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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.

Gary


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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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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Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Corporate Communications is quickly transitioning from Programming to Precision 

Corporate Communications plays a vital role in influencing and maintaining organizational health, setting priorities, establishing a clear direction for strategy execution, managing reputational efficacy, impacting decision-making, telling the business story, and directing competitive positioning.

Under this construct, Corporate Communications’ efforts drive demand for products and services, attract and retain talent, and build comprehension around purpose, mission, and values, thereby enhancing financial valuation, softening barriers to market entry, building critical relationship capital, easing governmental and NGO relations, and nurturing and growing stakeholder trust. Consequently, the Corporate Communications function spans an entire organization while simultaneously being tasked with bridging various agendas, priorities, and egos between and among other functions. This can be a daunting task for any Corporate Communications team, whether housed in a large, medium or small organization.

And now COVID-19 and the current racial unrest occurring worldwide are changing the purpose and effectiveness of Corporate Communications. Social awareness is high, cultural nuance is more acute, competition is intense, consolidation continues, media has become fragmented, customer skepticism is rising, and information dissemination is happening faster than ever. Against this backdrop, an individual’s belief in a company or institution is likely to decline. A corporation’s ability to present a sustainable, meaningful and authentic corporate reputation to consumers, customers, employees, shareholders, and other key stakeholders is critical. In the fiercely competitive global marketplace, marketing products, services, or consumer-facing brands alone is insufficient. Stakeholders, particularly customers and employees, want and need to know about the company behind the brand, including how it connects to the greater whole.

Organizations are migrating their Corporate Communications function from a programming mindset to a precision focus on building stronger relationships with individual groups and positioning messages to cater to their specific needs and/or interests. This is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of analytics to assess the situation as a means to address stakeholder concerns and needs better. One way to increase involvement with stakeholders is to utilize the plethora of data tools and platforms available today to unearth insights and translate them into supportive actions, decisions, attitudes, behaviors, and positive word of mouth. 

For example, employees want to work for companies that “promote trust,” “empower,” and “inspire pride.” Given that, Corporate Communications should discern information, including contextual needs, for employees to understand and perform at a level necessary for success. From a customer standpoint, corporate relevance is critical to believing in and interacting with the company, products, and services at a brand or business level in a manner that makes sense to that customer. It signifies that the company behind the brand is doing the right thing from an ethical, moral, and operating standpoint. Given the social nature of business, communication should be tailored to reach individuals, not masses.

 Critical Path for Corporate Communications – Uncovering the Machinations of Stakeholder Behavior, Preference

Over the last several months, W2O has uncovered a number of important and consistent themes regarding how the Corporate Communications function can best optimize its efforts to deliver stronger ROI to its organization as we enter the next phase of the pandemic.

The major truth to better aligning Corporate Communications with company performance lies in ensuring that this function is well-defined internally, specifically as it relates to realizing that its mission has organizational connectors.

All organizations should constantly strive to make Corporate Communications a fully realized and integrated function. This can be difficult to achieve as it demands relatively universal organizational support. The hallmark of a successful Corporate Communications function is the team’s transition from simply occupying a “serving” role to that of “leading.”

This entails having a say in wider organizational decision-making and the clout to dictate strategy. To accomplish this, Corporate Communications must work to become a proactive catalyst, assert its own priorities, and leverage new technologies (such as analytics) to inform decisions. When Corporate Communications embraces these roles, it is more likely to result in substantial ROI, a more engaged workforce, and a leaner and more dynamic function. With this approach, Corporate Communications must have a deep understanding of employee and leadership opinion, brand narrative, current strategy, and a vision for the future. The result is a de-emphasis on programming and outbound activity and a concentrated focus on information gathering and insight to direct relationship-building.                                                        

What Are You Chasing? Undoing Programs for Stronger Connections 

For organizational communications professionals, the answer to “what are you chasing?” is a critical element in securing a viable solution to myriad workforce realities. The subtle but deadly outcome for not determining the specific goal or state you are aiming to accomplish is chasing symptoms that give the illusion of achievement through activity. 

Following are some of the ways Corporate Communications can transition its purpose and effectiveness to reflect the new reality: 

  • Start with Strategy

 If an organization’s Corporate Communications strategy and function are not directed toward the business strategy, then it is not of any value – period.

  • Find the White Space

An important area to explore via analytics is where the organization has the best chance to succeed. The strategy and tactics developed must elicit specific outcomes, or your approach needs to be rethought. 

  • Uncover the Nuance

Find out what’s behind stakeholder perceptions, concerns, interests, actions. Determine if there is an impetus for certain behaviors.

  • Precision is Realism

Precision is at the heart of addressing the ultimate goal or cause of your effort. Analytics now affords the opportunity to focus, clearly comprehending the priority at hand and establishing a reality check.

  • People (Behavior), Process, Perception

Bottom line: what you are chasing tends to fall in one of these three areas. Either you’re trying to change behavior (purchase a product, gain a new skill), improve a process (streamline customer service), or perception (reputation, brand).

In the end, “What are you chasing?” is about ensuring that the means lead you to the end result.

So, before you finalize your next program, ask yourself exactly what it is you’re chasing….you may be surprised!

The new Corporate Communications function consists of three levels:

  1. Insights on employee, customer and influencer behavior (in addition to media)
  2. Comprehension of how brands, products, policies, and leaders are being discussed and shaped
  3. Connection with story drivers inside the company to convey holistic solutions and a clear narrative

In this regard, the Chief Communications Officer’s value is wrapped around a directional view of the organization as opposed to a current state perspective reinforced by tactical activities. The implication is that Corporate Communications is evolving to address the new realities of the organization’s business, reputation management, marketing, and communications in order to be an accepted and trusted advisor and resource. To get there, you must consider several factors:

  • Environment: Comprehending the competitive and customer environment you are operating in
  • Communities and Stakeholders: Company shareholders, customers, community and employees are adjusting to the “new normal,” needing more real-time, high-touch communications
  • Organization: Respecting the management model and organizational structure
  • Positioning: What are your market positioning and communications challenges? What is your trajectory for growth/loss?
  • Operations: Balancing roles that have changed and those that have not
  • Rapid Change: Ongoing change in the market forces the need for new communications practices and procedures, highlighting areas for continuous improvement

COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in myriad ways. But for many professionals and organizations, the pandemic is a time to rethink, recalibrate, and relearn what it takes to provide value in a shifting world. Taking advantage of analytics and data to discern insight and address new expectations is the pathway to a new and better future.                   

In this regard, precision is the new programming. 

 Gary


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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Regardless of circumstance, change in all forms takes time but the results are game-changing….so why not continue? 

 The numbers are sobering. Over 70% of change efforts within organizations fail. The reasons are many. But recently, a troubling number of change or transformation initiatives that have gained momentum or traction among employees have stopped. Citing the COVID-19 pandemic and racial tensions enveloping society to organizational exhaustion, leaders have pulled the plug, so to speak, on change efforts. They have resorted to business as usual,  leaving people, process, and purpose in a state of uncertainty.

The non-stop shifts that occur in the external world continually challenge businesses, posing multiple threats and opportunities, often without warning. The imperatives that result impose a sense of urgency internally for leaders who must accommodate and address them in a comprehensive way. We know the importance of new strategies in driving organizations – meaning people – toward the future as well as the sobering reality of how few do it right. Corporate change today and the strategy that underpins it cannot be as dry as dust or it will be a good prescription for insomnia. In order for a change strategy to be effective and executed successfully, the people within the organization must grasp it and be able to digest its components in a manner that shapes their roles and responsibilities.

In other words, employees must be able to draw a direct line of sight between themselves and the future that the strategy envisions. They must be able to see clearly how their actions can help assure the successful implementation of the strategy to drive the company forward. But why would leaders stop such efforts when they are seeing progress or even achievement? How do we communicate corporate change in such a compelling way that both leaders and employees are hesitant to end such efforts? We are finding that the answer to this frustrating question lies in two areas. First, change or transformation takes incredible energy and engagement throughout the enterprise. This means commitment must be rock solid at the highest levels of the company. Second, companies believe that people don’t want to change, and if you push them too much, the business will break. Let’s start with the latter point. Employees change if the rationale, approach, process, end state and purpose make sense. However, they often express change exhaustion because so many transformation efforts are the opposite.

From a communications standpoint, animating the change strategy is critical. This means making it memorable through meaningful and appropriate anecdotes and metaphors that help personalize, illuminate and bring it to life. This makes it “stick” in the memory, linking the strategy to the hearts and minds of individual employees. Put simply, making the strategy stick means putting people first, seeing the implicit change through their eyes. It means that communicating corporate strategy is not about PowerPoint decks, colorful posters, cute themes, e-newsletters, blog posts or highly scripted management meetings.

Change During COVID-19 and Societal Tensions over Race 

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely upended our lives. As a result, leaders have had to balance the tension between and among employees, customers, patients, government and suppliers. (See W2O Relevance Quotient COVID-19 Report #4). Stopping or pausing transformation efforts during such a time would appear prudent. But what better time to continue a change effort than when people are already in the midst of rethinking their methods, behaviors, attitudes, and actions?

Among the insights we’ve learned thus far is that working virtually has broken down silos, encouraged more collaboration, increased productivity in some areas, and forged a tighter belief network internally. With little effort, people are pulling together to seek information and solutions in order to accelerate a return to some normalcy. So why impede such growth? The changes harnessed through this difficult time can give rise to a new operating or business model – one that focuses on societal purpose – and better manage complexity. On a macro scale, organizations can better communicate about their strategy and direction to guide managers and employees alike in how to run their businesses, how to invest in their businesses, what is possible, and what people need to focus on to drive it toward that ultimate goal. As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has said, this is a time of rethinking and learning. Everybody does it differently and approaches it in ways unique to their own personal style. Conviction, energy, passion, consistency and alignment are more important than the “right” message. The keys are to own it and make it part of how you change the business. To stop such efforts only places the organization and its employees at a disadvantage.

While there is no magic answer in all this, viewing transformation through a lens of learning allows you to begin seeing the organization in a new light – guiding it to define, describe and convey both externally and internally, the true meaning of its purpose.

The tension around racial inequity and social justice is a real example of change albeit a different type of change. Individuals and organizations are examining their conscience to ascertain beliefs, truths, bias and intent. It is here in the deepest part of one’s soul where purpose can be found. Diversity and Inclusion has always been a cornerstone of real change and efficacy. It means operating without blinders, taking in all around you and sharing knowledge, fears, concerns and interests to get to a better place.

Holding a Mirror to Your Heart and Head  

Corporate change forces people and companies to literally hold a mirror to themselves and the business to see what is actually going on. COVID-19 and the tensions emanating here in the United States and abroad have initiated real inspection of not just operating practices but basic tenets and principles. What’s behind the mirror? If there were ever a time to open your eyes and ears to the real impetus of your organization and discover its meaning with a focus on redesigning and reshaping its purpose, that time is now.

Harmonizing Your Story and Your Actions

People are naturally curious. They don’t just want to know the end point, the decision. In the case of change that drives an organization through and beyond the issues and challenges impacting that organization, people want to know more than messages. They are looking for the story, the meaning, the “why” – everything that went into the decisions that shaped the strategy and what people are doing to support it. If we can share with people, through anecdotes, examples, lessons, the inside story, we can help them see, hear, experience, learn and, ultimately, discover on their own. In extending messages to stories, managers and communicators alike should begin asking themselves questions to help shape their stories:

  • What do your people see?
  • What are they experiencing?
  • How do they respond to organizational initiatives?
  • What are you trying to solve? What challenges does your strategy seek to address?
  • What have people done in similar situations, either inside the company or from another industry?
  • What can or does success look like?
  • Are there personal examples to draw from that illuminate the premise?

Change is difficult. Particularly in a time of such disruption. As of three months ago, there is no rule book. There is a new playing field. A new way to manage, lead and engage people. A new set of customer expectations. New platforms. New ecosystems.

It is the right time to continue pursuing true change, not stop it or pause it!

Gary 


Read our latest report, “Corporate Relevance in the Age of Social Unrest

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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Coming out of COVID-19, organizations, brands must redefine, clarify themselves to establish relevance

One of the biggest, most important outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic will be how organizations and brands redefine, reposition and describe themselves. For both companies and individuals, the last three months have been a myriad of experiences with everyone fixated on the virus and its implications. Lost in this haze of uncertainty and fear has been clarity around the purpose, direction, value and meaning that organizations provide to the marketplace and society at large.

Reintroducing your company and brand(s) provides a pathway back to relevance and trust, propelling efficacy in the minds and actions of key stakeholders. It’s a bridge from nowhere to making a great first impression…again! Like everything else, it’s never about the “what.” But in this case the “how.” It all starts with a new story that captures the business as it looks forward, retaining what it has learned.

To prepare for a new prism through which to view your organization, take note of the following considerations to inspire and engage a more motivated set of behaviors and actions:

  1. It’s all Digital NowCOVID has made the digital experience and digital technologies commonplace in enhancing the customer and employee journey.
  2. Always Start Inside…The most affected group during this time has been your employees. Involving them in the process of reimagining the business is essential to authenticity and sustainability, not to mention retention and recruitment.
  3. Never Make It About You…Reframing your organization must start with your stakeholders. How has their reality changed? What are you doing to support, change or mitigate it?
  4. Base Your Narrative on One Thing…Giving people the chance to comprehend and digest your story begins with presenting one key element of your purpose and value proposition. Attempting to tell everything only confuses and obfuscates the organization’s promise.
  5. Make Sure You’re Empathetic…When you empathize with your stakeholders, you create trust and belief.
  6. Rediscover Your Stakeholders…Now is the time to truly uncover what motivates those important to you. Data and analytics provide deep insight and direction.
  7. Determine Their Relevance…Knowing what concerns, interests, needs and wants drive people and marrying it with your strategy, value and purpose puts in focus relevance. Relevance is the new Reputation as it enables engagement.

What we have been dealing with is unprecedented. Over the course of a few weeks, the entire world stopped. Personal safety became job #1. Company goals, objectives and imperatives blurred. Brands were pushed to the back of one’s mind. A sense of unity and kinship prevailed. As we find our way back, it is imperative that organizations once again stimulate innovation, empower employees, and address expectations.

The first step is recognizing the climate they are returning to…and provide a fresh face from which to be seen, heard and known.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

Gary


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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