Internal Comms Changes & Challenges w/ Iron Mountain


Neil Jenkins

Keeping frontline teams connected through challenges and change

Iron Mountain’s frontline workers, or ‘mountaineers’ are who its customers have most contact with. Hear how Iron Mountain stayed connected with them during the pandemic and beyond, and how these connections continue to evolve and strengthen.

Video Transcript

– Hello, everyone, really nice to talk to you today. I’m gonna spend some time talking about how we’ve really kept our frontline teams connected through a lot of challenge and change in the last two to three years, and help you understand what that journey has looked like, and where we’re going next with it. So, hopefully we’ll have some time for some questions at the end as well. But, first of all, what is Iron Mountain? Who is Iron Mountain? What is even the name Iron Mountain? So we were founded in 1951. We were founded by a mushroom farmer who literally owned an iron ore mountain in New York state in the US, and mushrooms weren’t doing as well as he thought they might at that time of things, and, he saw an opportunity with, sort of global tensions rising, Cold War times, and people, he felt, needed somewhere safe to store precious things, what matters to them or to their company. So he basically turned his iron ore mountain into our first storage facility, and that’s where customers, initially in New York, started to move some of their more important information and assets. Our first sales office was in the Empire State Building, and we’ve grown ever since. So our heritage is really from the US, but we’re now a global company. We are into different areas of information management. That’s what we do. The core store a lot of physical records for companies who need to keep that for a long time. And that is important, and that’s built the trust in our business to do that safely and securely. So a lot of our employees work in that area. We have some really cool and neat areas as well. Entertainment services is one of those. So we look after, again, a lot of assets for the entertainment world. That could be photo archives. It could be things like costumes from “Game of Thrones.” It could be original music tapes from people like Prince or Jimi Hendrix, so again, some really nice stuff there. Increasingly, where our growth is coming from is in data centers, so we have a lot of data centers around the world. Our data center in the UK is in Slough, although my American colleagues like to say that’s our London data center. It’s not, it’s Slough. And also, we’re increasingly getting into what we call asset life cycle management, which is how we essentially support the use of IT equipment from the very start of its life all the way through to its end, and then how do we recycle that sustainably? There is a digital lens to all of that. So, across all of these four areas, we’re increasingly digitizing paper-based records and using smart technology to help our customers get intelligent. Out of those, we are digitizing a lot of those, kind of, original music tapes and things so that they’re preserved for the future. Capacity is a big, big part of the data centers world, and making sure that, again, as companies in the world get more digital, we are there to help support that, and then there’s the assets that go with that that we’re helping to support. So that’s kind of what we do. And then what I can confirm is that we do not store the Ark of the Covenant. We have a niche service for fine art. And, if you’ve lost that cultural reference to the 1980s, I’m really showing my age, my era, I think. So as far as I know, it’s not in one of our facilities.

– As far as you know.

– As far as I know,

– You couldn’t say, either.

– I could neither confirm nor deny. So, who are we today? So we’re an organization with 225,000 customers around the world, ranging from really big corporates to small- and medium-sized organizations. We’re now in 60 countries globally, and we employ around 25,000 people. And 3/4 of those are in frontline roles. So they are people like this colleague you see on the screen. They are drivers, they are people who take records from our locations to a customer’s office, and bring them back when they’re finished with them. So, a lot of these people are the face of Iron Mountain to our customers. We have people who work at our warehouses, to again, manage the in and out of those records, make sure they’re being stored safely and securely as well. And then across our data center and asset lifecycle management and fine art business, we also have people who work in frontline roles. So that’s a pretty big proportion, probably as big as any organization I’ve worked in. And that has kind of given us some challenges. And when I joined Iron Mountain in 2019, so just over four years ago now, this was kind of the picture we found, and what we were dealing with in terms of the ways we could reach and engage and communicate with our frontline teams. Very limited connectivity, both in terms of the technology available to them and the reach in and out of the organization. Many of our employees worked or were based at a facility and that was their world. So really, you know, a focus on their place of work with some, but not great connections into the wider organization. As a result of that, communications were very highly localized, so, often about the facility itself, or the country where that facility was based. And in terms of communication channels, we really had to rely quite heavily on managers and supervisors to deliver messaging. So, at that time, not every employee had an email account, even if they did, very difficult to access because of the nature of their work. So, relying on supervisors to deliver a message in a powerful, consistent, compelling way, challenging because some were good at that, some needed more help and support. So, that’s probably a challenge many of you with a large frontline communications, frontline workforce deal with in terms of communications, hard to reach, doing work that means they’re in different places all of the time. Work that often can’t stop, because, you know, you want them to listen or to watch something that you are producing as well. Where we were at the end of 2019 was moving as an organization out a very very patchy Microsoft environment in terms of our digital workplace technology, into Google. And that helped, but not to the extent that we were hoping for our frontline teams. It massively improved the world for the more wired employee, but, you know, the steps that we were taking for our frontline teams, not as much as we were, as we were hoping. And then along came COVID. So this obviously, radically and massively disrupted everybody’s working environment. You know what it was like then, we know what it was like. For most of us, we started working from home, we went home, we stayed at home. For our employees in frontline roles, they continued to go to their facility, they continued to do their job from that facility. And safety is a really important priority for us at Iron Mountain, it’s one of our five values. It’s something we talk about a lot, and it’s always the number one topic, but it shot up and stayed up at number one, clearly for a lot of time. And it became evident that communication to these teams was more important than ever. And that, I think caught the attention, as well, of our leadership about how we respond, how we engage, how we inform, because you know, there are lots of questions on the minds of people like this driver you see here. Number one, “Am I safe coming to work?” Number two, “Do I have a job?” Number three, “If I need help, where do I go for that?” And then, “Are we gonna see this out as an organization?” “Are we gonna actually come out of, whenever this ends, are we gonna come out of this?” So as you know, many of you will have remembered, probably, when COVID started, a lot of us went into crisis communications mode. You know, it was top-down, command and control. We were no different in that respect. And then, as this continued, obviously, it becomes a longer game that you’ve got to play. But what we needed to do, and very quickly, was make sure we were very closely coordinated with the other teams who had a vested interest in answering these questions. So our safety risk and security team who really were our connection into organizations, like the World Health Organization, the CDC in the US, to really make sure that whatever guidelines they were suggesting or mandating for a workplace, we were following. There was obviously a keen interest from HR to make sure our employees felt supported, safe, and understood where they could go for help and support. And then, really we wanted to make sure, that these employees, and all of our employees, really, heard from our leaders about how this was affecting us, what the future looked like. So to answer all of these questions, you know, we really upped the ante on COVID measures. So making sure that everybody understood exactly when they should or shouldn’t come to work, making sure they understood the protocols when they were in their workplace and how to follow those. Super important. Do they have a job? In a lot of cases, the answer is yes, and we were a critical service for many of our customers in that period. We support a lot of hospitals and healthcare organizations, and continuing to move patient records in and out of those hospitals, super important. Likewise, those hospitals needed more space. We were able to say, “Okay, you know, to help you create space, we’ll take what you don’t need right now, we’ll store it for you, and when the time comes where you don’t need so many beds and wards, we’ll bring it back.” So we were able to prove that, as well. In other parts of the ecosystem, unemployment benefits went through the roof, they needed processing faster, we were able to help with that. So a lot of things that where we could keep moving, we needed people to be able to do that. But then there were also areas where we weren’t able to serve our customers so much. If there is nobody in a customer’s office, there is nobody to deliver to. So we had to make some difficult decisions to either furlough or lay off some of our employees. And we took great care to explain why and how. And, what we were also able to do was to look at other organizations that were actually growing rapidly in the same time and say, “Actually, we’ve got some people who have the skillset you need.” So whether it was home delivery, other logistical type organizations that needed more people, we were able to partner with those HR teams and say, “We have people.” And we were able to fast track those people into the interview process for roles and largely were able to help people find another role really quickly. Which again, when there’s uncertainty about “What next for me?” you know, that helped even for people who weren’t gonna be with us anymore. In terms of support, we wanted to make sure that, you know, particularly where managers were still the main communication channel, they knew where to go for information and they knew what to share and when with their teams. And then in terms of making sure that people understood the durability of the business, we got our senior leaders talking and communicating more, virtually. So where they were used to doing in-person town halls and could not do that, in-person anymore, we did a virtual equivalent. We made sure that as many managers could join so they could pass on the key messages to their teams if they weren’t able to join live. But really to emphasize as a business, we were durable, we were stable. You know, the core of our business where we’re essentially storing those records over many, many years is not going to change the result of this environment. So, you know, there’s hope for us, you know, we have a future together. So that was important, and, what we also wanted to do was make sure that these employees felt appreciated by those of us who were at home, and were essentially relying on them to keep the business moving. So what we did was create a short campaign, using our internal social network, and encouraging our employees, who were in a more wired world, to say “Thank you,” and to share that with those employees, and to really give people a sense of, “We’re in this together, we’re gonna get through this together, and we’ll come out the other side.” So we put together a short video to sort of share with them and we’ll show you that in a moment. So take a look and look out for me, pre-beard, bad COVID haircut. Play the vid.

– [Narrator] We’re all affected by this pandemic. Our employees are working hard to adjust and deliver for our customers and for each other. COVID-19 may own the conversation, but together, we are changing the narrative to one that’s full of hope and resilience. At Iron Mountain, we are finding ways to adapt to the new reality. We are helping essential organizations receive, store, and deliver necessary PPE. We are helping unemployment offices access, digitize, and retrieve paper-based documents for incoming claims. We are helping remote workers efficiently access their critical documents through secure digitization services. Yes, it’s true. COVID-19 set us back. But it’s not just about the setback, it’s about the comeback. And we are coming back from it in ways we never imagined. We are thriving in a dispersed workforce environment. We’re creating innovative ways to solve new problems. We are showing compassion to others in our communities, and showing up for one another. Because, it’s not about the setback, it’s about the comeback. Let’s come back, stronger than ever.

– So that was a really galvanizing moment for us as an organization. It really pulled people together. You can get a sense of the power of that video, and, you know, just how it was received by everybody in the organization. Everybody who’d contributed or everybody to whom it was really directed. So it was really a launchpad for us to say, “Okay, now what? You know, as we’ve kind of pulled people together, what more can we do for this, you know, big part of our organization that we’re relying on?” So some immediate steps we were able to take, and that our IT organization led, was to make sure every employee had a Google account. Again, not solving everything, but, you know, starting to close the gap in terms of technology, availability and reach. We started conducting many more listening sessions, as you know, COVID waves came and went. We were able to do some of those in person, and likewise get some of our leaders in front of employees, you know, to again really show support but also to say, you know, “What can we do more for you?” And out of those sessions came, essentially, a refreshed way of doing our team briefing. So really that paused, you know, when COVID struck, you know, we had to go top-down in many respects, it was difficult for a team leader to deliver a briefing with social distancing. If they had to do it, it was often two or three times because you couldn’t have so many people in the room at once. We asked, “What do you want to hear about?” We standardized the format. So it was 30 minutes, there was a feedback loop included, and that’s now a standard that we are rolling out. Started in North America, it’s now in our Latin America region, it’s in our Asia Pacific region, and Europe is next, with 34 countries and God knows how many languages to worry about. So that’s where that’s going. We also made sure that, you know, that emphasis on safety continued and really, you know, it wasn’t just physical safety, it was now mental safety. You know, “How do we get people,” you know, “understanding where to go for support, what matters?” You know, how to do that, and really again, collaborate with the other parts of the organization for whom this is important. So just bringing this to life a little bit more in terms of things that would help us as an organization to keep them safe, but them also feeling that they’re supported as well. So, into 2021. 2021 is the, or was the 70th anniversary of Iron Mountain. We were founded in 1951, as I mentioned, and as we were planning how we would celebrate and mark that, we again really saw that, the continuity were those frontline teams, through the different eras and ages of Iron Mountain. So how do we keep that emphasis on them? So we planned a few things that again, would be a way of bringing them in. And rather than asking our wired employees, for content, this time, we asked our frontline employees for content. So one of the things we did was ask our CEO to issue a challenge. How quickly can you build one of our flat pack boxes? And we challenged him to do it first. I’m not gonna play you the video, but he did it in about 35 seconds. The winning team member, I think, who was in Latin America, did it in five. So this got kind of really good, kind of, buy-in, you know, people wanted to A, get competitive but B, also, show off their skills, and you know, it was nice content for us to use to bring them in. What we were also able to do, which was a bit more planned, and also, you know, pulled on the storytelling approach that we like to take is introduce what we called a “Spirit of Mountaineers” series of videos, where essentially over the course of 2021 and into 2022, we looked for stories and examples of employees who really shown, and reflected, and exemplified our values. And, you know, went out and spoke to them about why working at Iron Mountain mattered and some of the things that mattered to them in terms of the work they do. So we started off with our longest serving employee at the time, 45 years, works at one of, we still have underground facilities, which, I haven’t been to, but apparently are amazing. He works at one of those, told that story from somebody who’d been there almost at the start of things, but also found other people who, again, were really good ambassadors, or examples of our values. Lee, the driver you see on the left is based in the UK near Manchester. He’s a real strong supporter of emotional wellbeing and mental health and told a really powerful story, and we’ll find a way of sharing these videos with you, so you can take a look. But you know, a very strong story, he was able to tell around, you know, physical and mental safety. And then, we’ve also used these employees to help tell some of our sustainability story, where we’ve introduced more electric vehicles in our fleet. We’re talking to the drivers who will be the people who use them day in, day out to tell the story about them, rather than other people. So that’s again, kept the focus on this part of our organization, as well. So what does that look like? These are the kind of headline figures for this part of the organization from our last engagement survey, in September of last year. So in terms of pride to work for the company, recommending us as a place to work, trust in their manager, and a sense of belonging, we are getting close to the top quartile, which we’re happy about, but we also know we can do more with. And that’s really where we go next. You know, “What is it we can do to keep pushing, keep helping, create a sense of belonging and engagement with these people?” And that’s what’s next with us. So Peak is our version of Firstup. We’re launching it next month. We love a Mountain pun, or analogy, at Iron Mountain. That name was chosen by our employees from a short list that we put in front of them, and really, and that’s Bill by the way, that’s our longest serving employee. It’s really about context, connections and community for us. So as we grow, and we’re on a good growth path at the moment, how do we make sure that people in roles like Bill understand where we’re going, the role they contribute, the difference they make. Connection, again, is that reach to make sure that they feel there is a way we are getting to them, but they can talk to us. And community kind of builds on some of the things that I was talking about at the beginning, where there is a really strong sense of community. These are kind of like families, facility to facility. So how do you draw on that strength but then pull it into a greater sum of its parts? And that’s something we want to really tap into with this group too. So we’re excited about this next step. It’s been a long time coming, but we are hopeful that it will take us where we want to go next with added technology. It’s not gonna solve everything by any means, but we’re gonna go a lot further with it. So what have we learned, and what would I share with you as we’ve been on this journey? I think number one, it’s been really important for us to listen, and to listen hard to our employees, what they’re saying, how they’re feeling, and how we can respond to that. Second, How do we act on what we’ve heard? Even if it’s small things, it really makes a difference. So that’s something that, you know, we keep continuing to do, building out ways to listen, thinking about how we can act quickly. And then, as we’ve learned, you know, there are other parts of the organization with common goals. So for example, we know we want to equip some of our supervisors to be better communicators. We also know our learning and development team in HR are interested in that ’cause it helps with retention. And as they create onboarding programs or development programs, we’re starting to work more closely with them on that content, so that it helps us to help them as well. So, if you can find allies in the organization who can help you get where you need to go, seek them out, work with them, break down the silos, do everything we tell other people to do, basically. So that’s where we are, that’s where we’re going. I hope that was useful and we’d love to take any questions you’ve got.

– [Announcer] All right. Who wants to start with a question? Yes. Sorry, I was coming.

– [Audience Member 1] What’s your launch plan for when you launch Peak?

– So we are, so, to begin with, we’ve been doing a lot to engage our senior leaders to make sure they’re going to champion Peak when it comes along. We’ve had a pilot phase, where, parts of the organization, including the front line, have been able to experience it, and we’re starting to identify as a result of that pilot champion. So people who’ve said, “Yeah, I’ve been, I’ve seen a bit of this, I like it, I’ll help spread the word.” That’s gonna be part of our launch plan. I think as well, you know, we are, we’ve got some exciting things happening in the business around the same time, where we can have a real moment again of kind of bringing people together. So watch the space on that, can’t tell you much more. And then, I think it’s how we then embed and sustain that, so that’s where I think, you know, we’ll want to use the metrics to understand where adoption is good, where we can do more, make sure we’re using my team who are, you know, located in each of our regions to really push that as well, and probably consolidate and close down a few channels that are just adding to the noise and just make sure that, you know, we’ve got the focus on the right areas, and that this becomes an important part of the mix, but not everything for the front line. I think those other ways of communicating, the touch points with the manager, still important. So it’s how we build those with this alongside it.

– [Audience Member 2] Given your Raiders of the Lost Ark reference, we’ve been in comms about the same time, I’m gonna guess. What excites you about Peak as the comms leader? What are you excited about?

– I think it’s the storytelling power. If you think about what gets you, hopefully that video I showed you got you a bit. Gets me every time, still. We can do a lot more of that, and I think where we are pretty good at the moment is kind of, doing the communication that reaches the mind, but we need more that reaches the heart. And I think this gives us the opportunity ’cause it’s the platform to do more of that. Knowing that we’ve got more opportunity of getting the reach, and you know, plugging into stories that we know are out there. You know, what seems like maybe a fairly boring, dull business actually got a lot of gems hidden away that we can tap into, and these are the people who, you know, keep things safe, keep things moving. They all have backstories. So I think that’s what excites me, is how do we use a platform like Peak to unleash that?

– [Announcer] While everyone’s thinking very hard about the next question, I would love to understand, you know, you’ve got some fantastic content that you put together, especially around your employee storytelling. What’s the makeup of your team? How many people are there? How big are you? Are you focused on internal and external, or, how’s that broken down?

– Yeah, so we’re a team that’s focused on both internal and external. There’s probably about 25 or 30 of us in all. We have a team that I lead of communication business partners who support all of the different business units, regions, and functions of our organization. They tap into people who, you know, are the eyes and ears of the organization for us. We have some teams who drive, more centrally, channels like Peak, the editorial strategy behind it, and then the kind of multimedia and production that we need to generate a lot of this content. And then we work very closely, we are the other side of the coin to our external communications team where, you know, we want to use as much of these stories, externally, to really, again, help people understand the type of organization we are, who works for us, you know, people are interested in people, that could be to encourage them to come and work for us or really just drive our reputation, so that when customers are trying to get a sense of who we are, they get a bit more of a Peak under the table.

– Pun intended. Excellent.

– [Audience Member 3] Hi, just a short question. Do all your employees have company devices, or are you expecting them to use their personal devices to access Peak?

– Yes, they do not, so again that’s a little bit of a gap for us, but we are giving them I think more of an opportunity and making it easier to put it on a personal device. So for a frontline employee, they have shared computers at a facility, a lot of our drivers use Android-based scanners, which we can put Peak on, but we’re not going to mandate that they put it on their personal device. I don’t think we could in some markets, we want to hopefully make it an exciting destination, and the more that word spreads, the more they’re likely to do that, and then we make it as easy as possible for them.

– [Announcer 2] Thank you.

– [Audience Member 4] Hi, thank you for sharing that, I love the stuff where you said about getting people jobs, that were aligned with it, I thought that was very powerful. I almost don’t want to ask you cause it’s almost not fair, but, you’ve obviously done a lot of things right. What didn’t go so well? What went wrong and what did you learn from it? If you’re happy to share?

– Yeah, we didn’t go fast enough, in some cases, and that was either, you know, internally, us just going through the mechanics of how we, you know, either make the case, or then you know, get the right people approving what we are now doing. I think translation is still, you know, telling the story in somebody’s own language, which was still a bit too English heavy.

– [Audience Member 4] How many languages do you have?

– Well, 60 countries, probably almost as many languages. So again, a platform like Peak helps with its translation capability. So, again, I think, the reach and the ability to get to more people, we probably, again, would’ve benefited from a solution like this sooner to bridge that gap. And I think we’re still, probably got some work to do, to change the kind of nature of our communication from, you know, top-down, which it can still feel like, to a bit more of bottom-up as well. And again, a platform like this should start to readdress the balance, and now you’ve got me going, we do send too many emails as well. So you know, again, you know, trying to address the balance between too much pull, too much push and more pull will be something we focus on.

– [Audience Member 4] Sorry, can I just ask as well, how different were the cultures? How different was the cultural response in countries to COVID? Because presumably it was, it varied.

– Yeah, very different, very different. Either in terms of the impact COVID was having or you know, just how people were dealing with it themselves and what else was going in and you know, whether that’s financially things going on at home. So, we had to be very mindful of that as well. And again, you know, that’s where really staying close to your partners in HR or people on the ground was so important, yeah.

– [Audience Member 4] Thank you.

– I’m gonna allow one more question. Who, someone did have their hand up here, no?

– [Audience Member 5] I did have one, but I kind of, my question was kind of answered.

– [Announcer] Cool.

– [Audience Member 6] I just want to- Great presentation, thank you very much. I wanna ask how you are going to, what campaign you’re running to ensure that employees do use this, ’cause it’s great to have a new tool like this, but often they fail, because people don’t know about it or don’t use it.

– Yeah.

– What campaign do you have?

– Yeah. So we have a wow moment when we launch, which I can’t talk too much about now, but you’ll see, hopefully, in due course. Then we want to sustain that by essentially encouraging conversation about what we’re going to be doing then, which I think then will hopefully start the engine on the user generated content that we’re looking for, but also getting people going here. Part of the strategy will be, you can’t find this anywhere else now, and then a little bit of stronger governance around making sure we kind of, stick to it, and say “No,” or “Not this way,” a bit more rather than going, “All right then,” you know, and that, you know, then becoming a problem for us. So probably sort of those three strands, but try and get some compelling content on there, or you know, you can only find it there will be one way.

– [Audience Member 6] Thank you.

– [Announcer] Amazing, thank you so much Neil, this is amazing, can’t wait to hear how next year Peak performs-

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