When organizations talk about the role of communications in their culture, often it’s because they’re thinking through how to change or improve how people feel about the company. Or maybe they need better ways to share what makes their brand unique.
That’s never been an issue at Brookfield Residential.
The Calgary-based company is one of North America’s leading home builders and developers of master-planned communities. It’s the kind of place where there’s an unspoken expectation that people treat one another like they are part of a community.
So, Brookfield Residential faced a different challenge as the company embarked on another wave of growth.
“We didn’t want to lose the best of ourselves,” said Communications Director Krista Ellingson. “We didn’t want to lose that familiar, neighbor-to-neighbor tone that made this company special. While a lot of organizations are going through a cultural transformation to be something else, we’re working to keep the cultural attributes that make us successful. And a big part of this is the small company feel with the big company capabilities we have.”
That meant designing a communication strategy to reinforce how the effort of every employee matters –and that each one has a voice in the company.
“My world view is that comms is everything,” she added. “Communications isn’t just ‘message sent, and message received.’ It’s so much more.”
Ellingson talked about that idea at the recent Summit by Dynamic Signal when she took part in a session titled “How Empowered Employees Transform Companies and Build Unforgettable Brands.”
The subject is near and dear to Ellingson.
It’s also why she decided in 2017 to join Brookfield Residential, which is growing fast like, well, a new home that’s under construction.
“The role of a communicator today is more important than ever because it’s harder and harder to break through the noise and deliver a message that brings people together,” she explained. “We’re experiencing information overload in a world that’s also very polarized. People are coping by only tuning into what resonates for them.”
At Brookfield Residential, she’s responsible for reaching 1,400 employees who are working on projects throughout Canada and the U.S., including in California, Texas, and Washington, D.C.
Part of her role, she said, is infusing the confident, plainspoken voice of CEO and Chairman Alan Norris in all company messaging. He has been at Brookfield Residential since 1983 and, in Ellingson’s words, “is everything you want in a leader in terms of being authentic, humble, open and honest.”
Then, there’s the need to ensure everyone in the geographically dispersed organization can hear those messages. In 2018, Brookfield Residential launched CompassNow, which is powered by Dynamic Signal, as the channel to reach employees wherever they are.
“Thirty percent of our workforce is remote, and it’s a struggle for them to feel connected with what’s going on in the company,” Ellingson said. “But almost everyone has an iPad or a mobile phone. We think of ourselves as the host who creates the environment to have great conversations. It’s less about controlling the message and more about fostering conversations.”
When that happens, employees also are more likely to be advocates for the company.
CompassNow empowers (there’s that word again!) people to share company stories with their own social media networks. That’s crucial for a B2C company seeking to build real relationships with potential home buyers who are making the biggest financial decisions of their lives.
“In this age when traditional media is fading, employees are becoming the most trusted source of information,” she explained. “People come to them when they want to know the real deal, to help break through the noise. I often say, ‘reality is in the front line.’ So, let’s elevate that experience and give it a voice. That’s why a tool like CompassNow is important to give people a channel to express themselves in an authentic way, and this helps to further embed the great culture we have.”
When employees can share their on-the-ground experiences, they truly come together to create a community.
“That’s why I feel so strongly about communications,” Ellingson added.
Position: Communication Director at Brookfield Residential, a six-decade-old company that operates in 12 major North American markets, building homes and designing master-planned communities
Family: Husband Colin, daughter Sarah Jane (20), son Robert (17)
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Communications Studies at the University of Calgary
Career: Before Brookfield Residential, Krista was a Senior Communications Advisor at Alberta Health Services and a Communications Business Partner at Suncor Energy
What She Likes About Her Job: “It’s pretty easy to get your heart behind a mission of building homes and communities. It’s all about creating a sense of belonging. We’re helping people find homes through the major stages of their lives.”
Favorite Movie: “Out of Africa”
Favorite TV Show: “Dexter”
Favorite Book: “The Martyrology” by the late Canadian poet Barrie Phillip Nichol, who went by bpNichol
Favorite App on Her Phone: Concur. “I love being able to take a photo of a receipt and moving it to my expense report. It makes monthly expense reporting easier.”
Interests: Krista is an avid hiker and has backcountry canoed with her kids in the Algonquin Provincial Park, “which is quintessential Canadian scenery,” she said.
First Job: “I was the world’s worst clerk at the jewelry department of this little Woolworth-like store at 16.”
Fun Fact No. 1: She was a communications assistant for the cultural attaché at the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C., way back in 1993.
Fun Fact No. 2: Did we mention Krista is Canadian? So, of course, hockey runs in her family and her son is a goalie. “I’m a loud, proud goalie mom.”
Favorite Words of Wisdom: “I once heard something on a CBC radio show that I’ve always remembered. The world isn’t made up of molecules. It’s made up of stories. Even though I’m just as strong in science and math, I believe in storytelling to the core.”
Superpower She Wished She Had: “I would love to be able to time travel. It could come in handy for so many reasons.”
Five Questions with Krista
Why is Summit important?
“I want to meet other people who have deployed this solution and learn from their experiences. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of success they’ve had, not just at launch, but how they’ve kept the fires burning. How have they sustained the interest?”
What is the benefit of attending a conference like this?
“Nobody really knows what I do for a living. I’m not even sure my parents understand. So, it’s nice to be around people who get what you do. It’s just great to speak the same language. It all comes back to community. I love being around people who do what I do. It’s great that there’s a community around employee comms and the idea of creating employee ambassadors.”
What does “empowering employees” mean to you?
“At Brookfield Residential, we have a saying that everyone leads. People are empowered, underpinned by their accountabilities, to make choices. Everyone can step in and say, ‘I have an idea.’ That’s inclusion and diversity of thought. That means giving everyone a way they can pitch in with their ideas and do it in a way as if they’re just talking to their friends. That’s how CompassNow has supported us. It came at just right the moment for our company.”
Can you give some advice for successful platform adoption?
“I would say that executive buy-in is what helped make CompassNow successful. Our President and COO (Adrian Foley) has been a huge champion for this.”
What’s an example?
“He was visiting family in Great Britain last Thanksgiving. He did a selfie video about how this was his favorite holiday, and he asked people to let him know what team member they’re grateful for and why. We got hundreds of comments. It just showed people that anybody can use this and that you’re empowered to be part of the conversation. It was a great example of a leader showing the way and demonstrating how this is perfect for a casual, authentic conversation.”