Keys is a communications company first. Our mission is to democratize life’s outcomes by turning everyone in the world into an effective communicator.
That begs the question: how does a communications company communicate?
Being a communications company comes with a lofty set of expectations around how we communicate internally. Being a company bent on improving the way humanity communicates sets the bar at an almost supernatural level. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
The following are heuristics we use to ensure effective communication, pulled straight out of our employee handbook.
At Keys, effective communication starts with us. It is in our DNA. It is our DNA.
Communication is everything. How we communicate directly affects how we work.
🥰 Unarguable Speech. Speaking from the “I” allows you to share what’s happening to you, personally. Nobody can tell you that you don't feel a feeling, or that you're not having a thought in your head.
Example: “When I read that slack message, I felt my chest tighten and imagined you were upset.”
“Not at all. I was just in a hurry when I typed the message”
👂 Mongol. The Mongol empire communicated via a network of outposts, horseback riders, and memorized messages. A rider memorized a message, rode to the next outpost, and relayed the message to the next rider. The new rider could not depart until they could repeat back the message back. At Keys, if someone says something convoluted or confusing, anyone can ask them to “mongol that” to clarify the situation.
Example: “So…[CEO rambles]…and that’s how we become a unicorn.”
“Could you mongol that?”
🖐 Fist of Five. When a group decision needs to be made, instead of asking a leading question like “so we all agree to drive off the cliff?”, we do a Fist of Five. At the count of 3, everyone holds up 1 to 5 fingers. 1 finger means strong disagree, 5 strong agree. 3 or more is a pass. It’s like rock-paper-scissors for decision making.
Example: “On 3, Fist of Five driving off the cliff.”
⏳ Timebox. Timebox is used when we’re too deep in the weeds, a conversation has become unproductive, or a tangent needs to be discussed without derailing the primary conversation. Anyone can call one.
Example: “The fact that Elon uses Keys should be on a billboard, maybe on Mars…”
“Let's timebox that to 5 minutes.”
🎲 Probabilistic questions. Binary questions only allow for yes/no answers. The framing “are you sure we will meet our launch deadline?” shuts down communication and kills nuance. Whenever possible, we reframe questions to be probabilistic.
Example: “From 1-99, how sure are you we will meet our launch deadline?”
🚦 Stoplight. During our daily stand-up, everyone checks in as Red/Yellow/Green (no ‘grellow’). Red means you’re having a bad day. Yellow is business-as-usual. Green means all-systems-go. Stoplight gives everyone a sense of how you’re doing, an opportunity to empathize, and helpful lens.
Example: "I'm like a mustard yellow today."
🤐 Withholds. Withholds work like this: if you have had a thought 3x times and kept it to yourself, it needs to come out. Beyond that it’ll start to fester. Withholds work to keep the kettle from boiling over. What’s important is that before we share a withhold, we ask if the recipient is willing to receive one—maybe they checked in red and it’s just not a good day.
Example: “Taylor, are you willing to receive a withhold?”
“It bothers me when you’re late to meetings. I feel like my time isn’t valued.”
“Oh my. I totally apologize; thank you for telling me.”