How do you make sure that innovation activity and achievements don’t get lost in the noise of the day-to-day?
That’s a big part of Chaim Haas‘ role as Head of Innovation Communication at the privately held finance, media, and technology company Bloomberg. Bloomberg is one of many large companies that have significant investments in engineering and product development, but haven’t always showcased that work to the rest of the organization — or to external stakeholders.
We spoke recently with Haas about the importance of effectively telling stories about innovation work.
Everything Starts with Leadership
According to Haas, leadership support was a key first step to changing the way Bloomberg communicates its innovation activities.
“I think a lot of organizations are like, ‘Oh, let’s be an innovation organization.’ But if you don’t have the leadership…everything else comes from there. Any kind of buy in that you need, any kind of support that needs to get put into place, has to run through them,” he said.
First Steps at Bloomberg
With solidified buy-in from leadership in place, Haas began looking at how he could elevate innovation at Bloomberg — but before tackling the most daunting work, he began with simple tasks.
“Once I came in, it was really important to understand where the low-hanging fruit [was]. I think a lot of people tend to try to swing for the fences right off the bat,” he said. “I looked right away and said, ‘Where I can make an immediate impact?'”
Bloomberg employs over 7,000 engineers, according to Haas, which make up one-third of its total workforce. However, most of the company’s stakeholders and employees did not understand what those engineers do, Haas said. To help bridge that gap, Haas added a “Tech at Bloomberg” section to the weekly company newsletter. The new section highlights the engineers’ projects and achievements.
I think a lot of people tend to try to swing for the fences right off the bat. I looked right away and said, ‘Where I can make an immediate impact?’
Haas realized that not all of the engineers knew what engineers in other departments had accomplished, or what events they hosted, or conferences they spoke at or attended. To increase interdepartment communication, he created a newsletter specifically for engineers, called “Upcoming Engineering Events.”
Haas also helps to run an internal blog which features stories written by Bloomberg engineers about their work, case studies, and research. Haas said he pushes an email to the engineering department each time a new blog is posted.
While Haas spends about 40 percent of his time focused on internal messaging, fully 60 percent of his time is spent overseeing much of the company’s external communication related to engineering and innovation.
Engaging the Right Audience
Haas tweets from the @TechAtBloomberg account and tries to strategically engage target audiences.
“I try very hard to make sure we’re putting the right hashtags in each tweet, because that’s the way you can focus that conversation,” he said. “Somebody who’s in that community says, ‘Oh, you’re talking to me now.’ So it’s a little indicator.”
Engaging the right audience is equally important in Bloomberg’s external blog posts, also written by Haas. The blog helps promote the company by including its contributions to open source projects and touting the innovation progress made by engineers.
“If the purpose of my blog post is to showcase a specific technology, you use the lingo of that community, or you spell it out in a way where it’s clear who you’re trying to talk to,” said Haas.
Haas also said that while many organizations like to tout their external partnerships with startups, internal innovation also needs to be a priority.
I think a lot of folks equate innovation with, ‘How do I, as a brand or company, partner with startups? I think that overwhelmingly owns the narrative for innovation. It’s like, ‘Oh, we’re doing this really cool thing with this startup.’ It doesn’t have to be. Homegrown innovation is often just as powerful.
“I think a lot of folks equate innovation with, ‘How do I, as a brand or company, partner with startups?’ I think that overwhelmingly owns the narrative for innovation. It’s like, ‘Oh, we’re doing this really cool thing with this startup.’ It doesn’t have to be. Homegrown innovation is often just as powerful,” he said.
Haas’ Top Three Tips for Communicating Innovation
Be really clear on what your goal is. A strong understanding of why an organization communicates about innovation helps to craft messages and determine who the audience is.
Set your cadence. It’s important to give an audience a solid understanding of how frequent communication will be, what they can expect, and when they should expect it.
You need somebody who knows how to distill the technical piece into the ‘so what?’ It’s critical to make the technical parts of innovation easily digestible for the intended audience.
“I always say my secret power is I can translate engineer,” Haas said. “The engineers are really important, and they are incredibly valuable. You need to be able to speak to them on their wavelength and then you need to be able to translate that to the rest of the organization, who may not have the same technical background.”