Friday Notes Keep Us on the Same Page
Help Scout’s CEO and co-founder Nick Francis has a very consistent habit when it comes to wrapping up the work week. Most Fridays, wherever he is in the world (and, as the leader of a globally distributed team, that really could be anywhere), Nick ends the day by hitting send on a “Friday Note.”
Sent via email to the entire Help Scout team, Friday Notes are straightforward messages meant to give employees a clearer view into what’s going on in the CEO’s mind and how he’s thinking about the state of the company. The notes are often written with context from broader business themes or framed by personal experiences. Connecting with Help Scout team members all over the world has become a ritual that Nick has found vital to both his own growth as a leader and to the culture of the company.
Initially inspired by a conversation with ExactTarget founder Scott Dorsey, who built a legendary culture and wrote similar personal notes to his own team, Nick has been writing weekly messages himself since 2019. While the topics (and subject lines) have varied pretty widely over the almost two years and roughly 140 messages — from “Pressure is a Privilege” to “Rowboats, Speedboats, and Ships” to “New Year, New Workflow” — Nick’s goal has stayed the same: Pushing himself to improve his leadership and connecting directly and meaningfully with the team.
Read on to hear from Nick and from Help Scout’s director of communications, Sara Cohen, about the role that these intentional weekly communications play for Nick and the company as a whole.
Writing catalyzes clarity — and connects community
When Nick began sending out Friday Notes in 2019, he was already in the habit of regularly writing. Since the company’s early days, he has written to clarify his thoughts around specific practices and processes — around hiring, culture, and product-market fit, for example — and to drive his own leadership development. He writes notes for his own reference throughout the day to keep a record of conversations and ideas; drafts shareholder updates; and, regularly processes a variety of company and personal insights on the page.
In a Friday Note on the topic of writing that he sent out to the team in 2021, Nick shared that he spends 20-30% of his time writing creatively. That’s a big block of the CEO’s calendar, and the commitment reflects his belief in the value of this practice. “Next to hiring, writing is quite possibly the most important thing a leader can do to move the needle in their organization,” he said. “Writing helps us identify signals in the noise and catalyzes clarity of thought.”
When you write about something, you have to see the whole field — to understand all the context — in order to discern which blades of grass are worth noting. This process of communicating with clarity, developing a shared understanding, and acting collectively creates tremendous leverage in a business.
Excerpt from Friday Note: "Writing Catalyzes Clarity”
Friday Notes provide an opportunity to share those signals and related thoughts — about the company, the broader business landscape, and, sometimes, what’s happening more widely in the world as it relates to the business — with the team. For Nick, it’s an intellectual exercise and professional development tool. For the team, it’s a window into the current state of his thinking and where the business is headed. “The exercise makes me a better CEO, and it helps maintain a connection with everyone on the team by offering a good understanding of my values and how I make decisions.”
I often think about art and science as a spectrum in business. We're made to believe that building a business is much more science than it is — read these blog posts, follow this playbook, implement these strategies and you'll be successful. But the longer you spend building a business, the more you realize that it's way further down the art side of the spectrum.
Excerpt from Friday Note: “Art and Science”
An internal communication tool with wide-reaching impact
While Nick has been planning and drafting the Friday Notes himself since 2019, he has recently begun working with Sara, who was hired as director of communications in 2022, to hone the content and amplify the impact of these weekly messages.
Ideally, Sara noted, there’s a lot of opportunity to build community and enhance culture through this regular, authentic internal communication from the CEO. “Friday Notes can give employees insight into what’s on Nick’s mind, which is especially valuable given the breadth of conversations he has in a week, internally and externally. They can also foster understanding and connection with him as a person, beyond his duties as CEO."
For a team to do its best work, team members have to cultivate an environment in which the best ideas win. No ideas should win based on org hierarchy, seniority, or area of expertise alone. Ideas should win simply because they create the best possible outcomes for customers and the business.
Friday Note excerpt: “Investment Memos”
In Sara’s view, one of the keys to ensuring Friday Notes meet these goals is to also understand what these weekly messages are not. Nobody wants a Friday afternoon message from the CEO that will necessitate work-related action or get in the weeds about business or financial updates, new policies, or strategic changes. The point is to offer food for thought, opportunity for reflection, and a moment of community.
Scaling connection and culture
While Nick’s practice of sending Friday Notes has been consistent over the last few years, the number of inboxes his messages reach has grown considerably. In February 2023, more than 150 Help Scout employees are on the internal mailing list.
As the number of employees at Help Scout increases, maintaining the discipline of the weekly send only becomes more significant. “As the company grows, it is important to create scalable (1-to-many) opportunities for people to get to know the company’s leaders better,” Sara said.
As leader of a remote company, she added, Nick’s regular communication is even more essential than if the team were colocated. “On distributed teams, leaders without regular opportunities for visibility can appear as disembodied voices popping up to share good or bad news, with nothing in-between,” she said. “Friday Notes are one way for employees to get to know more about Nick, especially if they don't work with him on a regular basis.”
If I had one wish for Help Scout and our culture, it would be for this to be a place where creative work (which happens on every team) is cared for and appreciated. So much so that our customers feel it — it's an experience they don't get anywhere else. That feeling is better than any feature we can build.
Friday Note excerpt: “Creative Work”
Nick agreed, reflecting on the role of the messages to both connect folks and keep an important record of the growth and evolution of the remote-first business. “In a colocated environment, a lot of information travels via osmosis — moving through hallways, around lunch tables, and between conference rooms — but remote companies don't have any of that,” he said. “Friday Notes are one way to globally share information and, importantly, tone and intention, with the entire team.” And, he added, “if information isn't recorded or written down, it disappears. If you want to build a great remote culture, you learn to write everything down.”
Writing things down helps you process what's in your brain and communicate better with others. If I'm distracted by something mentally, I write it out, and then it disappears so I can focus on what's in front of me. I know I can come back to it later if I need to. It feels like a magic trick.
Friday Note excerpt: “Work-life Harmony"
Ultimately, Nick hopes that Friday Notes will continue to provide benefit at Help Scout — both by clarifying his thinking and creating community across time zones and roles. “When we write out our thinking clearly, it can fundamentally impact the business because everyone's perpetually on the same page. That's my goal, and the Friday note is one of the ways we attempt to achieve it.”