🗺️ Internal Communications Introductions: Meet Holly Nicola
Head of Internal Communications and Employee Engagement at Mapbox
Holly is the Head of Internal Communications and Employee Engagement at Mapbox, a global mapping and location platform company changing the way people move by live-mapping the world. In this role, she is responsible for leading internal communications and employee engagement efforts, and also oversees DEI, Employer Branding, and Learning and Development.
Prior to joining Mapbox, Holly held internal communication roles at Facebook, Gap Inc., JetBlue and Virgin America. Before taking the “leap” into communications, Holly spent her career as a professional dancer and performance coach.
What sparked your path into Internal Communications?
I spent my early career in communications working at Virgin America, a start-up airline based in San Francisco. At the time, it was a small company where we wore many hats and had a huge opportunity to build processes and solve problems every day.
I started as a flight attendant and fell in love with the brand, people, and customers so much that I quickly found myself wondering how I can contribute to this special culture for the long-term. With that in mind, I said yes to every opportunity that was in front of me. I took on many special assignments including a production crew member for our company-wide summits with our Learning and Development team, a choreographer for our Pride Parade with the Employee Experience team, and eventually an administrative assistant role where I worked with leaders every day.
The admin role really helped spark my path into internal communications because I was on the frontlines figuring out what resources and tools employees needed in order to do their jobs successfully. My former manager used to say, “If it’s not you, then who? If not now, then when?” which basically meant, if you see something that needs to be fixed, you should work on the problem. With limited resources, she gave me the green light to build and create. This work included creating newsletters, posters, an intranet, learning videos, and focusing on executive communications - all this at a time where internal communications and digital workspaces were new concepts.
My role evolved into my first internal communications role because I was already inadvertently doing it! I also had an amazing mentor and leaders who saw what I was really great and passionate about, supported me, and pointed me in the right direction.
How do you define internal communications?
Internal communications is the heartbeat of an organization and a steward of the employee experience. It brings a company together, especially during uncertain times, and keeps them marching forward towards defined goals.
2020 was the year of the internal communicator. Many companies relied on their internal communications team during the onset of the global pandemic to communicate how to shift to working remotely and how to keep employees engaged and informed while at home. Additionally, with the focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, many employees looked to leaders to understand how they will be making meaningful contributions and recognizing DEI in the workplace. If you didn’t have an internal communications team before 2020, you definitely had one (or two) filling that role by the end of 2020.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Internal Communications?
For soft skills, I believe having empathy is number one. To successfully communicate to hundreds or thousands of people, you’ll need to listen and understand their role, the language they speak, and the norms for those specific audiences, teams, and levels of leadership. When you have an understanding, you are then able to connect information in a way they can understand it, when they need it.
For hard skills, it’s a toss up between business acumen and planning. I like to think that internal communicators play air traffic control (airline speaking) in any organization on a daily basis. They know what event is happening and when it’s happening, or when a communication is scheduled to go out and who is sending it on what platform. They know what’s coming and what needs to be planned. When you understand how your business operates, you’re able to think strategically and be a better partner to the executive team, and in turn, keep employees informed and the company marching forward. Planning is how you are to execute all of these successfully.
How do you continue learning about the field of Internal Communications?
The exciting part of internal communications is that it’s always evolving. I like to take my everyday experience in how I receive news and communications as a way of learning. The way we experience information during our personal time - whether it’s TikTok, Twitter, Instagram or podcasts, or even communicating through gifs or emojis - those trends usually make their way into the internal platforms we use and how we communicate.
I am a firm believer that internal communications helps build strong teams so I read tons of articles from Harvard Business Review and books about culture. One book I highly recommend is The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Below is my favorite excerpt:
“[Building purpose is...] not as simple as carving a mission statement in granite or encouraging everyone to recite a hymnal of catchphrases. It's a never-ending process of trying, failing, reflecting and above all learning. High-purpose environments don't descend on groups from on high; they are dug out of the ground, over and over, as a group navigates it's problems together and evolves to meet the challenges of a fast-changing world.”
I am also a busy mom of two kids so I learn from them everyday. Internal Communications is connected to how the next generation is adopting new technology and communicating to each other so you can find me in the metaverse building cities with my seven year old!