I enjoyed talking with Danyelle Pollock to learn about her career path. This is her internal communications story.
Danyelle Pollock is a believer in the power of thoughtful communication. As a leader of Internal Comms at companies like Amazon, Lyft, and UnitedHealthcare, she knows firsthand the importance of investing in people.
She can never sit still for too long. Danyelle has visited over 80 countries around the world and consulted for startups of all sizes along the way, helping leaders connect with their teams.
A wearer of many hats, Danyelle has also produced events and run marketing for a variety of corporate teams and nonprofits, including the professional NBA team Minnesota Timberwolves and top-10 newspaper Star Tribune (Twin Cities native in the house!) as well as This is L., a venture-backed social impact startup.
When she's not working, you can find her practicing calligraphy, volunteering with dogs, and plotting out her next post-COVID adventure with her partner in crime, Tristan Pollock.
What sparked your professional path into Internal Communications?
Looking back, there were many roads leading to the same destination. When I went to college, I was interested in a variety of fields. I considered being an art curator at a museum. I liked creative work. I knew I enjoyed writing, but I wasn’t called to journalism. After a year of general courses, I selected Public Relations as a major. I studied all of the mass communications topics along the way and did a few internships. I found that I was really called to event planning.
I’m a planner at heart, and it felt like a natural fit. I call myself an “extroverted introvert.” I prefer being behind the scenes to ensure that everything is running smoothly rather than floating around the room chatting all night long. I like having that purpose.
What was your first role in Internal Communications?
My first job in Internal Communications was at United Healthcare. Traditional event planning wore on me after a while, it was a lot of nights and weekends. I wanted something more stable and predictable, but I still really wanted to serve people. That’s my ultimate calling — really making people feel they have everything they need to do their best work, they feel like they belong and they feel appreciated and valued. I’m able to do that with internal communications — working for the employees.
Then, my husband started a company that led us out West. He got into an accelerator and we picked up and moved from Minneapolis to San Francisco. Once we landed, we noticed these cars with a fuzzy pink mustache. We looked it up and discovered Lyft. We had just sold our car, we didn’t know anyone in the city or how to get around. Every driver we had turned into our friends. They told us about their favorite restaurants and cool activities to do in the city. It was an experience that we had never had in a taxi previously.
I decided while I was in the city of startups, I wanted to work for one. After all of my positive experiences, I realized that I wanted to work at Lyft, specifically. I believed in what they were doing and how they were helping people. It really resonated with me that you could feel so connected to the mission as a passenger. Lyft had only 50 employees at the time, and they had an opening for a community manager. That role really fit well with my internal communications and events experience.
How did your role at Lyft evolve?
I started working with a few of the markets in the eight cities where Lyft operated at the time. I was a liaison between drivers and the company, making sure they knew the policies and felt connected to the greater goal. This was 2013 and some local governments weren’t as welcoming to drivers at first, so it was a pretty uncertain time for everyone.
I felt so invigorated about being a part of something that was changing an industry. I wound up starting our internal communications and events team during a time when there were too many changes to keep up with and no one to help bring employees along for the journey.
Once we hit 500 employees at our headquarters, it was a really interesting ride to be on and we wanted employees to ensure everyone knew our strategy, what our leaders were thinking and how our work impacted the mission. I stayed at Lyft for five years and helped grow the company to over 3,000 employees.
How did you spend your time after you left Lyft?
After five years in the Bay Area, I was ready to travel a bit. We had so much access to talent and funding and we wanted to experience life outside of the California bubble. My husband and I traveled for two years and worked in a variety of international tech hubs along the way.
We helped with different start-up programs in places like Albania, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia. We worked with female founders on the challenges they faced and shared our experience to help leaders show up and lead teams to grow successfully. We taught about investing in workplace culture from the start.
In 2020, we decided to nurture our own community again as we missed that while traveling. We have the West Coast in our hearts and were looking for new roles there. I wound up with a job at Amazon in Seattle. But, we started our jobs right as the pandemic was beginning in March 2020. Almost a year later, Covid is changing the way we work and live. Our plan was to move to Seattle once life ‘settled down,’ but we have stayed in Minneapolis where our families are to be closer to everyone during these uncertain times.
How do you describe your role to others?
The definition depends on the needs of the business. It’s not just one focus. What I do now at Amazon is a lot more focused and structured because it’s a big team and a large audience. When you are at a smaller company, it is more about experimentation and thinking of every touch point that an employee has throughout the company — from the first interaction when a recruiter reaches out to them or when they have a work anniversary or personal recognition to all the way to when they leave and what resources are they provided with so they can continue to be a cheerleader for the company.
I also think about how the company “shows up” for an employee —how can the company prove they care about the employees and that they are not just a number in the workforce? Human Resources is the support of the company. But, I think of Internal communications as the support of the employees.
When we make decisions, it’s about putting the employee first and asking when, how and where should they hear about news? Asking myself, how many details should we provide them with? A lot of times, employees say they want to know everything. But, that can be overwhelming and employees might not know how to parse through it all.
I think of my job as being that filter and helping employees get the level of transparency they desire. If there's one thing for people to know this week, internal communications anticipates it and serves it up in an easy way. I think the role is to make an employee feel like they belong and they are in the best place for them; they are appreciated and valued.
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished?
I completely revamped our All Hands meeting at Lyft. When I first started, there were 50 employees. Everything we did was funny and fun. There were inside jokes that you could explain easily. Everyone knew each other. We all knew what each department was working on and everyone was aligned. But, suddenly, there were inside jokes that didn’t land or people didn’t know who the others were on the team. Originally, anyone on the road would be on Google Hangouts. But, with a couple hundred people, the sound quality wasn’t great and the set up was meant for people to be in the room together. There was a different experience between people in the building and those who were watching virtually.
I started off by surveying the company to learn what worked and what didn’t, from the time that it would take place to how people wanted to learn information. As Lyft evolved with different offices, time zones and employee life situations (not everyone could stay past 6pm with young kids), we needed to make it the best experience for everyone, not just those who were in the office.
I rebranded All Hands into a “Late Night” talk show with a neon sign, a host, intro music, different camera angles with great technology from sound and streaming. We practiced dry runs with our speakers. It was high production value. We realized we were growing up as a company, and we needed everything we did to reflect that. Startup culture can be scrappy, but our All Hands was something that we didn’t want to be scrappy.
We wanted it to be the moment where everyone at the company was coming together and aligning. We wanted to talk about the goals we met last quarter and the ones we didn’t reach. Then, we wanted to talk about why and how to change to set ourselves up for success. This was pre-IPO and everyone was very invested in how their work impacted the company. It was about: “how should I understand where to focus my energies?”
I was really proud of how this came together. I did my research by talking to people who organized these meetings at companies like Airbnb, Square and Twitter. I tried to understand who is the best of the best and coming from similar cultures and goals. I wanted to understand how to be the most successful and have a transparent Q and A, how our leaders should be showing up — all of these pieces are really important to consider. This is one time a month where we are all hearing the same thing at the same time. It can be a really empowering and bonding moment for everyone.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Internal Communications?
I think the number one skill to have is empathy. It’s EQ over IQ. You should really tap into feelings-based culture in the workplace. When I talked to my dad about this, he said, “Don’t people leave feelings at home?” But, it’s not about leaving yourself at the door, it’s about work life integration (not work life balance).
We are still who we are in the workplace — you're not suddenly someone else because you’ve opened your computer. You’re still a parent or an artist. You still have your own passions or identity. Being able to appreciate and value people for who they are is so important — tapping into these feelings and support for each other.
I want employees to feel connected with each other and the offerings. People stay at a job because they really like their manager, the mission, values of the company and have peers who they consider true friends. They are part of their community. I like to refer to this shift of appreciating and valuing employees for their individual selves and not just the work they deliver as part of internal communications.
How do you continue learning about the field of Internal Communications?
l like to read. Currently, I am reading a book, Culture Code, which has powerful lessons from Navy Seals and other great companies. It “unlocks the secrets of highly successful groups and provides tomorrow’s leaders with the tools to build a cohesive, motivated culture.”
In addition to reading, I appreciate reaching out to people on different teams and learning what they work on to help me understand my work. I'm currently on the Operations Internal Communications Team and I recently connected with our Executive Communications team to learn about their scope, priorities, and goals. Understanding the bigger picture is vital.
I think setting up those calls to learn what others do is really valuable and helps me keep learning. It can be easy to get into a cycle of just saying I know what I have to do and just focus on your work. You never know everything, and it can really spark new ideas when you talk to others and that can be really powerful.