Five essential principles to change management in a virtual world 

Transforming an organization in normal times is akin to turning around an oil tanker on a dime. Now overlay a pandemic where your workforce is operating virtually, customers are adhering to different norms, supply is being challenged, society is in flux, and competitive balance is upended. Under such conditions, an organization’s core capabilities and resources must be continually tested and adapted to ensure resilience and achieve results. The key question though is “How?”

Here’s the secret: stop overthinking! COVID-19 has accelerated organizational change by forcing leaders to move quickly in a shifting economy and a more dynamic corporate culture.  The opportunity lies in organizations proceeding with the velocity digital affords to impact business outcomes, including customer experience, employee engagement, supply chain efficiency, and more dynamic capabilities. The key is not to resist the change inherent in a marketplace and workplace where expectations are designed for agility, speed, value and recognition. What we are experiencing is big data becoming complex with insight more acute; physical and data information coming together; and organizations providing digital services not just traditional products and capabilities.

We have observed five critical principles that we are actively pursuing in partnering with organizations – global, international, domestic – to embed a sustainable digital blueprint where boundaries don’t exist, information and insight is ubiquitous, innovation is enabled, and the business model is fluid. Each of these tenets become important factors in changing the business exponentially:

  • Discern – Change and digital are all about understanding and comprehending the business in a 360-degree fashion. What are your information, IT, digital, social and technology sources? Are data and insight getting to the proper places inside your company? Are you uncovering influence, white space, roadblocks, barriers, etc.?
  • Detail – How are you built for rapid, flexible decision-making? What is your organizational system? What do your ecosystems look like?
  • Decide – What investments and actions are necessary to drive the business? How is data informing decision-making?
  • Distinct – Is innovation a priority? If so, how is insight the DNA of the process?
  • Discipline – Is there recognition and consequence to organizational behavior?

The pandemic has forever altered the fabric of society – from a personal and professional standpoint and, of course, from an organizational perspective. One of the areas, though, that’s been pushed ahead is how we incorporate data, insight and technology to develop new value propositions, ensure our employees are respected, our processes are nimble, and are customers are treated with dignity and purpose. Change management and the digitization of business has been a long slog for many organizations, but the elements and principles are there for a more seamless and successful journey.

Sometimes the change we are looking for is right in front of us!

Be safe and healthy!

Adam and Gary

Adam Cossman is Chief Digital Officer at W2O

Gary Grates is a Principal, Change Expert at W2O     

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

At W2O, we define corporate Relevance as being thought about, sought out, talked about, engaged with and believed in among your stakeholders. Relevance is attuned to cultural, societal, political urgency and currency with organizations that reflect consistent, persistent, clear, and often bold stands that invite dialogue, discussion, debate and action.

Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and global awakening on racial and social injustice, Relevance has never been more important, critical and powerful to an organization’s sustainability. The dueling pandemics we’re bearing witness to have made true equity one of the most urgent corporate and societal priorities of our time.

I recently had the pleasure of serving as a faculty member for the annual Fierce Life Sciences Pharma PR & Communications Summit on a panel titled “Relevance is the New Reputation: How Companies are Staying Relevant Amidst Crises.”  During this conversation, we explored how current global and U.S. events have made it clear how central Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) is to relevance and why corporations need to tear up the standard playbook and lean into the DE&I journey with authenticity, commitment and powerful resolve.

During the panel, I unveiled findings from W2O’s latest study, “Remaining Relevant Amidst Crisis & The New (Ab) Normal,” which outlines the current U.S. societal landscape identifying where select companies are in their DE&I maturity journey. The report provides considerations for how companies can and should move forward, no matter where they are in their commitment to DE&I.

The study’s findings solidify just how transformative 2020 continues to be, and the unveiling of a new era of corporate citizenship. With companies navigating the lightning rods of upheaval and the resulting new expectations their actions are under the microscope, with powerful shifts in perspectives from the general public – including employees – to commit, lead and engage on social and civic issues. “Walking your talk” has never been more important, and there’s a clear need for strategic, authentic action around DE&I to positively impact the path forward.

To help ascertain what this next normal can look like, we qualitatively analyzed the DE&I progress of five companies – across Fortune 500 and the healthcare industry – to establish a DE&I maturity journey. Maturity was mapped across five key pillars: Authenticity, Accountability, Action, Transparency and Frequency.

All of the companies analyzed fell in the middle of a 5-point scale of stages from Novice to Champion, pointing to the inroads made and work that still needs to be done.  Addressing growing stakeholder expectations around DE&I in a transformational moment for society can be daunting.

Following are four key considerations for moving forward:

  1. DEI is a mindset not a message
    Recent societal shifts have highlighted the critical need for companies to commit to and take clear, measurable action around DE&I. Start where you are, take ownership of where you’ve fallen short to date, and be ready to embrace discomfort as you grow.
  2. Authenticity starts with Clarity about who you are
    Throughout the journey, remember that authenticity is key. Make authenticity a North Star in foundation-setting efforts and beyond. Stakeholders, particularly employees, should believe that DE&I efforts align with the brand and its core purpose/values.
  3. Educate. Highlight. Share.
    Education and policy are top-of-mind for stakeholders. Authentic partnerships are a way to address this need, no matter where you are on the maturity journey. Showcase how the company is listening, learning and sharing information, and be ready to go well beyond “performative” monetary donations.
  4. Connect the Dots
    Civil unrest has sparked a realization for some that there is uncertainty around what DE&I truly means. In many cases, this has been a catalyst for increased consumption of educational resources. Companies can, through their educational efforts, help create interconnectivity between education and DE&I topics within search.

Why does this matter? It all comes back to Relevance. How relevant are you?  In today’s social and digital world, if you aren’t relevant you don’t exist.

Organizations are being judged on Purpose as much as Product. As such, they need to allow stakeholders to discover rather than sell their narrative regarding DE&I. The world is watching, and there is an imperative to close the gap between rhetoric and stakeholder expectations by aligning with the societal and cultural urgency of DE&I​. Embracing the maturity journey now will align action with urgency – authentically, thoughtfully and transparently.

Be unafraid to take a stand. Now more than ever, Relevance is your most potent path to the future.

From Messages to Conversations; From Awareness to Action

This pandemic has upended virtually every part of our work and personal lives. We immediately had to adjust and adapt to new and different ways to interact, connect, share, and collaborate to maintain and create relationships. Through all of this upheaval and change, we discovered a number of truths regarding our resilience and perseverance, including:

  • Technology is a Bridge – Moving voices, ideas, engagements, from one place to another
  • Silos are no Longer a Barrier – We’ve discovered working virtually has almost eliminated company silos
  • Empathy Transcends Medium – We are very aware of the tone, cadence, and frequency of our interactions to respect emotions
  • Information is Ubiquitous – There are virtually no time barriers or restrictions as the world works as one, and the thirst for information is never satisfied
  • It’s Personal – Communications have moved from segments and audiences to personal engagement

From an organizational standpoint, employee communications have become an on-going dialogue – pervasive, persistent, and personalized. There are no editorial calendars or predetermined topics, channels, or timing. It’s an intuitive effort driven by leadership and informed by employees focused on relevant information generated by a central theme. It is about ensuring people are informed, educated, intrigued, nourished, and comfortable in discussion and debate.

“Always On” employee communications is a myriad of passions, interests, data, perspectives against a corporate strategy and narrative that run fluidly across channels and platforms. In that regard, four distinct strategies buttressed by a data/analytics studio for ensuring an agile and inclusive engagement profile for employees in a digital age create a new method for employee communications.

Data/Analytics Studio: A centralized resource that engages in assessing the employee journey and its touchpoints looking for usage, sentiment, voice, frequency, tonality, and access to information to form insights that impact content, programming, channel, and timing. From this core center, four actions follow – all of them infused with data, analysis, and insight:

  1. Employee Communications Strategic Roadmap – Digital planning framework done on a weekly or even daily basis. Flexible. Iterative. Metric Driven. 
  2. Central Organizational Story (Themes, Conversation Streams) – Core narrative. Story cubes reflecting the entire business influenced by data and insight. 
  3. Multiple Platforms (Managers; Hub; Apps; Podcasts, Videos) – Synchronized system for omnichannel storytelling of messengers and channels easily accessible to all employees with feedback built-in. The Hub is a collection of all content found on the portal and updated frequently. 
  4. Action Not Awareness specific activities or programs reflecting key business milestones or efforts , highlighted throughout the year that drive action – behaviors, mindset, involvement, collaboration, ideation.

The style for employee communications in a social and digital environment is all about Discover vs. Sell. People must discover and engage on their terms vs. being sold and told. This dictates a different approach and tone (somewhat provocative) to gain interest.

Leaders have found this pandemic raised the importance and critical nature of an informed, confident, and smart workforce. As such, employee communications must be viewed as a strategic priority for the enterprise and be given the resources, attention, and commitment necessary to effectively reach, connect and motivate people in a challenging time and against a digital reality.

Organizational success is about performance. Efficient. Productive. Consistent. Sustainable. It is grounded in a workforce that is clear about the direction of the business. Knowledgeable about their roles and responsibilities. Confident in their understanding and perspectives. Open to ideas and different points of view. Smart about the future. Respectful of their colleagues and peers. 

Now is the time to get real about employee (internal) communications and ratchet up the sophistication and elegance expected and essential to your workforce to have the potential to succeed in a tumultuous and unpredictable environment.

Ask yourself: “How smart do you want your employees to be?” 


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

COVID-19 has accelerated a race to the middle for technology, engagement, connectivity and strategy, changing business forever  

One of the unforeseen benefits of this pandemic is an accelerated adoption of digital as an operating model for organizations and a behavioral mindset for customers and employees. From the elimination of silos to the seamless transference of work and ideation, we’re experiencing a more efficient system of productivity and excellence. Organizations are moving from transactional to sustainable relationships, utilizing technology and data to forge greater engagement and connectivity based on knowledge and newfound insight.

For communicators and marketers, this intersection is defining a new reality for:

  1. Brands – Digital is translating static brands to dynamic lifestyles.
  2. Innovation – Companies no longer own innovation. Rather, customers are dictating what comes next, sharing new ideas that defy the status quo.
  3. Knowledge acquisition – Digital accelerates the entire concept of idea creation and solutions, pushing companies and employees to new heights of value creation.
  4. Organizational culture – The way we work, interact, organize, recruit, develop and collaborate takes on new meaning as attitudes and values are shaped by a more focused view of purpose over profit.
  5. Trust and relevance – These will be the bedrock of company existence but ever-shifting as the marketplace and customers become more confident and able to better discern given the plethora of information and context available.

Given this upheaval, leaders are looking to devote time and capital to redesigning their approaches to marketing and communications, specifically employee communications and engagement, content and new technologies to understand influence, opinion, relevance and customer preferences. Less time and activity is being given to such legacy processes as long-term strategic planning, product development and employee satisfaction. Digital is rendering such time-consuming and limited activities obsolete. Agility and speed are now the north star for organizational success.

“Probably the most difficult decision a CEO makes is to disrupt a business model that once worked.”

However, there is one other area that is being dealt with as part of this seismic change: business design. That is, how an organization is organized and designed for optimum value to its stakeholders. Probably the most difficult decision a CEO makes is to disrupt a business model that once worked. Doing so means the very core of the enterprise is shaken. New pieces come into view. Priorities shift. Contradictions happen for a time. People’s lives are turned upside down. Losses may happen for a time. The company’s narrative may be lost.

But through it all, staying the course and redefining the business model in a digital world is ultimately what saves a company or brand from future demise.

The Digital Intersection is happening right before our eyes. To navigate through this landscape, we suggest you consider the following reference points:

  • Signal the Change – Be upfront about what’s taking place and what it means.
  • Adopt Technology – Don’t protect yesterday; forge ahead to what’s next.
  • Follow the Data – Insight will determine the direction.
  • Start New Conversations – Do this specifically with employees; be provocative; be contextual; be empathetic.
  • Recognize It Won’t be Clean – People won’t necessarily understand right away; keep moving forward.
  • Focus on Relevance – This is the balance of what you want to say and what stakeholders hear.
  • Be Forthright – Never waver in your journey. Ever.

COVID-19 continues to impact our lives and will for some time. Assimilating the changes we’ve experienced and enacted means developing a whole new playbook from which to operate.

Coming through the other side with our integrity and our efficacy intact albeit with a whole new worldview is the goal.


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

W2O study uncovers sentiment of internal dynamics and perceptions shaping organizational confidence in U.S.

 “Just tell me what’s next?”

If you can sum up the sentiment from today’s employees regarding COVID-19, then providing answers to that question is a start. W2O undertook a comprehensive study on U.S. employee attitudes and perspectives toward COVID-19 in order to understand overall perceptions of the pandemic from an employee standpoint including concerns, interests and beliefs. The study also examined how companies are addressing these issues and how they are shifting over time as society and business moves to the next phase of this public health crisis.

“Employee relationships and engagement have become front and center during COVID-19 as leaders discern the right balance of providing clarity, recognizing effort, maintaining performance and ensuring safety, said Gary F. Grates, Principal, W2O and a leading authority on organizational communications and change management. “Our deep-rooted analytics expertise allowed us to explore the multiple dimensions of employee attitudes and behaviors and how companies should recalibrate and design effective solutions to adequately respond to this new reality.”

View full study results can be found here.

Highlights from the study, conducted with more than 1,000 employees representing various business segments from the overall U.S. population, include the following:

Addressing Employee Concerns and Needs Improves Organizational Confidence

Projecting a strong, vibrant persona as a business is critical to stakeholder belief and confidence. Virtual working models, while efficient, raise issues of isolation and myopic thinking that, if not addressed, can negatively impact brand relevance.

Communication that is Empathetic and Clear Impacts Attitude, Behavior

Improving and continuing communication of company plans and relevant information around the COVID-19 pandemic is important. Companies must establish expectations around working from home and provide daily/weekly updates from the CEO and higher level management. They must create awareness efforts surrounding plans to reopen, strategies to ensure safety, and updates about employees who have contracted the virus.

Clean and Safe Policies Are Expected Before Individual Decisions Are Made

Taking a number of actions that identify the needs and wants of employees and recognizing each individual concern over returning to an in-person working environment is necessary. Companies must utilize sanitation services and provide PPE to make employees feel comfortable returning to work.

Putting Employees First Garners Loyalty

Employees admire employers who set standards and a plan of action to move the company forward. Commitment to employees reassures them that their job is secure and ensures confidence.

Flexible Work Schedules Will Become the Norm

Flexible scheduling gives employees better options to balance home and work responsibilities. Employees want various options to adjust their schedule. They also want the ability to work from home whenever they want or have the option to go into the office when needed.

“We found numerous levels and dimensions of employee perceptions that define the character of organizations. These are extremely important to how employees think and operate, said Dave Johnson, Managing Director, Integrated Intelligence, W2O. “This foundation provides a basis for new and different approaches to policies, decision-making and communications during the pandemic to maintain or exceed employee expectations. As the pandemic continues to unfold, these findings and insights will prove to be more valuable than ever to leaders and communicators alike.”

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

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