Mirror, mirror, on the wall … how do you communicate with them all?


SAS is truly a global company, with just over half its employees located in more than 50 countries outside the United States. This presents some corporate internal communications challenges, such as not being too “HQ-centric,” keeping abreast of newsworthy happenings in regional and country offices, and involving global employees in celebrations of company achievements or milestones, just to name a few. So how do we do it?

Don't treat global communications as an afterthought.

One thing we’ve learned is that it takes a continual, conscious effort to engage colleagues in other locales. To that end, in addition to the divisional “beats” we cover, one of our folks is assigned a “global” beat. This person is the corporate Internal Communications’ liaison to all of the non-SAS-world-headquarters offices.

Cultivate relationships

This can take time, but is well worth the effort. The first step is to identify someone in each office who can act as the primary internal communications contact. At SAS, not all offices have a dedicated communications person, let alone a dedicated internal communications person, so it came down to finding someone who would don the internal comms hat from time to time. Our global communications contacts include marketing folks, HR folks and any other folks who are willing and able to work with us.

Once you’ve found your contacts, keep in touch with them and try to get to know them at least a little bit on a personal level. When you have an established, friendly relationship with someone, it’s much easier to pick up the phone and call them when you need something. Plus, after you’ve worked with them for a while, you’ll find that they are more apt to let you know when something of interest happens at their local office.

Build a network

So you’ve established a list of global contacts and developed one-on-one relationships with each of them. Take it a step further and build a virtual team. Our global comms liaison sends periodic updates to a Global Internal Communications email group. The emails highlight useful resources or top news items, provide updates on global comms initiatives and include information on anything else that might be of interest to the group. We also use this channel to solicit local stories related to specific topics, such as Earth Week, volunteerism, education, etc.

The emails are great for pushing information out, but sometimes only a conversation will do. To address topics interactively, our global liaison periodically convenes the Internal Communications Global Council, a virtual meeting via phone and WebEx to which all of the people on the global contacts list are invited. These meetings are good venues for brainstorming ideas for long-term or high-visibility communications initiatives or other topics that would benefit from a back-and-forth exchange.

Be inclusive

It’s easy to hold celebrations or fun events at a single location. Sharing an experience with colleagues on the other side of the world is not so easy. This is an ongoing challenge, but we sometimes hit the mark, like when we organized a “global toast” to celebrate the company’s 35th anniversary.

A few frames from the “around-the-world-toast” video

We solicited people in country offices around the world to submit video toasts to SAS. In each video, a person took a glass from someone off-camera on the left, looked into the camera and said “cheers,” and then handed the glass to someone off-camera on the right. Once we strung the videos together, it was like one continuous around-the-world toast. OK, so it wouldn’t actually fool anyone, and it might not have been the most original idea in the world, but it was fun, the finished video was pretty cool and, most importantly, we did it collaboratively.

Get together

Having everyone gather in one place for a communications summit – where colleagues from around the world can share their ideas, best practices, case studies, etc. – is great. I know, because we’ve done it a couple of times over the past few years. (Full disclosure: These were organized jointly by External Communications and Internal Communications, and open to all SAS employees in communications-related roles.) Think Ragan Conference on a smaller scale, with all the attendees and presenters from your company. Besides great information sharing, evening social activities can really cement those bonds among distant colleagues.

However, the reality is that such face-to-face meetings aren’t always fiscally practical. But that hasn’t stopped us from, er, summit-ing (yeah, yeah, I know that’s not really a word).

When travel isn’t an option, you can do like we’ve done and hold a virtual summit. Set up a presentation schedule like you would any other conference (though you might have to schedule each presentation more than once, to accommodate different time zones) and use technology such as WebEx, video conferencing, or whatever you have at your disposal to hold live sessions.

Does it have the same impact as an in-person conference? No, of course not. But it does approximate the results and you don’t have to break the bank to do it.

Mirror, mirror...

One of the things we’ve been rolling out to various country offices over the past few years -- and that we’re quite proud of -- is what we call “mirror” sites.

Although we’re all on the same intranet – the SAS Wide Web – several country offices have their own local sites to which they publish news and announcements specific to their location. Mirror sites are local home pages that have the same look and feel as the corporate SWW home page and are administered via the same “Global News Tool.” One section of the page is set aside for global news items that are automatically fed from the corporate news section. The majority of the page, however, is populated locally.

Because as much as we’d like to think the sun rises and sets with what happens at the corporate level (even though it actually rises and sets each day on most of the world prior to doing so here on the East Coast of the US), the truth is that what happens locally is often of most importance to people, and we have an obligation to help facilitate that as much as we can.

These are just some of the ways we handle global internal communications, but we’d love to hear about ways you foster communications with your colleagues around the world. So please be our mirror, mirror on the wall; use the comments section to tell all!


About Author

Karen Lee

Senior Director Internal Communications, SAS

Karen Lee joined SAS in 1984 as a technical marketing representative. In the past 28 years, Karen has successfully merged her technical savvy with her communications know-how to foster a sense of trust and engagement among SAS’ 13,000 global employees. In her current role as Senior Director of Internal Communications, Karen has embraced social media to find new ways to connect employees with one another and with company leadership. She has done this by challenging SAS executives to communicate with employees via individual blogs and live, virtual “chats.” In 2011, her team spearheaded the effort to create an internal social media network known as the Hub, which has created virtual communities for best practice sharing, idea generation and work/life balance. Within two weeks of its launch, the site had more than 3,000 registrants and continues to grow. Karen modeled her team’s structure around a 24/7 news cycle, covering company events with real-time updates on the global intranet site. Gone are the days of “holding the news” until the next day’s publication. SAS employees hear news as it happens. Even with a wired employee base, however, traditional communication channels are not overlooked. Karen established regular “coffee with the CEO” sessions several years ago in which front-line employees are able to interact with and hear about the direction of the company from its CEO in an informal setting. Before being named Senior Director of Internal Communications, Karen was Director of Communications Support for SAS' Research & Development Division. In this role, she found innovative ways to communicate with a traditionally introverted employee population. Using a variety of communications vehicles, such as podcasts and employee expos, she improved information sharing among customers, management and developers. Before becoming a SAS employee, Karen was a SAS customer, using the software for capacity planning in her job at Official Airline Guides. Karen has a bachelor's degree in computer science from Eastern Illinois University. Originally from Westchester, Ill., Karen currently lives in Holly Springs, N.C. Outside of SAS, she enjoys spending time with her family, enjoying the outdoors biking, running and traveling to find new adventures.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing. Great to hear how collaborative SAS works internally to support its customers globally. The 35 year anniversary video looks like it was fun team effort too!

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