Communicating as the Company Grows at Hootsuite

Ryan Holmes is founder and CEO of Hootsuite, a Vancouver-based social media management platform company. Holmes realized that he needed to do more to improve communication within his company once it grew to over 1,000 employees. It wasn’t possible to count on effective communication happening automatically. He couldn’t even count on being able to talk with many coworkers in the hallway anymore since the company had become so large.

How did Hootsuite make changes to improve communication? The company set up a website that pairs employees from different departments to meet for a quick cup of coffee. Only employees who register to participate are involved in these “#RandomCoffee” matches. These chats over coffee have resulted in ideas for how to solve problems at work, sparked new projects, and increased communication in the company outside of the formal organizational chart. In fact, Holmes implemented an idea that he heard from a #RandomCoffee match: each week, Holmes records a five- to ten-minute selfie-style video on his phone and shares it only with employees within the company. These videos give employees the chance to hear directly from the CEO. As Homes puts it, “It allows the entire company to get aligned on top priorities and hear what’s important.” Employees are encouraged to comment on the videos or ask questions. Sometimes there are only a few comments from employees, while other videos have resulted in hundreds of employee posts. Hootsuite also now holds virtual town hall meetings each quarter allowing employees from around the world to hear what’s going on and weigh in. On top of that, Holmes is active on social media, which CEOs often avoid and delegate to others.

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About every week or two, the company stops work at 4:00 p.m. and encourages everyone to socialize with each other in the company kitchens. In addition to socializing, they sometimes will have informal five-minute “Lightning Talks” offered by employees on topics that are usually not work related, such as “how to draw” or “Rubik’s Cube art.” Holmes says, “People stay for a few minutes or a few hours. It’s casual and unstructured. But I know for a fact that employees connect who otherwise would never cross paths—opening up new lines of communication and bringing the team closer.”

Case Questions

  1. In what ways do Hootsuite’s communication techniques illustrate the functions of communication discussed in this chapter?
  2. What barriers to effective communication could apply when Hootsuite employees experience the communication techniques described in this case?
  3. Which of the five ways of overcoming barriers do Hootsuite’s techniques do a good job of addressing? Which ways of overcoming barriers might need to be addressed further?
  4. Which directions of communication flow (downward, upward, lateral, diagonal) are addressed with Hootsuite’s techniques? Is there anything else they could do to be more comprehensive in addressing directions of communication flow?

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