Culture, Comms, and Cocktails is internal comms served straight up, so settle in, drink in the knowledge. Some shaken, some stirred, and maybe even some with a twist, and enjoy the top shelf guest I have lined up for you. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, Strategic Advisor at SocialChorus. On this episode of Culture, Comms, and Cocktails, we have Tom Dykhuis, Senior Manager of Internal Communications at Herman Miller.
Herman Miller is a globally recognized provider of furnishings and related technologies and services. Headquartered in West Michigan, they have relied on innovative design for over 100 years to solve problems for people wherever they work, live, learn, and heal.
With Tom, we’ll chat about how Herman Miller was able to break down communication walls and barriers across their global workforce.
Of course, he’ll also reveal his favorite cocktail!
“We figured we’d have some early adopters, but we didn’t figure we’d have so many early adopters from a user generated content perspective. That’s what really makes it cool and fun to watch is that user generated content. And then also having that with the leadership team and other leaders, not just the executive leadership team, but leaders in general and other people around the business, having that interaction on an individual level.” —Tom Dykhuis
We feature communications leaders every second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Don’t miss an episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, brought to you by SocialChorus. Subscribe now wherever you listen to podcasts (Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.)
Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode #23 Transcript
Chuck Gose: On this episode of Culture Comms and Cocktails, we have Tom Dykhuis, Senior Manager of internal Communications at Herman Miller. Tom, welcome to Culture, Comms and Cocktails.
Tom Dykhuis: Thanks. Glad to be here.
Chuck Gose: And grab a seat here at the Culture, Comms and Cocktails lounge and let’s get started. And maybe first off Tom, to see what kind of brand advocate you are there for Herman Miller, what is the Herman Miller chair that you sit in every day or most days?
Tom Dykhuis: So that’s a really good question. Since I move around quite a bit, I sit in virtually all of our chairs on any given day, but my desk chair and my preferred chair is the Embody. It fits me really well, it moves with me and the best part about it to me, is that it has an expandable seat pan, so I can get it wider and longer for long legs.
Chuck Gose: Well, I’ll make sure you have my address so you can send me a chair post interview today.
Tom Dykhuis: Sounds good.
Chuck Gose: We first connected years ago at the very first PRSA Connect in Atlanta and that event has changed quite a bit in those years. I’ve worked at several places in that time, however you have worked at Herman Miller during that time. So what is it Tom, about the culture at Herman Miller that’s kept you around?
Tom Dykhuis: So yeah, I mean that was a long time ago. That was going back 10, 11 years now, maybe even a little longer. And I’ve actually been at Herman Miller for 21 years. And really I think when people ask the culture question, to me it really lands on, I’ve had some really great leaders here that have cared for me and cared for my development and my career and they’ve really been super helpful along the way. So that helps, that keeps you engaged personally. You can see your career grow and take off and go in the direction you want it to go.
Tom Dykhuis: Additionally, I think that Herman Miller in general, at least in the area and being here in West Michigan, it’s a pretty close knit community for lack of a better way to say it and so you get to know people over that time. I still talk to and connect with people I worked with five, 10, 15 years ago.
Tom Dykhuis: Interestingly enough, I’ve been associated with Herman Miller since I was a wee little lad. My dad had a nearly 40 year career at Herman Miller and so I remember running around these buildings as a five, six, seven, eight year old child, terrorizing the place, probably stealing some office supplies, stuff like that. So really it is in my blood a little bit.
Tom Dykhuis: So those two things set the framework and the groundwork for why I stayed here and have been here for so long. Again, it’s opportunities to grow, opportunities to learn new things, really have access to information, access to people, get to work pretty closely with the leadership teams and really make an impact on the business, the culture and the employee perspective here through my job and different roles that I’ve had throughout my career here.
Chuck Gose: Now, I’m going to have to reframe my next question here because what I was going to mention was that you didn’t start out in comms at Herman Miller, but I didn’t know we were going to go back all the way to your elementary days of school, running around. So I love that family history, Tom, that’s something I didn’t know about till we started doing this interview, so that’s really cool. My story’s a little bit similar in that I was a GM brat when my dad worked at GM. So I can certainly understand those family ties. But you didn’t start out in comms, now you weren’t working there when you’re in elementary school, I don’t think so, maybe the labor laws in Michigan are a little different. So tell us about your career journey there at Herman Miller.
Tom Dykhuis: Yeah, so I’m one of those maybe case studies of, have no idea what you want to be when you grow up until you’re grown. And so when I was in college, I had a wide range of majors and interests from, I want to be a teacher to, no, I don’t want to be a teacher. Hey, broadcasting and communication seems fun. I have an interesting story about how that career path changed for me. Finance and pay stockbrokers seems cool, let’s go try that.
Tom Dykhuis: And none of those really worked out for me in college. So I got a job working at Herman Miller, again, obviously I had the family connections. I worked in manufacturing for eight or nine years on different shifts, doing different roles and really decided at some point that I need to do everything out here that I can. I’ve volunteered for just about every different job, every different role you could. Mostly because working on a manufacturing assembly line that bored me pretty quickly, so I want to do stuff where I could help people. I could have a little bit of influence on the direction of what we were doing.
Tom Dykhuis: So I went and took on roles like production coordinator, HMPS facilitator, which has really lean manufacturing out on the shop floor, stuff like that. I don’t know, after a few years of doing that, I got some good advice from a colleague of mine who I coincidentally sit right across from right now and she basically told me, “Hey, you have more talent and skills and you need to get your crap together.” I think that was a direct quote.
Tom Dykhuis: And so she said, “Start doing some development things. Let’s work on that.” And I did that and had the opportunity along the way to go back to school. One of the great things about Herman Miller is that they pay tuition reimbursement. So back then too, this is another interesting story that I tell younger team members of mine now and they look at me like I’m crazy. But you probably remember Chuck, back when you were in college, they had major books, nothing was online. You actually had a 700 page thick book that described majors. So I was flipping through that one day, trying to get some direction in my life and PR and comms and advertising came up and I started reading. I was like, “Hey, I’m good at that. I’m good at that. I like that, I like that.”
Tom Dykhuis: So that’s how I’ve shaped my direction. I started to go to school for PR at Grand Valley, taking those classes. Looking for ways to put that in the practice at work in manufacturing. Had the opportunity then to do a development program here at Herman Miller, where I went to work on the employee engagement communications team, as a communication specialist. And really it was like a nine month to one year internal internship and that started and launched my career in communications. At the end of that I got hired full time to work on that team and over the last 10 or so, 11 years, have had different roles there from communication specialist, to a focus on driving and building employee engagement and then shifted into leadership roles, leading that team. And now as senior manager of internal communications, we’ve talked a little bit about this, the changes that are happening here.
Tom Dykhuis: When I started my career in communications, it was an HR function. Now it’s shifted over to marketing and working on building a much more global perspective and global team. And that led us to The Lounge a little bit, and how we do communications differently. So, I don’t know, that’s probably a fairly long winded career journey, but really using that manufacturing background as a base has given me some different opportunities, some different perspective in how we do communications and keeps me and our team grounded a little bit and don’t forget about the desk worker, the non-connected worker, and keep some of the down and dirty tactics that are tried and true.
Chuck Gose: Yeah, I think some of the college stuff is on the line now, Tom. So thanks for dating us. And in 2019, so we’ll just round and say it’s about a decade ago, we first met at that Connect event. 2019, we did finally get to work together with the launch of The Lounge, which is Herman Miller’s new internal comms platform. What were some of the drivers of using this new platform?
Tom Dykhuis: Yeah, so aside as I mentioned, we’re taking on a global perspective, new leadership. Obviously it’s just that time, everybody is using digital tools. The rise of mobile platforms has come along. My team and I started looking at a mobile first platform, probably three or four years ago as a wishlist, would be nice to have. So we had done some background research, we had it on our long vision roadmap. At the time probably knew, hey we probably won’t get funding for this, our scope isn’t broad enough to get true value out of something like this. But then we had a new CEO come in and as she was starting her onboarding journey, were fairly closely connected to her. In fact, I was one of the first people at Herman Miller she met, prior to her starting and so we started working with her.
Tom Dykhuis: And as she is trying to learn and understand how this Herman Miller works as a global multi brand corporation, we were doing a monthly road show that we’ve been doing for 25 years around here. So again, one of those tried and true tactics, we go out and get in front of people. We were doing this road show and in between a couple of the meetings throughout the day, I was introducing her to the rest of my team and she said to me, I’ll never forget this conversation. She looked at me and said, “So how do I send a message to everybody in the business?” And I said, “What do you mean by everybody?” She’s like, “I mean everybody, all 8,000 employees across the globe and across brands.” And my answer was, “You don’t.” And lesson number one, you don’t really tell a CEO you don’t do something or you can’t do something because then you have to go solve that problem.
Tom Dykhuis: But that did spur that conversation, planted a seed in her head that it was complicated. I explained to her how we do things by email and then we’d do a little bit of the hope and pray forward onto different brands and hope they do their thing and we lose tracking ability and all that kind of stuff. She said, “Well, that seems pretty complicated and a lot of work doesn’t it?” And I was like, “Yeah it is. But it’s the systems we have and they don’t all talk to each other.” Again, there’s just a lot of complication when you’re dealing with a lot of growth through mergers and acquisitions and stuff like that. So she’s like, “Okay, understood.” And then I didn’t really hear much about it for another, I don’t know, six or eight weeks.
Tom Dykhuis: And then my boss came to me and said, “So you have to go solve this global communications problem.” And I was like, “What do you mean?” And she said, “Our CEO would like a platform where she can communicate to everybody at the same time, with the same access and also bring the community together in a place.” So that started the journey of The Lounge and diving in and saying, “Hey, we’ve been thinking about this. We think a mobile first platform will work.” We already had a fairly robust intranet from a communication standpoint, but really moving to that mobile first platform and looking at how do we bring all of our brands and all of our people globally. And for those of you who don’t know about Herman Miller, we are a manufacturing company located around the globe, with three shifts of employees in a lot of different places, a lot of different regions, many languages, many technological barriers, that kind of stuff. So it wasn’t an easy ask by any means.
Chuck Gose: And from being on site with you and the team, it’s really clear how important the Herman Miller brand is to employees. Some of us listening to this might be sitting in a Herman Miller chair right now as you’re listening to the podcast. How does this brand play out in communications? How aligned is what the internal comms side is with some of those branding messages that you’re sending to employees?
Tom Dykhuis: That’s a really good question and I’d probably start by answering, saying the brand is super important to us at Herman Miller from a value proposition. If any of the listeners know much about the office furniture industry, it can be very much a sea of sameness. When it comes to the chairs, the tables, they look the same, they act the same. The difference is who brings quality, who brings the right ingredients to the mix, so to speak, as far as the construction of the things, the materials that are used, that kind of stuff. So when you look across that and you say, “Well, why would someone choose Herman Miller versus a competitor?” The value proposition really is in our brand and our brand stands for high design, high functionality, high quality. You know what you’re going to get. And we live that brand out every day.
Tom Dykhuis: And that trickles back into just how we act as an organization. Everything is cared for to the nth degree. When we have events, when we have meetings, when we’re out in the public space, we try to always put that best brand foot forward because that is the value proposition in a lot of people’s minds, in the way of thinking. So from a communications standpoint on the internal side of it, I wouldn’t say we’re super tightly aligned with the external messaging yet, we’re getting better at it and we put the same care into our output and our communications as we would on the external side of it and that brand feel is there. What I would say is that we’re becoming more and more aligned. So as we were going through and you experience some of this working with us, as we’re going through building the tool like The Lounge, it isn’t just seen as an internal communications project.
Tom Dykhuis: We partnered very closely with our brand marketing team from a design aspect, with our digital marketing team from a user experience and design aspect and with our editorial teams from the aspect of what is the voice, what is the tone, what are the words we’re going to use, how are we going to write titles and subtitles and stuff like that. And really it was a partnership. It wasn’t a directive from them to say you have to do it this way. You may remember a lot of conversation around what is the voice and tone externally versus internally. Are we more paternalistic internally? Can we have more fun? Is it a little less formal?
Tom Dykhuis: But really start with that human centered mindset and talking with the people instead of at people. But then again, blending those two audiences together and those two perspectives together really is what we’re working on in driving forward now and driving those partnerships. We have a lot of conversations lately around leading with people and people’s stories and how that can build brand awareness, brand advocacy, both internally and externally and especially through social. So you continue to see the convergence of those three functions coming together more and more frequently.
Chuck Gose: You had mentioned earlier around in your CEO’s involvement and some of her questions and challenges to you, I do see the importance of leadership being involved in the launch of a new internal comms platform, but also just the overall health and interest in the platform. So from a leadership standpoint, how have they evolved with their internal comms activities since the launch of The Lounge? Have there been any changes? How have they engaged? How have they been engaged on there? Just speak to leadership at Herman Miller and The Lounge and that activity between the two.
Tom Dykhuis: Yeah. I think I’ll back up a little bit to leadership involvement in the build process because I think that’s pretty key. Obviously our CEO was a big proponent of go build this thing and that really helped drive the build process to where we could do it fast and solve a lot of other issues. When we were looking at building it, and obviously I’m sure a lot of your other customers go through this with IT, security, authentication, multiple systems needing to feed to SocialChorus to get the right information in there, that kind of stuff. We’ve historically always ran into a proverbial wall with some of that stuff and it’s just, hey, it just can’t be done. It just can’t be done. We’re not in a place where we can do it right now.
Tom Dykhuis: As we built The Lounge out, we used that as a way to break down a lot of those walls and barriers across the organization and say actually it can be done. We just have to think about it differently and get the right people involved. And it really wasn’t a directive from us or a director from the CEO to say, “I don’t care, go solve it.” It really was a partnership with the right teams to say, “Hey, we have this problem. How are we going to solve it together?” And as you know, our build timeline, I don’t know if we actually did it in the eight weeks we said we were going to build it in, but I do remember the look on your face when I said, “Yeah, we’re going to do it in eight weeks.” I think you might’ve almost fell out of your chair.
Tom Dykhuis: But we went pretty quickly and solved a lot of problems and I have some colleagues in the same process right now and they keep asking, “How do you solve this problem? How do you solve this problem?” Because they’re running right into the same walls that we ran into. So I think that’s important from the start, when your leader says, or your CEO and your leadership team says, “We’re going to go do it.” It gives you some permission to try some different things and to build the right partnerships on the build end of it.
Tom Dykhuis: Transitioning to interaction and participation and engagement, our CEO has essentially transitioned her communication to The Lounge. So she used to write a letter that we would send out by email to everybody during her first year on the job. She’d do it once a month, once every six weeks, she’d pen a letter and we shoot it out via email. And so about, I don’t know, three, four months ago in her last letter to the business, she basically said, “We have The Lounge now. It’s a great tool. It’s a great place. I want everybody to go there and engage with us there. I’m not writing these letters anymore. We’re going to do them in The Lounge.” Now she’s backed off that a little bit, she’s still going to write letters, but they’re not going to be delivered by email. They’re going to be placed in The Lounge instead of sent by email.
Tom Dykhuis: So I think that helps with her leading by example, she is in there, she probably posts something right, now every couple of weeks and the cadence isn’t spot on. It’s as things pop that she’s interested in, engaged in, stuff like that. But I noticed that she’s in there just about every week and multiple times a week liking other people’s posts, commenting on their posts, as is a lot of our leadership team. They’re not necessarily all super participative from creating content yet, but they definitely are in there watching, liking, commenting on stuff. And it’s great when they do, because I’ll get a note, “Hey CEO posted or liked my message today. Did you see that?” And I’m like, “Yep, I saw it.” That kind of stuff. So people are paying attention to that.
Tom Dykhuis: We’re currently, as we have a new VP of global communications who started in September right before we launched The Lounge. Him and I are working pretty closely right now to build an internal executive communications guidebook and plan and really focused on getting the executive team and then L one and L two leaders involved in creating content and having a very structured guidebook for them, using multiple tools. So using The Lounge, whether it’s long form posts, whether it’s social posts, whether it’s short videos, long videos, whether they do a global broadcast meeting and it’s posted in The Lounge as a place to go, a destination to go to get the link to click into that meeting, that kind of stuff.
Tom Dykhuis: We’re in that secondary stage now of, hey, here’s our strategy. We had permission when we built The Lounge as you know, to build it and it doesn’t have to be perfect. We want to go build it and get it out there and let it grow. We’ll worry about the content strategy and some of that other stuff as it’s building and growing, so we can see what people want, see what they’re gravitating toward and really see how the tool builds and lives on its own. So I think we’re in the beginning stages of getting them involved from a content perspective, but they definitely do use it. And the interesting part I see is our sales team uses the thing like crazy. They’re posting content and pictures from customer meetings, from team outings, from learning opportunities. And our international teams really use it well too, our West Michigan US hub is probably the slowest adopter of the tool in fact.
Chuck Gose: And why do you think that is?
Tom Dykhuis: I mean, I could infer a lot of things. I think our international teams have been clamoring more for a connection to the so called mothership, here in West Michigan, to really show and demonstrate that hey, they’re here, they’re a valuable part of the team and they do great work. And so when we opened up that door, they stepped right through it. I mean they were like, “Hey cool, I’m all about it.” The West Michigan, the base here because they’ve been the hub or the center of the universe, so to speak, for Herman Miller is kind of like, oh, here’s another thing. They’ve already had access to the leadership team. They’ve had access to the information. It wasn’t difficult for them to show what they’re doing because it all happened here. But we need to change that mindset as we become more of a global company and that’s what The Lounge, I think, is going to start to help us do and really elevate the full picture and the full breadth of who Herman Miller is around the globe.
Chuck Gose: Yeah, something you shared too, which I think is important and it shows maybe some of the leadership there at Herman Miller. Leaders are used to sending messages. They’re used to taking it even out of the app or technology vine. They’re used to delivering the town hall. They’re used to being on stage. They’re the ones that own the content, they deliver the content, they deliver the message. I like hearing that maybe they aren’t posting stuff but they are commenting on stuff and they’re liking things. And that’s where the participation I think, really starts to resonate with people. Because I think speaking our own terms, you expect leaders to post things. You expect them to make announcements. You don’t necessarily anticipate or expect them to like your posts or comment on your posts.
Chuck Gose: And I think that’s this leveling that we’re seeing happen between leadership and employees, especially in mobile, where all content is essentially created equal and treated equally and so it gets the same appearance. So I think that’s awesome to hear that the leaders of Herman Miller are not just using it as a platform for themselves, but it’s a platform for them to engage with everybody else at Herman Miller.
Tom Dykhuis: Yeah, I think we had a lot of discussion internally as we were building The Lounge and starting to build our positioning plan across the business around, do we have enough content to make this tool vibrant and alive every day? What is the expectation of content? Who’s going to do that work? Who are your content contributors globally going to be so that a channel isn’t empty? And that a channel doesn’t have fresh content in it weekly, monthly, whatever the bogey is out there. We had a lot of discussion around how much user generated content we were going to have and or allow.
Tom Dykhuis: And I know I talked to you about this a little bit, we grossly underestimated here just how much user generated content we were going to get. To the point where we’ve already had to retool the channel lineup a little bit to organize things differently because the feed moves so fast that the key rated content, the corporate content was getting pushed and people were missing it. So that took us a little bit by surprise. We figured we’d have some early adopters, we didn’t figure we’d have so many early adopters from a user generated content perspective. But again, yeah, so that’s what really makes it really cool fun to watch is that user generated content, but then the leadership team and other leaders, not just the executive leadership team, but leaders in general and other people around the business, having that interaction on a individual level.
Chuck Gose: And just hearing some of the stories you shared, hearing about the leaders going in there and not just posting but liking and commenting and also hearing the sales individuals in your organization really grabbing onto it and sharing parts of their day or what they’re seeing or who they’re interacting with and giving some people insight into their life every day. Have there been any other pleasant surprises or I guess specifically what I’m looking for here, is there a piece of content that you think back to, that you’re like, “Yep, we nailed it. This is exactly what this organization needed.” Because somebody posted or shared something in there.
Tom Dykhuis: We celebrated manufacturing month back in October and we were scrambling a little bit because we launched our app on September 30 and manufacturing month was in October. So it was like, “Hey, what are we going to do for that?” So we quickly pulled together some stories from our manufacturing teams from around the globe. And one sticks out in particular, I think it was the HMPS manager. We did a quick interview with him and posted on The Lounge. It was all about what’s cool about your job? Why do you like working in manufacturing at Herman Miller? That kind of stuff, a basic interview.
Tom Dykhuis: And he sent us an email, actually he sent Kayla on my team an email to say, “I really appreciate the opportunity to do this and be featured on The Lounge. I showed it to my wife and she was crying about how cool the story was. And I’ve gotten 10 notes from people that I’ve worked with over my career that I no longer work with, congratulating me and just saying, Hey, good to see you out there again, keep up the good work, that thing.” So we sent that feedback back to our CEO and she said, “This is exactly why we need this kind of a tool.” So to your point, that piece of content that said, this is why we do it.
Chuck Gose: It does mean something to people and it is those connections that we build and I’m sure especially a company like Herman Miller, you have people who work their entire careers there and they do criss cross paths with people in certain jobs and then they switch jobs and they don’t see each other maybe again because of work or schedules or shifts or whatever and then all of a sudden they see this person again in The Lounge and it brings that company back together. Where companies started to expand and pull apart, then content like that brings everybody back together because of those personal relationships we all have.
Tom Dykhuis: Yep, I agree with that.
Chuck Gose: Tom, thanks again for doing … one it’s been great to work with you and the team there on the launch of The Lounge. And as an advisor we get to work with companies and we put together plans and fingers crossed that they work, but then hopefully the idea is that through conditional work and working with leaders, those plans change and the program continues to expand and it sounds like exactly what has happened there. So kudos to you and the team for continuing to build The Lounge, make it a key component there of the Herman Miller culture and from everything I see, doing the right thing with the platform.
Tom Dykhuis: Thanks. And the same, it’s been great working with you and your team, with [Sharmila] on the build, with Ernest now. You guys have been a great resource for us too. Obviously I send you random questions every now and then about, “Hey, what should we do here? You got any advice?” And you usually come back with some pretty cool ideas and thoughts and that does help us as we’re diving into the new platform and looking to build our strategy and our content strategy out over the next several months and years and how we build and maintain and cultivate our culture through the app. So I think it’s been a great partnership as well up to this point.
Chuck Gose: You were a little more quiet during college football season. You didn’t really ask me any Ohio state Michigan questions or anything this year.
Tom Dykhuis: Well, it happens. You got to foresee that coming a little bit so you know your place.
Chuck Gose: The podcast is called Culture, Comms and Cocktails, we talked about the culture there, the communications activities that you’ve been a key contributor and leader of there at Herman Miller, but the podcast is Culture, Comms and Cocktails, Tom, so what is your favorite cocktail?
Tom Dykhuis: I’m a beer guy so you can give me a beer, just about any kind. Now with the boom of the craft beer industry there’s about 50,000 kinds of beers. If I can narrow it down, I would say I’m more of a browns and a reds guy and not so much a hoppy double IPA guy, but pretty much any beer is good with me.
Chuck Gose: Now being there in Grand Rapids, which has a good brewery culture there.
Tom Dykhuis: Beer city USA.
Chuck Gose: I want to get a really good specific beer recommendation from you, for our beer listeners. If you were to go home today and crack one open, what would it be?
Tom Dykhuis: If I was going to go home and crack one open today, my fridge has Coors Banquet beer in it. The original Coors, which is a good standby go to. If I was going to go to a brewery, there’s a little brewery in Sparta where I used to live. I’ve since moved and they had a really good Irish ale. It was called Leprechaun Beer, I believe, and that would be my go to whenever I’d go to that brewery. In fact, I’d be like, “Hey, are we going out tonight? Let’s go there and start there and have a few of those and then we’ll figure it out.” So that’d probably be my one really specific. It’s a small little brewery in a small little town, but it’s a really good Irish ale.
Chuck Gose: Well, if you’re listening to this and you’re on Twitter or LinkedIn, and you’ve had … what was the name of the beer again?
Tom Dykhuis: Leprechauns Beer.
Chuck Gose: Leprechauns beer. If you’ve had a Leprechauns Beard, let us know and see if Tom is correct on that. Well, Tom, thanks again for being on Culture, Comms and Cocktails. All you’ve done there to lead the efforts of The Lounge and continue to hear great stories coming from there so kudos to you.
Tom Dykhuis: Thank you. Pleasure being here.
Chuck Gose: If you enjoyed what you heard from this episode and want to check out others, find Culture, Comms and Cocktails on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen. And when you do, hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss any future episodes. This has been Culture, Comms and Cocktails, internal comms served straight up. Thanks for listening.