extremely clean and easy to look at (particularly on mobile devices) with an image-heavy presentation and plain-written language that would ensure that employees from around the world could understand what was written. It was structured in columns with a headline and summary text and linked off to another story,
But most importantly, they included commenting and rating on each story, giving employees a chance to respond to what they read, answer any questions that may be raised, or provide suggestions and other feedback. They also included weekly poll questions and embedded social media feeds, so employees could evangelize corporate news on their public networks.
“Many companies built their intranets in the late 1990s and haven’t invested to keep them current as an internal publishing tool. Our intranet (BlackBerry Square) is absolutely a critical part to telling our story to employees – it’s something that we take very seriously because it’s THE communication channel for us to connect with our internal audience. It’s not marketing hype, it’s interesting stories written from a journalism perspective.” –Mark Wilson, SVP, Marketing
Using Global Town Halls to Have the CEO Talk to Everyone at Once
It wasn’t just written content that kept 90% employees coming back every day (according to internal metrics.) It was also personalized video communications from the leadership. In addition to scripted video messages thanking employees for their hard work around the torturous launch of BlackBerry 10, each CEO would take the opportunity to host a Global Town Hall after each quarter’s results — with a live feed being hosted on BlackBerry Square.
On top of having the opportunity to ask questions live in the room, employees could email the Internal Communications team or comment on BlackBerry Square to ask their questions in advance. Whenever possible, those questions would get passed along and answered live during the broadcast. Otherwise, the team would follow up on those questions and would subsequently post responses on the site shortly afterwards.
This was an important activity for all involved — especially during the most turbulent months of the turnaround. It gave employees an opportunity to raise their concerns, feel listened to, and gain insight into the future plans of the company.
Sharing External Activity Internally (and Vice Versa)
With the amount of worldwide coverage and scrutiny BlackBerry was under, there was no shortage of press about the company. Part of what the team found to be extremely valuable to employees was finding the encouraging stories that helped increase their engagement — not letting them get bogged down by the negative stories they may come across in their own social media activity. Things like celebrity endorsements, positive reviews, and even President Obama proclaiming his love for the device, helped the team feel like people were still rallying for the company.
Stories that were suitable for sharing on BlackBerry Square would have Facebook and Twitter links to help cut down the barriers for employees to share the good news with their own networks. Evangelism was a crucial part of the BlackBerry PR strategy, and it all started with each employee.
One of the things that employees hated more than anything was the feeling of external audiences getting to see things (like commercials) before they did. When BlackBerry rolled out its “Keep Moving” campaign for BlackBerry 10, the team would share the commercials on BlackBerry Square before airing it on external media.
They also got a sneak peek at the infamous Super Bowl commercial. What made it even more special was that one lucky employee won a contest that was hosted on BlackBerry Square in advance and lucky enough to win a trip to the set—sharing their story after the commercial aired.
Lessons for Others
A Single Source of Truth
Throughout the tumult, the employees at BlackBerry had a single place that they knew they could go to to find the most up-to-date information and hear from their leaders and fellow employees. By putting trust in them to hear confidential information and speak their mind, the executive team was showing that they trusted their employees and were in the fight with them. In a company so big, it can be extremely easy to have too much information and have employees not know where to go. BlackBerry proved that, with their intranet, having a central location where people could feel heard and cut through the noise kept them more engaged.
Industry: Smartphones, Security Software
Name of Organization Contact: Rick Andrade, Communication Specialist
Authored by: Rick Andrade
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