A window into how healthcare organizations continue to connect key stakeholders at a time of distraction, confusion

 For a copy of the W2O COVID-19 Relevance Analysis, here.

COVID-19 continues to dominate our lives and as such the business environment and the media narrative. The pandemic has captured our attention because it has changed everything about our daily lives. It has reshaped how and where we shelter, eat, exercise, socialize and entertain. It has rethought how, where and (in too many cases) whether or not we work. Unemployment applications are at an all-time high. Two million Americans have already missed a mortgage payment.

In terms of the media, since January 1, 2020, approximately 135,000 news articles in the United States have been written on the topic, with those stories generating more than 449 million shares on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. To say that COVID-19 is capturing the world’s attention would be an understatement.

This unprecedented crisis has also rewired the rules of engagement between companies and their stakeholders. Long before COVID-19, employees, customers, and investors were increasingly expecting companies to take a stand on issues of cultural, societal and political currency and urgency. They expected it. They’ll reward it.  And they want to help with the solution(s).

With COVID-19, such expectations have been increased ten-fold.  Given the cultural, societal and political dimensions – some of them visible to us now, and some becoming increasingly visible over the coming months, organizations and brands are recalibrating policies, programs, investments, and staffing to better reflect a more socially conscious business model. While we experience how the pandemic is impacting society, companies are taking action and, in many cases, their key stakeholders are reacting positively.

At the intersection of how companies are behaving and what stakeholders expect is where W2O’s Relevance Framework and Model resides.

Approximately six weeks ago our firm refocused the Relevance Framework and Model to understand how companies are maintaining a connection with key stakeholders amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Our analysis provides organizations with an early roadmap to assess the situation with an eye toward growing tighter connections with the people who shape their businesses every day.

Among the key findings of our analysis were the following and they remain core tenets:

  • Relevance is About Sensitivity, Empathy, and Action. The most relevant companies demonstrated these characteristics in both their communications and decision-making.
  • Relevance Strengthens Organizational Confidence. Employees working in a virtual environment tend to question the value of what they do, given the loss of community and networking. Being relevant to stakeholders improved overall confidence in the organization.
  • Collaboration Emerges as a Key Relevance Driver. Companies that exhibit internal collaboration, work with regulators and policymakers, and partner with philanthropic organizations were viewed more favorably.
  • Timing and Information Make All the Difference. What companies said and shared publicly was backed up by strong action.
  • Stakeholders Must “Discover” Policy, Approach to Trust. Selling an organizational narrative will be dismissed as rhetoric or worse.
  • Employee “Value” Must be Reinforced in a Virtual Workplace. Keeping employees informed, interested and connected is critical to reinforcing their value and confidence

What’s Shifted? What’s Emerging?

We now have a strong covenant of data that shows us how companies’ responses to COVID-19 have evolved over time as the pandemic continues to unfold and our knowledge becomes more acute.  Among the core themes that have emerged since our last report are the following:

  1. Relevance is increasingly playing out at the local level.
    • State and local government health officials and policy-makers are on the frontlines and are driving the agenda and key decisions.
    • By late March, governors became more proactive in directing policy, often leading or running counter to the federal government’s recommendations.
    • Local (un)employment, state budget, Medicare budget, Medicaid budget, and tax revenue emerged as key policy issues.
    • Mayors (of San Francisco and New York, in particular) became highly visible and vocal on shelter-in-place and voting issues.
    • The disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on minority populations is emerging as a critical issue.
    • Relevant companies realized that local news outlets were being hit hard and leveraged the rise in service journalism in new ways to engage.
  1. Relevant companies understand— that people come first. Brands bonded at a personal level.
    • Relevant companies demonstrated that they have customers’ backs and that they “get” the new normal experience of sheltering in place.
    • They recognized that we’re getting tired and emotional as we try to get together while staying apart.
    • They connected with consumers on an emotional and experiential level.
    • Companies authentically tugged on family heart strings with campaigns using real employees’ families in their own homes.
  1. Relevant companies continued to pivot and partner.
    • Companies partnered in unexpected combinations, such as Medtronic and Tesla.
    • Companies pivoted with agility and wartime-like scale to re-tool manufacturing facilities, adapt existing products, or design entirely new ventilation products.

To get people (stakeholders) to hear you again and establish that first step in attaining relevance, organizations need to adhere to the following tenets:

  • Say something different
  • Have people find you somewhere different
  • Partner with brands and organizations that enhance your brand

The W2O Relevance Framework and Model will continue to assess, how companies are maintaining this connection with key stakeholders breaking through and engaging the right behaviors.  What we have seen as this crisis has grown is that relevant companies are:

  • Guided by their values and principles
  • Hyper-focused on stakeholders broadly more than strictly shareholders
  • Pivoting with agility and acting with transparency
  • Focused on actions aligned with their purpose and values
  • Operating with the long haul in mind

Maintaining Relevance in a time of uncertainty is incredibly difficult as stakeholders are more demanding holding organizations, brands, governments, leaders accountable for action.   The Relevance Index and Model will continue to refresh its data to identify new trends, determine how these trends evolve and uncover key themes related to moving forward beyond COVID-19.

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy.

Contributions to this content were made by Gary Grates, Chuck Hemann, Stephen Yoon, Marianne Gollub, Jessica Carlson, Becky Vonsiatsky, Barbara Pinto, Justin Harris, Kate Hawker, Olga Larina and Laura Mucha of W2O.


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