🚪Internal Communications Introductions: Allison King
Senior Director of Internal Communications & Editor in Chief at California Closets
In This Edition
🎉 Approaches for working on employee engagement
💡 Ideas for launching an Intranet
🧰 Skills to tap into for Internal Communications leaders
With more than 20 years of communications experience, Allison King understands the value of tapping into the strengths of individuals to generate powerful, productive teams that are focused on achieving their goals. Currently, she’s Senior Director of Internal Communications & Editor in Chief at California Closets. Previously, she was at EILEEN FISHER as Vice President of Employee Engagement & Communications. While there, she educated and energized employees on company strategy and purpose through multiple mediums.
Prior to that, she was the head of Internal Communications for IBM Research where she spearheaded an effort to reenergize the research community through Innovation Days. She’s also been an Account Supervisor at Powell Tate and a Communications Associate at The White House.
Allison is an advocate of strategic communications efforts that enliven an organization’s culture and invite employees to become stronger contributors to its success. She has an M.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, and a B.A. in English from Vassar College.
What sparked your path into internal communications?
I really thought I would become a journalist, either as a reporter or a producer. But after graduate school, I knew I didn’t want to go that route. Instead, I took a fun job at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, which was a really fun people-focused job. And as I think about it, that job really became the foundation of the type of work I love to do today.
After that first job, I focused on work in editorial production, public affairs, and crisis communications. I didn’t know about internal communications until I joined IBM in 2000. What I realized was that internal communications provided a wonderful opportunity to build relationships with employees and help them understand the company in which we all work.
I like to see myself as more of a communications strategist, tapping into all of my previous experiences — whether it’s media relations, events, or crisis communications. All of these areas are about understanding your audience, identifying key messages, and knowing what you are trying to accomplish.
How do you define internal communications?
It's really about helping employees understand the culture and the strategy of the company. Ideally, you want to help employees feel like they are contributing to living the company’s values and achieving the business goals. A lot of internal communications is rooted in supporting the culture of a company.
What is your approach to working on employee culture?
Most companies simply announce their values and mission but don’t offer proof of how they are demonstrating these values. For example, EILEEN FISHER is committed to environmental sustainability. When you visited their offices, the company didn’t offer plastic utensils; the kitchens were stocked with silverware and porcelain plates.
Another value had to do with collaboration. I recall a moment when we were exploring revenue-generating opportunities. We asked our internal community ideas and invited them to submit them to a small volunteer group of employees who would review these recommendations. This small group synthesized all the ideas and shared them with the senior leadership team, and they pursued many of the recommendations. This really showed that we cared about our values to engage and collaborate with employees.
What’s a project you’re proud to have led over the years?
I often talk about the launch of our first Intranet site — not about its actual launch, but how we did it. Because many employees had never worked in a company with an Intranet site, we knew that our first step was to help understand its value, and we held several learning sessions about best practices in the industry and real-time examples of other companies’ sites. We created a cross-company team with representatives from every team, and they became the liaisons to their colleagues to gather data and insight to bring into our conversations.
Before we even began building the site, we held a number of mini-town halls to get a pulse on whether or not we were heading in the right direction with our plans. I remember presenting our first outline for the Intranet: It had all of the latest bells and whistles, and we knew people would be excited! Instead, they were overwhelmed by all of the possibilities. So I asked them to identify the top five features that they felt would bring them the greatest value – for how they work and in fostering a sense of community. We decided to focus on these five features at launch.
We also tried to have some fun along the way and held a naming contest. There were more than a hundred ideas with one that resonated the most with people. When we offered a white-pages feature, we tapped into the talent of an employee who was also a photographer to take photos of colleagues so they could populate their Intranet profiles.
I know this approach might not work for other organizations but it was consistent with our company values. It took us a year to make all the right steps, and the path wasn’t linear. Internal communications strategies should never be cookie-cutter. There are a lot of tactics we can take; the trick is to identify those that are aligned with who you are as an organization.
What are the skills needed to succeed in internal communications?
In your role, you are trying to really understand your company — what makes it tick or special! Start with being curious and asking those questions. Of course, you have to be a good writer, project manager, and partner to leaders and the broader community.
Being open and a great listener is so important. There’s something about being intuitive — read a situation, understand the dynamics, and what you’re learning from that experience. You want to understand the company from every angle.
How do you keep learning about the field?
I’ve been to so many conferences and workshops! I am much more into experiential workshops because it taps into building your empathy and interaction. They're really about who you are, learning about and from other people, and observing how we interact. I enjoy conferences that focus on human-centered work.
Thank you for reading. Comment below with what you learned or a question you might have from Allison’s story.
☎️ Every edition of The Switchboard is personally curated by me — Julia Levy. This post is based on a live interview conversation and edited for publication. Learn more about why I write.