Internal Communications Introductions: Meet Diane Tate

Internal Communications and Employer Branding at Mozilla

I enjoyed talking with Diane Tate to learn about her career path. This is her internal communications story.

About Diane

Diane is Mozilla’s Senior Manager, Internal Communications and Employer Branding. She previously helped run Mozilla’s WebFWD startup program and has helped startup founders from the WXR Accelerator and Women Who Tech.

What sparked your professional path into Internal Communications?

I was working at Charles Schwab in different roles, and the Chief Information Officer had an opening in his office. With the Chief of Staff, Internal Communications and Executive Communications working tightly together we were all able to extend the CIO’s capability. It was an incredible mission-driven place to work and gave me great perspective for future roles. 

Prior to this role, I was also an executive recruiter, so I had been interfacing with executives. This really set me up for success in internal communications by giving me experience and comfort working with the senior people, who I would partner with in the future. Before that, I had done external communications work as well. 

How do you describe your role to others?

I always laugh when I try to explain my work because I say that I do internal communications, but it’s hard to communicate what we do, ironically. Overall, I usually start with what it's not (but what people sometimes think it is): just writing emails. The substance of the work is not about sending out written communications, it’s about helping set the context and create an environment where people can do their best work. It shows up in communications, events and other initiatives. 

A cool part of what we do is the opportunity to help shape the internal working environment. It's not just limited to one department or one group. At Mozilla, we used to be a part of strategic operations in the Office of the CEO which was a similar structure when I did this work at Schwab.

About two years ago, I became part of HR aka the People Team…for the first time in my career! So, while this role can sit in Communications, an executive office or the People Team, the more I do this work, I appreciate that the best place for this function to sit simply depends on the business context and needs (e.g. how different are the external vs. internal audiences). There are pros and cons wherever you “sit.” 

For example, you can’t just take marketing goals and paste them onto the internal employees because it is not the exact audience. So while messaging consistency can sound appealing, it's more nuanced than simple uniformity. 

What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished?

“The firehose of information” today can feel overwhelming, especially to people first starting a new job or who aren’t familiar with different things happening around Mozilla.  So we launched a newsletter with the name “tl;dr” to give people permission not to know everything rather than feel pressure to stay on top of the various channels and updates we have today..Basically we wanted to offer a service for employees so they don't worry about consuming everything. We set out to do that in a fun way that uses (we hope) enjoyable storytelling and embodies our brand. For the past four years, we’ve produced it weekly! It’s no small task to get something out every week with four-six stories in each issue.

Importantly, the reception we’ve gotten is great: 50-60% of our organization opens it and they love it. The open rate is on par with internal newsletters in the tech industry for companies our size, and, given today’s environment, we’re proud to maintain that level of readership. 

Employees give us feedback too. We joke that it’s internal “fan mail” because they write about how much they love the newsletter and how it helps them work asynchronously. Really, we want the newsletter to feel like a gift rather than a to-do. So, we’re a bit protective of what we include in it so that employees can look forward to it landing in their inbox. The last thing we want it to become is another status report. 

Our goal is to demonstrate forward momentum as we transform as an organization. It gives people more reason to believe their work matters. So we feature the work, the impact, and the learnings. 

What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Internal Communications?

Listening! It’s quite the rare trait, so I want to emphasize it — you need to be awake to your environment. Because our core job is shaping our environment and providing context, we absolutely need to dial in to what that is so that we're not just dropping communications that don't land well or connect with where people are at.

In addition, and very related, is relationship building. Since we are the information fire-hose — taking in everything and trying to make meaning from it — it means we speak with a lot of people across Mozilla.

This is because it’s not a broadcast job, it’s a collaborative job — we’re trying to work with the organization so we can all improve it together, co-creating it with everyone. When feedback into something becomes real, it gives everyone more investment and ownership.

How do you continue learning about the field of Internal Communications?

This field is really growing. I like Culture Amp for employee engagement surveys, but so much more — their blog has really good information — full disclosure: they recently featured our work on it :)

Also, Hired.com, Glassdoor and LinkedIn have useful webinars. And I attended the Berkeley Culture Conference, part of the Berkeley Culture Initiative that marries academic research and practical application for organizational culture insights.

The startup Humu, founded by Google’s former head of People Laszlo Bock, also offers great resources (newsletter, webinars), and finally, GitLab has a great Employee Handbook that's open and a great resource for how they operate remotely.