🪁 Internal Communications Introductions: Meet Jesse Bianco-Lane
Head of Internal Communications at Webflow
In This Interview
🧠 Connection between psychology and internal communications
🪁 Exciting opportunities that arise when you offer to fill a gap
⛳ Influence of a manager on internal communications
As a communications professional focused on internal audiences, Jesse Bianco-Lane (he/him) is focused on thinking about how product, corporate, and personnel news will impact teams, with an emphasis on change management. It’s his job to make sure that all team members have access to the information they need in order to do their jobs effectively, and keep all team members aligned and working towards the greater company mission and vision. The job gets done by crafting, overseeing, and executing on compelling communications strategies that keep team members engaged, informed and motivated through high-quality, timely and transparent communication.
Jesse currently works at Webflow (we’re hiring!) as the Head of Internal Communications. Prior to Webflow, Jesse worked at Foursquare, and held positions at a number of PR agencies. Originally from Toronto, Jesse is currently based in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife and Australian Cattle dog.
How did you get your start in internal communications?
I studied psychology in university. I wasn’t sure how I would use it professionally so after graduation, I enrolled in a Corporate Communications graduate program. I learned about all the facets of communications, including internal communications, media relations, crisis communications and investor relations.
Internal communications really felt the closest to my studies and what I wanted to be doing, but it wasn’t easy to find a role in internal comms immediately after school. Because so many companies often have only one person that focuses on internal comms, if any, they're typically looking for someone with more experience in the space. So I started my career as many communications professionals do, at an agency working with consumer tech brands. There I mostly focused on media relations and coaching for executives.
After a few years, I moved in-house to a tech start-up in an external communications capacity. We were a small team so internal comms were treated more ad hoc. Whoever had a free moment would work on internal communications initiatives that needed immediate attention. When that company made its first acquisition, the need really arose for a dedicated internal communications strategy and role. I raised my hand and made the case for why this role was needed, and I took on this new position. I built a program from the ground-up and worked on many initiatives – benefits, core values, culture, meeting management processes and global expansion. It was an incredible experience, and I finally felt like I was doing work that better aligned with my skills and interests.
How do you define internal communications?
Internal Communications helps team members access and make sense of all the information that they need in order to be able to do their jobs effectively as well as live fulfilling and productive lives outside of work.
The role is typically a unique position, sitting in between human resources and people operations with dotted lines to the executive and leadership team to really understand strategy and direction. It’s everything from communicating benefits to setting up information hierarchies—which I can’t reiterate the importance of enough.
What is a project you are proud of having led?
This is an overall philosophical approach to internal communications, rather than a specific initiative. One thing I’ve noticed with every organization I’ve worked with is that there's usually an underutilization of managers as a communications tool. When people think of communications channels, they typically think of email, Slack, in-person meetings, mailers, newsletters, etc.
But, the most overlooked and forgotten tool— which is in every company's arsenal—and is arguably the most important in my opinion— is to tap into managers. Managers are the bridge between more junior team members and senior management. They can be leveraged to deliver messages and manage information up and down the line. People managers have insight into their teams and how information is being perceived, as well as a deep understanding of strategic priorities and vision from the top.
In any internal communications role I’ve had, one of my first priorities has been to set up a more robust manager communications program. This typically involves implementing recurring manager meetings, preparing FAQs and talking points for trickle down communications, trainings, and manager specific communications channels and strategies. My goal is to make managers feel empowered to take the information that they’re receiving and tailor it in a way that makes sense for their teams. The idea of a single message going to the entire organization and being received in the same way is a fallacy. Managers play an incredibly crucial role in distilling important information in a digestible way for their teams and providing critical context because they know their team and their unique needs better than anyone else. Sometimes you have to give up a bit of your control in internal communications to ensure the messages are as well received as possible.
What are the skills that are needed in internal communications?
It goes back to my education in psychology and interpersonal relations. Empathy and emotional intelligence are at the heart of this work. It’s really a skill that can't necessarily be taught, but it's crucial.
When it comes to change management, internal communications professionals need to anticipate how information is going to be received. That requires the ability to empathize and put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. The role of internal communications is to always answer more questions than you are creating. You must imagine how people are going to be impacted by what you're communicating to minimize potential risk and protect psychological safety.
Strong writing skills and openness to change are also incredibly important. People will tell you exactly what they want. You have to be flexible and willing to take criticism and be open to changing a style to make the internal communications work.
How do you continue learning about internal communications?
In every Internal Comms role I’ve held, I've always been the only person that's focused on what I do. It's both a blessing and a curse. It gives you the opportunity to be more autonomous and experimental. You can fail fast and try again while learning and growing. The flip side is, that there often isn’t someone with the necessary expertise to help mentor you and manage your career.
Because internal communications is such a social science, there's no prescribed single right way to approach this work. When you're the only person that does what you do at a company, there's rarely someone there who has the ability to help you continue to learn and grow in your role and in your skill-set, which can be challenging.
To learn, I attend conferences, read blogs such as Slack’s blog, “Several People are Typing” and listen to Rachel Miller’s “Candid Comms” podcast. I think the most useful tool, however, is meeting other people who do what you do. People who have been where you are now and have grown to where you want to be. Learning through connecting with contemporaries in the space has been incredible. It gives you a sounding board—someone who is detached from your specific company and helps you take a step back to see the forest from the trees and approach the problem more holistically.
When I started this new role, my manager said take note of all the things you think are not working because when you sit somewhere too long, you can lose perspective quickly. That’s so important when it comes to learning—you always need to be aware of what’s around you and how you can make an impact.
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