☕ Internal Communications Introductions: Meet Miki Levine
Retail Divisions Communications Manager at Peet's Coffee
I enjoyed talking with Miki. This is her Internal Communications story.
I am a professional in Retail Food and Beverage Operations. For most of my career, I was an operations expert who focused on how to make new initiatives operationally sound for implementation. This included creating Standard Operating Procedures and training materials, followed by testing, and company wide roll-outs. I realized that all of my projects required a strong communications plan for each phase and this is how I became passionate about internal communications.
What sparked your professional path into Internal Communications?
Right out of college, I started with Rubio's Coastal Grill, based out of San Diego. Home of the Fish Taco! I loved their concept -- the decor, the vision, and the food. They were expanding, which allowed a lot of room to grow. Within three years, I started as a Restaurant Manager, became a Field Training Manager, and then a multi-unit District Manager. Looking back at those roles, I realized good communication helped me succeed as it was vital to ensure my team was on the same page and bought into the strategy. The lack of good communication, or “surprises”, would often cause frustration.
Next, I moved to the corporate office into Operations Services. They didn't have a communications team, so all the information from the home office to the stores had to go through my department. I was the gatekeeper who would take the messages and write them with specificity to ensure the stores and field leaders understood the content and knew what action was required if any. That's how I started in internal communications! Acting as the gatekeeper to field communications became a central pillar throughout my career, even though my role was primarily project-focused.
After seven years at Rubio’s, I decided to work for El Pollo Loco, where I played a similar role. Once again, I managed communications to ensure information was received and understood in the field. I also created Standard Operating Procedures and training materials for new products or processes and also worked on content for conferences. All along, I've been doing some form of communication but calling it something different.
Can you share more about your current role?
With Peet's, I was hired as a Project Manager for new initiatives -- concepts we haven't tried yet. My first project was to test and then roll out a warm breakfast program to all coffeebars. The program required a significant change in how a coffeebar operates.
The training and onboarding needed to be given in bite-sized pieces to avoid overwhelming the coffeebar teams as much as possible. Therefore, I planned out what, when, and how the content should be shared/communicated. And, as it turns out, this is how most communications people think.
After all these years, I now have an official communications role as the Manager of Retail Divisions Communications. My audience includes our company-owned coffeebars and licensed partners, such as Peet's at airports or college campuses.
Currently, our communication vehicles reach mostly field leaders, such as store managers. Our goal is to improve engagement with our team members and baristas. We are looking into app-based digital workplaces for communications to reach that audience. I am excited about the possibility because it will incorporate my two passions of rolling out new initiatives and improving communication.
How do you describe internal communications?
The production and delivery of information to people within the organization, primarily employees, versus customers or media. It's usually information they need to do their jobs properly. It can be anything from emails, newsletters, meetings, learning modules, and social platforms.
What's a project you are proud of leading?
I completed the roll out of mobile ordering to all Peet’s Retail coffeebars in July of 2019. Before launching, we heard horror stories from competitors about not being prepared for the volume of orders stores would receive. These stories caused some anxiety for our coffeebar teams. Again, it was important that I created a plan to prepare and train the store teams without overwhelming them. I also made a dedicated resource page for all field leaders to access for any questions regarding mobile ordering.
The launches were smooth. The mobile order business built slowly, which was perfect for teams to adjust to the new way of receiving orders. But then, Covid hit. We were so fortunate that we rolled out mobile ordering when we did because the volume increased significantly. Having the time under our belts helped us adjust. Also, keeping the resources organized, up-to-date, and easy to find was crucial when the mobile orders began building quickly.
What skills are needed for an internal communications career?
For me, the number one thing is building strong relationships. As I work with many different business partners, they need to be able to trust me, and me them. I need to be approachable and feel part of the team. You also need to be flexible! I am a stickler for deadlines and have processes in place to help meet those deadlines. However, especially in retail, I understand when I need to adjust and be flexible, which is always greatly appreciated by my business partners. This also helps strengthen our relationship.
Next, understanding the audience and what's the best way to get the information to them. I am a believer in less fluff, just sharing what they need to get the job done. In this type of communication, less is more. I am also a champion of how information is visually formatted, which helps the reader understand faster! It's also the part I love doing.
How do you keep learning about the field?
LinkedIn Learning has been great. I also talk to others in similar roles, and there's so much to learn from what they are doing. Internally, focus groups are the quickest and best way I can understand what my audience wants. They have tons of great ideas, and I have a list that's quite long to work from.
Do you have advice for others who would like to pivot into the field?
I am an operator and realized I've been doing communications throughout my entire career. It's been eye-opening and exciting to make the official transition.
I think it's a knack for people to be able to communicate well. For me, it was apparent when business partners would come to me for advice on the best way to convey a message when it wasn't my role. If you like to organize your thoughts and deliver them in a creative and concise format, communications is for you! Often, people in training roles are also great in communications since they are teaching new information to an audience.