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Beyond the watercooler
Beyond the watercooler

NOVA NEWCOMER '99 has a simple message for companies: In our technologically sophisticated world, the office water cooler no longer cuts it for employee communication.

The water cooler symbolizes the grapevine in which employee perspectives and concerns circulate, often becoming magnified and distorted in the process. During her six-year stint with Adidas Group, Newcomer found a better way.

As senior manager of internal communication at Adidas, she developed an innovative internal communications platform known as "Ask The Management." Its success inspired her to found Blue Hill Solutions in Portland with her husband and business partner, Peat Bakke, in 2006. The two came up with a secure software application, Chatter Mill, based on the "Ask the Management" concept.

"While managing Adidas communications for 2,000 employees across 25 countries, I recognized the need for a platform for improving employee-management communication," says Newcomer.

Using Chatter Mill, employees can ask questions, air ideas or complaints, and receive a response from management-all anonymously. "It's not scientific, but it gives you a snapshot in time of what people are thinking about an issue," she explains. Providing confidentiality encourages safe idea-sharing and thought-provoking discussion, Newcomer contends.

The service, launched in May 2007, has garnered good reviews and attracted corporate attention. Companies are recognizing that members of their current work force, especially the rising younger generations, "want access to tools that allow them to express their ideas," she says.

Newcomer, a native Portlander and high school athlete, began communicating early. She was a public-address announcer for Parkrose High School football and basketball games. Thinking she might pursue a career in sports casting, she worked in the Athletics Department at PSU as a media assistant. She also started taking classes on the side, completing a degree in political science.

Much of athletics is teamwork-a concept that stuck with Newcomer, who is helping companies come together and work it out each and every workday.

By Cliff Collins