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The art of conversation and the elevation of health in society

An interesting thing happened during this awful pandemic.

We began talking to each other again. Actually, talking to each other. And the topic of course was COVID-19.

When the vaccines became available, conversations around science, health and efficacy increased. Of course, utilizing social and digital platforms to seek and find information was critical in our quest for answers, but they were used to complement not substitute for discussion, dialogue and debate. The key attribute we learned in rediscovering personal connectivity is context. What we are experiencing today is the resurgence of science in our lives based on conversation and context.

Healthcare companies – especially pharma companies – have often communicated above and around consumers thinking that other stakeholders carried more import or influence. But COVID-19 leveled the playing field so to speak, uncovering the power of consumer engagement and empowerment. Instead of social and digital technology becoming a crutch for companies, they became a means to an end – a conversation.

Now, it’s about information being ubiquitous and citizen journalism rampant. People’s appetite for more is growing – for context, rationale, meaning, purpose. They want a peek behind the curtain to comprehend the “how” and “why” companies took certain actions, made certain choices, and operated in a manner that was appropriate.

In Science, Context Matters

Context can be seen everywhere. Reality TV is a direct by-product of society’s increasing appetite to comprehend and experience the real dimensions of life, not the ideal placed on us. It’s the same inside organizations. Employees want to be involved with and aware of the choices that leadership is wrestling with or the options that lead to a key decision. Not just the decision itself, but the information and choices that inform it.

In science, context is multi-faceted. It speaks to breadth and depth. It relates to both thinking and emotion. It establishes a point in time and points of reference. Context strengthens arguments and disarms criticism.

It used to be common practice for public communications to be viewed in a vacuum – going from announcement to announcement, and from action to action, without necessarily thinking or worrying much about explaining the interconnectivity. Today, information on the internet lives forever. As a corporate spokesperson, you need to put your opinions, actions and decisions in perspective to mitigate negative or inaccurate interpretations later. You need to “put the past in context with the present and put the present  in context with the future.”

Being an “Insider”

More importantly, context allows for consumers, patients, customers and employees alike to be “insiders” about the organization’s mission, purpose, aspirations, challenges, politics and, in the case of COVID-19, treatment. In so doing, companies can turn adversaries into advocates while gaining new perspectives and insights to inform decision-making. Being an insider is probably the most important benefit an employee strives for today.

Similarly, from a customer perspective, context reinforces benefit of the doubt, while lack of context generates doubt. Context helps pre-empt crises, lack of context fuels crises. Context helps tell a logical, cohesive story about a company’s choices and direction; lack of context paints a picture of a rudderless, leaderless organization.

For all these reasons, the melding factions of language and intent – context – is central to a company’s ability to engage. Decisions are no longer “one and done,” particularly in the age of the internet. The social nature of the internet means that dialogue around your company continues in perpetuity, and few are shy about referencing your seemingly innocuous comments from three years ago to support their argument – comments that can potentially support either side if they lack context. In a world in which people turn to a variety of  sources for information – friends, employees, media, bloggers, politicians – context is what enables you to influence how that information  gets presented and interpreted.

This can sound academic on the surface, but the implications are practical if not critical. More than ever, it’s crucial that your past actions be brought together with your decision-making – to form a complete picture.

Context, in the end, is as much about substance as it is about intent. Bringing details, nuance and connectivity to communications, context widens the aperture and broadens the argument.

A Test for Healthcare Leaders and Communications

Context puts even more pressure on leaders, who may be stronger pure communicators than their forebearers, but who may not be used to connecting the dots between past, current and anticipated future actions. It also puts more pressure on communicators, who more than ever need to understand potentially foreign topics – clinical trials, manufacturing, purchasing, regulations – to be more conversant about the big picture, and to offer better counsel to senior leadership.

Ultimately, everyone involved must be adept at nimbly offering insight and rationale. Business pages and magazines are filled with any number of organizations that have recently done or not done an adequate job at this.

Context and Storytelling in Science

For science-based organizations, an unspoken element to this point has been the relationship between creating context and storytelling. Establishing context is comparable to telling the ongoing story of your endeavor – conveying all its successes and failures in a manner that makes sense based on past events and future expectations.

Accomplishing this requires several considerations:

  • Recognizing that consumers are the primary stakeholder and influencer in the war on disease and a healthy lifestyle.
  • Providing information and data with empathy and emotion.
  • Orchestrating communications from content to context to dissemination to result in dialogue, discussion and debate or conversation.
  • Understanding that social and digital should complement not substitute engagement.
  • Giving communicators full access to information and senior management; they can’t provide context without that.
  • Recognizing that “top down” communications by fiat is no longer beneficial. Today’s successful organizations communicate on a horizontal axis, drawing on numerous voices and numerous communication platforms.
  • Staying current and telling your story in ways large and small. Creating context is an everyday effort, not one that takes place only when there’s a pandemic.
  • Being dynamic – relating information to the audience to make it personally meaningful.
  • Recognizing the organization no longer controls the narrative. Know your influence ecosystem.
  • Employing peripheral vision. Connecting things large and small, in view and out of focus all work in
  • Constantly assessing consumers, patients, customers and employees to discern issues, trends, challenges, frustrations, lifestyle habits, etc.

In the healthcare industry, organizational leaders and communicators have a unique ability to accelerate the current positive perceptions of pharma and guide their companies in a manner that helps constituencies connect the dots among actions, decisions and events. This will create a cohesive, consistent context that makes sense and helps establish confidence.

Giving people a sense of being insiders engenders ownership, which leads to trust and engagement. In the end, a public that is inspired and engaged along with a patient, customer and employee base that is motivated and biased toward your work is perhaps the most sustainable competitive advantage one could hope for.

Gary

It’s time to ensure internal communication is based on what’s really going on

The key question today for any communications professional and leadership executive regarding internal or employee communications is: “How smart and engaged do you want your employees to be?”

The answer allows for either a robust process and system resulting in a confident, involved and informed workforce or a superficial voiceover of the business sprinkled with events to encourage interaction. During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have lifted internal communications to become the former, viewing it as a strategic necessity to cultivate retention, productivity and trust. However, one aspect we’ve noticed recently is that companies are becoming overly positive – cheerleading – in their quest to gain attention, motivation and positivity. The result has been less than satisfactory.

Employees at such organizations complain that leadership is neither in touch nor in tune with the realities they face and the challenges they navigate each and every day. This divide forces people to become apathetic – or worse, angry. The tendency to equate internal communications with propaganda is not a new one. For decades, internal communications was secondary to media relations and external communications, with information repurposed for internal use only after it was disseminated externally.

But, as society changed, business changed. And organizational communications became a strategic priority as companies competed for talent and, with talent, competed for interest, intellect and involvement. Communicating with employees became both a science and an art form as efforts were modulated and tested to ensure the right amount of relevant information, content, context and data to accelerate performance and calibrate behavior.

While the pandemic has up-leveled empathy, collaboration and integration, it has also spawned the need in some places to ratchet up only the good news, leaving behind the true situation and fate of an organization that employees experience.

As such, people can discern what’s true from what’s accurate. To balance such inconsistency and reflect the increasing complexity of the business, internal communications must become more sophisticated and demanding. This is where companies become truly resilient to external forces, navigating even among the most tumultuous terrain.

As we look ahead, grounding internal communications in the current reality – warts and all – requires four actions:

  1. Clear description of current state – deep understanding of where the organization is at this moment
  2. Line of sight from employee to result – a direct relevance from employee performance and business decisions to competitive results
  3. Hypothesis and areas for improvement – a strong belief based on data and insight on the “why” and a path forward (the “how”)
  4. Interaction – opportunity for discussion, dialogue and debate

By following the above, communicators and leaders can gain the trust and legitimacy necessary for organizational excellence. The most powerful decision any CEO can make is to establish a real-time relationship and conversation with the workforce, apprising employees of the situation ahead and providing a pathway to think, act, share and probe further to find the answers necessary to succeed.

Think of it this way: If your internal communications is not reflecting reality, then your employees have no chance to succeed and neither does your organization.

Gary   

Ensuring your organization knows what to communicate next as part of a clear, holistic story

What is the “Perfect Fit?”

The “Perfect Fit” is what an organization needs to be communicating at a specific moment for its story to unfold properly. Communicators are often blessed (or plagued) with multiple choices to communicate to the world that are plucked from myriad business functions, product and service areas, announcements, events, processes, geographic areas and personnel moves.

At the senior-most levels of the company where there is often an eagerness to build momentum, executives want to tell a variety of stories at once – often a hodgepodge of news about products, services, technologies, environmental initiatives and investments, among other things.

What’s often missing is the apparent linkage among the stories.

As chief storyteller, however, the communicator must identify the Perfect Fit – the next chapter in the organization’s evolution that both strategy and logic dictate must be told now in order to build or sustain organizational momentum. And it’s important that the communicator know how to identify each successive chapter.

Think of a puzzle that reflects your company’s value, purpose and future direction. And with each moment or milestone, a puzzle piece so to speak is identified and communicated to continue filling out the picture.

Identifying the Perfect Fit

Knowing that you need to create the Perfect Fit is different from knowing how to identify it. Sometimes it’s easy: if your industry’s leading trade publications or national business media claim you’re the best at what you do, you’ll probably want to build on that reputation. But for most organizations, the Perfect Fit is harder to come by. Particularly in transformational or change efforts when all bets are off with regard to past practice, brand image or corporate reputation. Fortunately, identifying the Perfect Fit requires the same skills and strategies that many corporate communicators leverage every day.

The Process

An integral objective to achieving alignment in narrative is the ability to view and manage communications – both internal and external – in a synergistic manner. Establishing a Situation Room is a key approach that demands a frequent coming together of all communication areas comprising internal and external stakeholders. It is here that a disciplined, yet fluid methodology is employed to guide discussion and inform decisions regarding the business and the right sequence, channel and cadence for communications. The purpose: a coherent, clear and believable story that allows people to follow the organization, increasing both interest and affinity in its success.

Powering the Situation Room process is an analytics-based system that continually identifies stakeholder needs, concerns and interests to allow communicators to view the business from the “outside in” and “inside out” in order to best determine how the story needs to evolve.

Note: An actual Situation Room template is depicted below.

A Look Ahead

A critical component of the business’ context is a look forward, trying to anticipate external events that may have a positive or negative effect on the business. Anticipating these events can also help establish an understanding of impact to help in contingency planning.

Answering these questions – certainly not a simple task if approached seriously – allows communicators and managers to inform decisions and plot priorities. The act of answering these questions also facilitates an open, ongoing dialogue between all communication functions and ensures that internal and external communication are in sync. A complete picture of the company, its audiences and its marketplace is painted – often for the first time.

Ultimately, the answers are the only things that truly enable a company to develop a cohesive story inside and outside the organization – who we are, where we’re going, how we define the future, short-and long-term goals, and how success is defined and measured.

Thinking Differently

To identify the Perfect Fit, it’s imperative that organizations do several things:

  • Integrate functions and departments that currently exist in solos
  • Gear communication toward whatever is promoting momentum and growth in the marketplace
  • Understand the factors critical to the organization’s success, such as
    • quality
    • cost reduction
    • ability to deliver cutting-edge products
  • Take a realistic view of consumer opinions and media interest

Acting on the Information – Telling the Story

It is critical that someone – preferably the company’s chief communicator – serve as a mediator to keep the storytelling process moving. The chief communicator acts as chief strategist: in sync with leadership, defining the Perfect Fit for vital segments of the organization, constantly reiterating why it’s the priority message, mapping out how this chapter will be told inside and outside the company – from media, investor and employee perspectives – and putting measurements in place to ensure that the story is being received as planned. Ultimately, the chief communicator determines when the next piece of the puzzle must happen to make sure the story stays on course and sustains momentum.

Staying on course is about sensing and responding, rather than force-feeding. Too often, companies make the mistake of telling or selling stakeholders instead of allowing people to discover the story for themselves in a manner that reflects their interests, needs, concerns and satisfaction.

– Gary

 

THE SITUATION ROOM: DEVELOPING AN INTEGRATED APPROACH TO COMMUNICATIONS

Introduction

The Situation Room is a mechanism that allows an organization’s communications function to easily organize their thinking and prioritize activities to drive the business forward. It allows the following questions to be addressed:

  • Where is the business today in light of the “real” world we operate in?
  • Where is the business going?
  • How is the business perceived externally?
  • What elements within the company and in the marketplace are propelling the business?
  • What elements within the company and in the marketplace are impeding the business?

Purpose

The purpose of the Situation Room model is to make communications a powerful driver of the organization’s growth – “a means to an end.” It achieves this by:

  • Plotting priorities on a regular basis
  • Ensuring internal and external messaging are in sync
  • Developing a cohesive story inside and outside the organization – who we are, where we’re going, how we define the future, short- and long-term goals, how we measure success

Strategy

The Situation Room brings together all facets of communications with a mediator in an agreed-upon venue to identify weekly and monthly priorities. The discussions are driven by industry and marketplace events that impact the company in order to understand and articulate the current reality – what people are hearing and saying inside and outside the company.

Why It Works

  • Content is fresh
  • Dialogue is going in an actionable direction
  • Breaks through budgets, egos, silo mentalities, departmental priorities and the “myopic” view of communication planning
  • Pools resources from all areas of communications
  • Discusses what’s happening within each facet of communications to ensure consistent messaging and awareness of internal and external changes
  • Identifies what communications can do as a team, not as an individual function or department
  • Builds a complete understanding of what people are seeing, thinking and feeling
  • Develops a holistic view of communication

Situation Room Logistics

Representatives from each area of communications are engaged in the Situation Room process. A particular space is designated for weekly meetings, and easels, paper and markers are placed throughout the room to ensure participative and dynamic discussions. Responsibility for managing the Situation Room might rotate on a quarterly basis.

Situation Room Framework

#1: Where Are We Today? Building Momentum

[What Are People Talking About Inside and Outside the Company?]

  • Hot/new products/services
  • Industry recognition
  • New management hires
  • Performance
  • Financials

#2: Key Organizational Initiatives/Internal Priorities

[Do recent happenings propel or impede our business and organizational priorities?]

#3: Current Industry Issues

#4: A Reality Check: Macro Issues Going on Around Us

#5: A Look Ahead

What factors on the horizon will propel our business and organizational priorities? Which will impede them?

#6: What’s the Story?

What does this tell us? What should we be doing?


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

Why business transformation efforts are effectively over before they begin

The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Having said that, leaders continue to apply the same approach to organizational change and transformation initiatives. According to survey after survey, a majority of organizations fail to gain the intended result from a new corporate initiative. From strategy, cost-containment, quality improvement, business model transformation, new product commercialization to customer experience, too often these days, the tendency among leaders, managers and communicators is to attempt to “control” the effort and translate important criteria into neat, cute, even trite programs and then surround them with all the trappings of an event or campaign.

Real business results are typically non-existent. Additionally, according to a recent report, a significant number of employees say there are significant organization-wide initiatives underway in their companies that will more than likely fail.

Why is it that employees can recognize a corporate initiative that is dead on arrival while the CEO, management team and communicators are the last to know?

From a business perspective, engaging employees is critical to any transformation effort. Their “lack of buy-in” from the belief that corporate initiatives are “imposed” with little opportunity for them to engage in the effort, to contribute ideas or provide honest, front-line feedback at the outset causes an initial critical failure on the part of the employees who are disengaged, and results are elusive. Ever wonder then why a new initiative, such as a product launch, a cost-cutting measure, a business strategy or even a turnaround effort, didn’t succeed or even take hold as expected? Believe it or not, it probably has nothing to do with the initiative or the rationale but rather with the way the organization chooses to frame the process, communicate it and iterate along the way.

Welcome to the new business reality – one where business critical initiatives, whether a new corporate strategy or even an M&A – can succeed or fail based on whether or not the workforce is allowed to participate in the work, challenge the status quo, and learn along the way. Company leadership can no longer impose its will on employees or believe that people will respond to changes in the organization’s direction only if they are projected or scripted. There must be dialogue, discussion and debate in order for transformation to succeed.

As the research shows, there are hundreds of thousands of well-intentioned initiatives that have collapsed or have never even gotten off the ground because company leaders and communicators trivialized them with slogans, big-scale launch events, and motivational campaigns designed to stir up employee enthusiasm and acceptance. According to one global communications expert, initiatives introduced with this kind of fanfare and no substance are doomed to failure. Typically, what happens is that management determines the business must change in order to compete or survive. Consultants are brought in to size up the situation and put in place a system or process to move people in a new direction. Very often, communicators don’t push back, and they treat the effort as a campaign or program looking to “motivate” people rather than inform, engage or educate.

Stop/Start/Continue

So, what should leaders and communicators do to increase their chances of transformational success? Here are some key considerations:

  1. Change is not a cliché – In fact, we’ve found using the word “change” hinders progress.
  2. Let the process determine the destination – Never capture the end state! Always allow the process to be iterative.
  3. Make transformation efforts data and information based – Use analytics throughout.
  4. Take time to learn – The entire goal is to become a much more informed and mature enterprise.
  5. Be prepared to pivot – Flexibility and agility are key.
  6. Establish guideposts along the way – People need to find their way.
  7. Discover vs sell – Always allow people to discover the change in their own way.
  8. Uncover cultural gaps/vulnerabilities – This includes top-down leadership style; unhealthy competition between departments or turf wars; a sense of entitlement; lack of accountability; low levels of employee trust; and above all, an inability to communicate openly across the organization.

Honest discussion, including dialogue and debate between and among leadership, managers and employees is the bedrock of a healthy corporate culture and, if nurtured over time, can help an organization overcome cultural barriers. Open, honest communication can transform dysfunctional cultures into workplaces that have a bias for action, a sense of urgency and employee commitment and fortitude to see initiatives through to their successful outcomes. Our experience has taught us that there is a direct and strong correlation between successful initiative implementation and a strong internal communications system – integrated with leadership and management decision-making, multiple channels, content centralization, manager involvement, feedback mechanisms and a push-pull system of information exchange.

This is the most overlooked, under-appreciated yet powerful insight for an organization going through change, transformation, renewal or some form of a corporate initiative effort.

Avoiding the “Slogan Trap” – Don’t Brand This!

Slogans and other internal branding tag lines are usually developed to sharpen employee focus around a transformation initiative, but end up as the punch line in employee jokes at best, and indicators of how clueless senior management and communicators are when it comes to reaching employees and gaining their buy-in. A case in point was noted a few years ago in an issue of Government Executive Magazine. Developed in response to a less than stellar field survey report, the General Services Administration (GSA) launched its “Get It Right” initiative as a measure to ensure all field offices understood and enforced procurement restrictions outlined by headquarters as the field audit noted instances where some offices skirted restrictions to please customers. Aimed right at the hearts of employees, the initiative developed literature and training programs to help employees “reaffirm GSA’s deep commitment to ensuring the proper use of GSA contracting vehicles and services.” Employees were demoralized by the implication that they needed to relearn how to do their jobs and had to be taught about commitment to customers. Through their eyes, GSA leaders appeared blameless and employees looked incompetent. Even worse, employees believed that, if GSA leadership would have paid attention to their frontline feedback, the lack of balance between pleasing customers and adhering to procurement rules could have been addressed and fixed, rather than wasting time and money on an ill-conceived corporate initiative.

Another slogan trap can occur when external branding initiatives or advertising campaigns are tweaked and unleashed inside an organization. Several years ago, a major domestic airline attempted to translate an advertising theme into a company-wide platform to change the corporate culture and employee behavior. The theme appeared in all communications channels and then made its way to specific training and development programs.

The goal was to convince passengers that employees care and are trying to always do better in terms of service and capabilities. According to the airline, the training programs were part of a larger effort designed to empower all employees to do whatever it takes to provide more professional and enjoyable travel experiences for customers.

The result: The effort was dead on arrival. Employees felt betrayed by the company for suggesting first in its ads and then with a very public internal effort that they were solely responsible for the problems customers faced. Additionally, since the entire concept started out as an advertising campaign, it lacked the credibility and discipline of a management directive, relying instead on slick tools and vehicles to convey messages and change perceptions.

The lesson: Slogans trivialize, breed mistrust and encourage ridicule. They are a sales tool, and employee wariness is natural. Whether developed specifically for employees or adapted from an advertising tagline, slogans are difficult to turn into viable corporate initiatives since they are not outgrowths of strategy. With no support or investment and, therefore, no buy-in and credibility with employees, and worse, customers, slogans that become initiatives are only as good as the next advertising campaign.

Letting Employees Drive the Transformation

What we have seen in the earlier examples is that “selling” people on anything today, particularly important changes in business direction, is next to impossible. After decades of experiencing “the sell,” consumers and employees have developed a force field around their emotions. Breaking through is the challenge facing today’s leaders and communicators.

Given that, it’s time for communicators and managers to change the formula. A new formula is emerging, allowing consumers and employees to discover the very attributes the organization needs them to experience in order to be successful, enabling people to engage in the business: sense, feel, think, act and relate. From an internal standpoint, this is being translated in a variety of ways:

  • Changing the style and tone of messages to reflect a more mature, diverse workforce;
  • Making available additional information around key programs, strategies, etc., in a “pull” format so interested employees can learn more;
  • Running pilot efforts to test programs, messages and systems and gain early buy-in and positive word-of-mouth;
  • Including dissent in official discussions to provide a true learning opportunity; and
  • Ensuring proper training and system support throughout the initiative life cycle.

Your Workforce – Captive Audience or Public Advocate?

Leaders, managers and communicators have tended to treat employees as a captive audience and, to a lesser extent, a necessary burden. The result can often be compared to dealing with employees as children – spoon feeding them rhetoric and worse, pabulum, in the belief that they would just “eat it up.” The reality: employees are smart, knowledgeable human beings running households, raising children and actively involved in their communities and the world around them.

To be effective organizationally, employees must be treated as if they are advocates capable of opinion-shaping, decision making and, ultimately, organizational success – which they are! This means providing facts, interaction, discussion, debate, dialogue and open communication. The situation at excellent organizations notwithstanding, the crux of the problem at many organizations is that neither management nor the communications function understands that today’s employees are savvy and need to be treated as mature, intelligent, capable adults. Instead of motivational speeches and parties, leaders and managers need to give employees the facts, the rationale, the objectives, goals, training and follow-up information to make change stick. Then, they need to provide encouragement, inspiration and the tools to get the job done.

“Forget the rah-rah sessions,” agrees one senior communications expert. “Employees want the tools to make their jobs easier and more satisfying. Don’t trivialize important initiatives with launch parties and meaningless tchotchkes.”

Business transformation is a critically important effort for organizational relevance and success. Getting it right starts at the beginning and entails empathy, information, cadence, context and tone to set things off in the right way. It’s more subtlety and art, requiring an intense respect for individual acceptance and organizational adherence.

Starting in the right place will ensure a meaningful and fulfilling journey versus a waste of time and effort!

Gary


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

Uncovering the Critical Crossing of Business Strategy with Employee Communications

The most important element of organizational success, health and sustainability is the accuracy and effectiveness of its strategy. CEOs are either lionized or lost in history based on how well the business was able to grow, prosper, evolve and/or develop. Developing and executing an organization’s business strategy at any given point in its evolution is by far the single most important skill a leader can bring to the table. Such self-awareness from an organizational perspective not only ensures that the entity moves forward in the most advantageous manner but also mitigates unnecessary decisions and costs associated with failing to do so. Furthermore, by clarifying where an organization is at a certain point, critical investments in staff, capabilities, communications and planning can be implemented at the right time.

The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give it to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” That said, how did he know what to create that would tickle consumers’ fancy? Could we say that Jobs had the ability to see around corners, to know what people would want several months hence – needs they themselves might not even be aware of? Or was he just paying attention to trends and inferred opportunities from where he saw those trends pointing? The ability to see into and predict the future is an ageless desire of humankind, the stuff of fiction and fantasy. Yet, the big winners in business are those who can seemingly do just that, the ones who can “see around the corners.” Despite what we might think, the ability to project how our business might evolve, though not on par with casting prophecies, is a discipline that can be acquired.

The Ignition – Communicating for Impact Internally

If business strategy is the key element of success, then employee involvement throughout its implementation beginning with igniting the effort is possibly the most critical imperative for a leader – the ability to bring coherence out of chaos for people who are inundated with corporate messaging and contradictory objectives.

So, why then are so many internal communications efforts riddled with non-important objectives, content, context and information? Or worse, why are they not even aligned with the business strategy and direction. Why are they created in a vacuum and linked to employee engagement or motivation without any real substance as the viability of the enterprise?

Today, employees are watching actions versus words. In effect, people are “working with the volume off.” To crack this code, leaders must employ a “discover versus sell” approach to managing and communicating business strategy with today’s employees. With growth a necessary reality, it’s both practical and critical to assess how leaders can create and sustain momentum in order to move forward. Is leadership continuously focusing on the future, maintaining a sense of urgency, testing the limits of individuals and teams, challenging their people and the status quo, embracing uncertainty and driving real and substantive change?

One of the most beneficial aspects of comprehending your organization’s strategy is that it allows you to frame initiatives, decisions and programs in a personal way. The result is that, as an individual, you can discern your contribution, make the arguments for decisions, and catalyze colleague engagement. I’ve unfortunately seen throughout my entire career this marginalization of internal communications by practitioners and business leaders alike.

Business strategy does not succeed without a willing, able and knowledgeable workforce immersed in the environment, competitive set, market conditions, strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities facing the organization. Period.

Assessing Risk

At the heart of the situation is comprehending the current reality both internally and externally. This is the power of data and analytics or discovering what people and markets are thinking and how they would react. As iconic hockey player Wayne Gretzky once said: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Similarly, with internal communications, it’s about designing content, initiatives and programs, directing behaviors, guiding resources to ensure people have a sense of where they are and where they are headed. Like a chess game, it requires leaders to make moves today that will affect the way their world looks two or three iterations down the road.

Companies hoping to understand their evolution – and where the game will be played in the future – need to foster alignment among leadership, core management and communications. Each is an essential ingredient required to anticipate – and define – the future. From a communications perspective, knowing where a business is headed based on its strategic direction allows managers to better determine the real questions that need to be asked and answered involving relevance, credibility, competitive balance, resources and customer trends. Additionally, from the standpoint of communications as a system and corporate function, comprehending a business’ strategy must entail:

  • A direct linkage to the business goals, objectives, targets, metrics and supporting efforts.
  • Data, insight and information – context and content – on the various elements of the organization (departments, locations, managerial levels) along with relevant insights accumulated from the information sharing and subsequent dialogue.
  • Bringing the outside world into the organization, eliminating the inward-looking myopia that plagues many laggard companies.
  • Helping identify best practices from comparable industries through an ongoing exploration of how leading companies are marketing themselves and carving out new niches.
  • Challenges the company is facing. The key is to manage the downside, minimize its “steepness,” and identify ways to reverse the curve as quickly as possible. This requires constant reality checking and information sharing among the various company functions. It can even mean employing outside-of-the-box thinking, such as consulting with futurists about cultural trends that might directly or indirectly affect what you provide.
  • Communicating for growth. Growing companies feel invincible. But, the growth needs to be channeled and guided, lest spending run amok and employees fail to keep up. It’s critical that senior management continue to articulate a vision that is simultaneously aspiring, inspiring and practical. Communications and training must facilitate the ability to lead and maintain growth, while performance measures and reward and recognition must encourage the behaviors to support it.

In today’s complex business environment, leaders and communicators who accurately link business strategy to organizational communications, encouraging an active and vibrant dialogue, discussion and debate with and among employees, will avoid the downward slide of business inertia.

It all starts with a vibrant employee communications effort designed around the business strategy.

Gary

Is your internal communications accelerating your business strategy? Download key questions to consider here.


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

How internal communications is being divided into macro and micro dimensions and how to build a bridge for greater impact 

Over the past year, employee confidence and empathy has risen to the top of leadership priorities, resulting in a more strategic, sophisticated approach to internal communications – with more consistent and clear information, more timely interaction, more personal engagement, more contextual meaning, and more deeper discussions and debate on strategy, direction and purpose.

But there is another side to this story that is subtle but no less powerful.

Organizations have, albeit unconsciously, placed internal communications in two distinct dimensions described as macro and micro. The resulting impact has been the mitigation or even elimination of the middle dimensionAs the pandemic unfolded, communicators and leaders moved quickly to organize and reset communications with employees to establish new ways of working, ideating and collaborating. In their zeal, internal communications took the form of major company announcements and arguments affecting the entire workforce and more specific functional, area or specialty communications reflecting more individual and team performance.

Here’s a deeper look at the model that is emerging:

  • Macro – This area has become the most popular in companies, causing leaders to articulate their narrative, point-of-view and perspectives in a precise manner by conducting town halls, company-wide briefings and other large-scale gatherings virtually to reach people frequently. Content has focused on safety, well-being, collaboration and the tone is empathetic.
  • Micro – People experience internal communications in different ways. Therefore, there are many nuances to informing, instructing and involving employees in the business and in their respective jobs. Content has been around new rules of engagement, information sharing, logistics, etc. This type of communication has been reflected in stronger team engagement, smaller meetings, 1:1 discussions and specific information meant to improve or strengthen local performance.

The above situation indicates the middle dimension of internal communications has disappeared. This area is typically the bridge between the macro and micro dimensions. It is where accomplishments, personal nuances, personalities, development, key decisions, and addressing tensions are dissected and addressed for myriad interpretations and understanding. The middle has often been referred to as the “soul” of the enterprise because it links the human, strategic and community aspects of the employee experience.

So, what happened?

There are numerous explanations but the most cogent is that timing, resources and even inertia conspired to only focus on larger topics and more local needs. As we regain our bearings in 2021, now is the time to rethink and reinsert the middle dimension to bridge the elements of employee engagement by employing internal communications as the means to unite, motivate and educate.

Keeping our eyes open to the various components of workforce confidence and connectivity has never been more important. Missing a cue can easily result in a false positive regarding progress. Widening our aperture to view the entire horizon will unveil a new reality.

“Seeing and feeling the whole picture allows you to digest its meaning.” – Anonymous

Gary


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

With virtually everyone possessing a “voice,” change management has never been more democratized, dispersed or difficult.

Leading up to now, change was seen as a fairly finite experience. Organizations identified areas for improvement or new opportunities to explore. Leaders, managers and communicators worked together to engage the organization to comprehend and endorse the changes prescribed. Today, technology is enabling and encouraging people to have a voice and an opinion. In Part 2 of this commentary, we focus on specific actions and thinking necessary to gain internal acceptance for a transformation initiative.

Read Part 1 of this commentary series here.


Effecting Change in the Current Environment

With virtually every employee having the ability to voice their opinion, ideas, criticisms, etc., the challenge to effective organizational change takes on a new level of difficulty as leaders and communicators must now address such discourse in real-time while planning for the future.

Against this backdrop, how do leaders successfully effect change in an age of “You?”

Iterative process

First and foremost, any major corporate undertaking is a chance to continuously learn and grow.  The process is iterative, yet many change consultants and business leaders attempt to package the process in a linear box, believing that things will happen in proper sequence if they deem it so. The true value for people involved in such efforts is their ability to learn and share, formulating their own insights and forging perspectives that keep their involvement crisp and real.

Timing and audience cadence

Believe it or not, we have seen major organizational change efforts implode because the announcement and introduction phase came too early with people being told or sold rather than being immersed and allowed to discover the right backdrop against which the effort is being implemented.

To begin with, any serious change effort should begin with at least a build-up of two to three months where the conversation internally begins with leadership focusing on new and different topics, told in robust and interesting ways. Instead of the usual corporate rah-rah information told in typical corporate speak, a more personal, authentic and provocative form of communication that encourages discussion, dialogue and debate envelopes the internal reality.

This new rhetoric is complemented by specific outreach to managers at all levels, essentially setting the stage of the current competitive or business reality and outlining various approaches the organization is contemplating taking to address them.

Widen the aperture

Of course, to continue running the play above, we must take a broader, strategic view of communications – we must go beyond process updates to incorporate messaging on desired results and vision for the future. We have learned that we must separate communications from the change process – instead, we must focus on telling stories about the business. This will provide content and context around the reasons for change. All communications must answer these questions: What is changing? How does it affect me, my function? What does success look like? How are we tracking progress? What is the organization doing to support me in my efforts to engage? Will I become better through the process?

The bottom line – communications must facilitate an organizational dialogue, not a leadership monologue. This requires a completely new perspective as it relates to communications being a driver of knowledge, insight and counter opinions in an ongoing discussion.

Capture the stories that create line of sight

Starting with the change narrative, communicators must create and curate stories that dimensionalize the business for stakeholders. This is not about messaging but about experiences that foster a shared vision, activate advocates, and engage critics – consistent, multi-channel storytelling that ultimately creates business value.

From an internal communications perspective, remember that employee audiences are not monolithic. Information about the direction of the business has little meaning to employees unless they see their role in it, via their daily activities and responsibilities. Segmentation is key. We must consider each person’s individual perspectives and priorities and focus on creating relevance.

Begin with where people really are, not where we want them to be

In the past, we allowed consulting firms to define communications as a dissemination model without any respect for what people wanted to hear and where they currently were. Today, we understand that we must employ research to gain a clear understanding of the values and beliefs of management and employees.

What’s often missing in change efforts is a sense of transparency, inclusivity and empathy – ensure your efforts acknowledge the individual and what they are experiencing.

Optimize digital communications

COVID-19 health and safety measures shifted almost everyone into remote working environments, necessitating new digital formats for every type of work interaction. Zoom calls, Teams’ calls, emails, IMs, texts all replaced face-to face interactions. This contributed to employees’ “pandemic fatigue,” creating a sense of digital overload and replacing only a fraction of what an in-person experience offers.

Recognizing that remote working will stick with us well into 2021 and likely well beyond, this raises additional considerations for organizational change efforts.

Change managers and communicators must be especially vigilant about creating and adhering to a new set of best practice principles related to the type and volume of content, as well as the pace and frequency of distribution. We’ll say again – segmentation and relevance matter more than ever from a communications perspective.

Communicators should also be keeping track of how to appropriately integrate new technology offerings that aim to bring more inspiration to remote meetings such as gather.town, kumospace and pluto, which incorporate spatial dynamics and embedded analytics capabilities that better enable people to interact online in a way that enhances connection, creativity and problem- solving.

Ultimately, as technology adoption and scaling proliferate at increasing speeds, companies must consider how to clarify the role of the employee and provide the necessary training and tools to upskill or re-skill, wherever needed, in order to facilitate the change journey.

Focus on education vs. promotion

Any change effort should be viewed through the lens of learning and development – moving people from where they are to a new place. Promoting a new initiative – through promotional materials, emails, slogans, etc. – does not add to someone’s understanding or knowledge. Instead, focus on information, knowledge and development programs that deliver engaging, two-way dialogue vs. one-way “push” vehicles.

Remember, knowledge is confidence.

Be proactive in terms of addressing critics and concerns head-on

People don’t fear change as much as inconsistency and uncertainty. Confusion is a part of change – you can expect that people will feel frustrated, concerned, skeptical and angry about change. People accept change more easily if they feel they are being dealt with honestly and if they are engaged in a dialogue about their concerns. Utilize communications to encourage dialogue, discussion and debate – this type of engagement leads to learning.

The upshot of all of this is a good thing: Individuals are in a much better position today to be a part of the dialogue and debate about companies, their products and services. Information flows quicker than before, and virtual peer-to-peer conversations can create consensus and raise matters of legitimate concern.

It also means, unfortunately, that everyone now has a voice and can contribute, for better or worse. Without doubt, greater participation means a greater potential for misinformation passing as fact. The “power of You” is nothing new anymore.

From a change management perspective, the Age of “You” means organizational transformation is a team sport spanning beyond the office or manufacturing facility or lab. This approach translates awareness to understanding, understanding to behavior, and behavior to results.

In the end, change is a never-ending quest for excellence.

– Gary and Annika

Gary Grates is a Principal at Real Chemistry. His expertise and experience are defined by corporate transformation, workforce confidence and organizational relevance.

Annika Engineer is a Corporate Strategy Practice Leader at Real Chemistry. Her experience is grounded in the guardianship of sustainable business through corporate brand evolution and protection.


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

With virtually everyone possessing a “voice,” change management has never been more democratized, dispersed or difficult.

Back in 2006, Time Magazine named “You” as its “Person of the Year.” That meant you, me and the person next door and even your aunt in Chicago. To be sure, many people scoffed at Time’s selection, considering it a cop-out or outright gimmickry. There might be some merit to what the naysayers said. After all, it seems likely that Time knew this selection would generate more buzz than, say, naming a president or notable celebrity or businessperson as Person of the Year.

But the stated, underlying rationale behind Time’s choice so many years ago is unassailable. The world had entered a new, highly personal place. Fast forward to now: We live in an era in which content, opinions, discourse, information and misinformation are part of our daily lives. It’s also an era in which opinion drives decisions, bias forces action, and authority is dispersed – all causing a lack of direction. Social and digital transformation has not only redesigned business models, it has also recast society. The line between personal and professional is all but gone.

In the midst of a global pandemic, we witnessed worldwide movements over racial equity, health disparities, justice and entirely new work protocols – all begun with the power of individual fortitude and perseverance. From a change initiative standpoint, such occurrences placed important pressures on the business at a rate not seen to date.

So, what happens when organizational change is no longer a leadership prerogative driven largely inside the business – when it becomes a public reality where different voices and perspectives weigh in on its efficacy, purpose and value?

Change 4.0:  An Infinite Experience

Unlike the past, when a company could enforce its will on constituents, today, employees, consumers and customers all demand the right to be heard, and technology is enabling and encouraging people to have a voice and an opinion. This shift in expectations, combined with the challenges posed by an evolving economic landscape, has created an unprecedented sense of urgency for companies large and small to continuously examine their business model, purpose, values and management approach to survive. “Change or die” has never been truer.

Change, then, is an all-encompassing description for any necessary shift in attitude, mind-set, behavior, approach, performance and measurement that is either in response to or ahead of internal/external forces. To cite Gartner,[1]In the year 2020, the amount of change the average employee could absorb before fatiguing was cut in half compared to 2019. As employees coped with uncertainties concerning the economy, job security, the health of their families, and the nation’s political future, their capacity to deal effectively with change in the workplace has plummeted.”

Confronted with this reality, and knowing that organizational change will continue to occur no matter what unfolds in the world around us, how must the practice of change management – and more specifically, change-oriented communications – adapt?

As leaders, we are challenged to seek new ways to engage employees during the journey of organizational change. We must optimize new technologies to involve our people through both an emotional and intellectual appeal. In the past decade, we have learned that we cannot effectively sustain interest by focusing on just the rational reasons behind a particular change in strategy, priority, system, process or product. We have seen that, when it comes to organizational change, people are more likely to experience fear about their future, anxiety about their role and capability, skepticism based on previous unsuccessful efforts including a lack institutional learning, and concern about the fate of their colleagues. This highly emotional response requires us as leaders to rethink the way we interact, manage and communicate with our people – as a rational explanation of the business needs for a particular change will be largely ineffective.

 The Progression of Change (circa 1990-2021)                      

Change 1.0 – Business Process > changing how we do things

Change 2.0 – Business Strategy > changing what we do

Change 3.0 – Internal Alignment > engaging people to own each new day

Change 4.0 – Community-Oriented Ecosystem > creating a broad network inside and outside your organization that monitors, addresses change

The Communicator as Interpreter and Navigator

This new reality changes the role and value of the professional communicator – especially in a change management situation – in many ways. Not long ago, communications as a process, philosophy and system was still fairly linear. You cultivated a handful of relationships with stakeholders and distilled information, balanced arguments, and addressed counter points. If the organization announced a new leader, enacted a new business strategy, made an important product decision, or instituted an important policy, the communications function handled the positioning, messaging, framing and response management.

The job certainly wasn’t easy; far from it. But, in most cases, you had a handle on the situation as it was a fairly finite world of key influencers for your business. Reach them and they, in turn, could let the rest of the world know what you were up to.

All of that has changed, and, mindful of the immediacy of information, our approach to change and how it’s communicated must adapt accordingly. To do this, two actions become critical: 1) building and navigating a community-oriented ecosystem of employees, including managers, leaders and external advocates as participating partners in the change process; and 2) taking on the role of “interpreter,” translating information into relevant content for multiple stakeholders.

Information sharing and analysis today is not only immediate, it’s also democratic. Everyone can be an “expert” with the “right” to provide assessments. That’s both exhilarating and, admittedly, a bit disconcerting. Where change was once an internal effort, it has now become a very public exercise, causing organizations to rethink the approach taken to engage employees.

What does all of this mean to the communicator? 

Most importantly, we need to interpret real-time information and data from more sources and navigate that knowledge and insight to move people from observer to advocate.

The New Targets of Change

Given this dynamic, all change initiatives must have a clear goal or purpose, and the underlying and long-term results should be seen in one important area – decision-making. Change management, therefore, should be concentrated in five areas:

Environment

Neither intelligent machine nor intelligent human, alone, can deal with an unpredictable world. “Change Management in the Age of You” must embrace the larger context surrounding the organization and its people. Incorporating data, analytics and insight into the process upfront provides a landscape for how to approach change management at any given time. And while the dynamism of today’s environment calls for a constant calibration of strategy that can only be guided by data, it also calls for a measure of judgement, flexibility and resilience that can only be provided by people trained to have an agile mindset – those able to use data to re-think, re-evaluate and re-act in step with the mood and pace of a warp-speed world

Leadership and Effective Change Governance

Any organizational change starts with leadership – leaders set the direction, tone, decision-making, accountabilities and consequences for an organization. But it’s not about what leaders are saying, it’s about what people are seeing – through the action of leaders who can instill the necessary mindset around the organization’s vision, values, purpose, strategy and performance. This means that employees understand the direction and priority of the business almost intuitively.

To effect change, leadership must ensure the narrative is formalized – that is, define the specifics of the effort against the backdrop of the business, its history, prospects, challenges, advantages. What exactly needs to be addressed and why? Further, leadership should establish a standard for how employees will interact with each other – defining and demonstrating how the company will provide information, listen, respond and engage people.

Done well, leaders provide the rationale, including the importance of resetting the business. They are also ever mindful that a carefully crafted change narrative is effective only if it is wrapped around an organization that is plainly human at its core, and that demonstrably treats its employees well.

In the age of stakeholder capitalism, forward-looking boards should work with leadership teams, employee task forces and external advisors to guide the development of well-defined financial and non-financial value drivers. They should use those value drivers to set strategies to meet the moment, including those related to environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters, as well as operating model changes needed to align with the organization’s purpose, vision and strategy.

Finally, the board and its executive leadership teams should proactively review and pressure test whether they have the appropriate corporate governance processes and policies in place that are both in-line with stakeholder expectations and supportive of any planned change initiative, with an eye to both near- and longer-term success.

Management

It’s management that will ultimately determine success. As leaders, we must equip managers with the skills and tools required to make critical business decisions. Expectations of managers must be clear – if necessary, reorient managers around specific expectations (e.g., how to listen, performance expectations). Finally, to make change real, performance metrics and new compensation models must be linked to their efforts.

The most powerful tool for a manager in effecting change is to ask a question. Experience has shown that an organizational “revolution” can’t begin without first asking the right questions. To succeed, businesses need to continually ask themselves insightful questions that will shape their future. Therefore, we must empower and encourage managers to question the status quo and challenge the assumptions upon which the business is built, without fear of repercussion.

Communications

Within the context of change, communications must create a new dialogue with employees, customers and other stakeholders. Today, change happens in circular loops, not in straight lines. That means we must move away from focusing primarily on what we’re going to say, but achieve a true dialogue through active listening, feedback, policies, accountability and decision-making.

Too often, companies confuse events with experience. Effective communications is about more than communication “events” such as town hall meetings and executive speeches. It’s about connecting events to experience, by filling in the action in between (e.g., what happens before and after the town hall). Communications must translate the change strategy into stories – by bringing the outside in, by using relevant examples, by sharing the real, lived experience of different people and communities – because as humans we’re wired to connect to stories we can relate to.

Structure/Systems – Community-Oriented Ecosystem

Change 4.0 has morphed into a network-based ecosystem comprising internal advocates, external partners and myriad voices that can accelerate or derail change. The real focus of change is to tear down bureaucracy and move forward. To make change meaningful and lasting, the structure of the organization must be re-aligned to support the change effort. When this occurs, leadership, management and communications are in sync with where the business is going, and each understands their respective roles in getting there.

Similarly, systems are critical. As leaders, we must ask ourselves How are employees managed? What are the key relationships within the organization? Policies? Compensation? Interactions? This is where the “rubber meets the road” in any change effort. A community-based system is one that allows both internal and external forces to align in an effort to propel the business.

Read Part 2 of this commentary series here.

– Gary and Annika

Gary Grates is a Principal at Real Chemistry. His expertise and experience are defined by corporate transformation, workforce confidence and organizational relevance.

Annika Engineer is a Corporate Strategy Practice Leader at Real Chemistry. Her experience is grounded in the guardianship of sustainable business through corporate brand evolution and protection.


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

 

[1] https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-10-14-gartner-cautions-hr-leaders-that-the-risk-of-change-fatigue-among-employees-has-doubled-in-2020-this-year#:~:text=The%20amount%20of%20change%20that,%2C%20according%20to%20Gartner%2C%20Inc.&text=Gartner%20research%20finds%20that%20organizations,much%20as%2024%20percentage%20points.

A Business Tale for how Organizational Apathy Destroys Corporate Relevance… 

 By now, we all know of the story of Kmart’s demise. Starting with the infamous headlines on January 22, 2002, which screamed out the news that Kmart had become the largest retailer at that point to seek bankruptcy protection. From there, story after story cited the reasons for the collapse – declining market share, margin erosion and pricing pressures with increasing competition from the likes of Walmart and Target, an ineffective merchandising strategy, and the lack of a brand identity that resonated with consumers. 

All seemed to make sense, but for anyone really paying attention, the reasons mentioned above and repeated in media reports were merely symptoms of a much larger cause. From there, the ill-fated chain was scooped up by ESL Investments and has continued its downward spiral. Today, the company has approximately 25 stores left in the US vs. almost 2,500 globally in the 90s. 

So, when did Kmart really die? 

Well, the exact date is somewhat ambiguous. But let’s say for the sake of this article, it’s safe to assume the occurrence happened much, much earlier. Maybe it was the day in 1999 when you drove into your Kmart, and the sign actually said “K art” because someone didn’t find it important to replace the bulb in the sign behind the “M.” 

Or maybe, it was that day in 2000 when you walked into the store only to find the floors dirty, the lights dimmer than usual, merchandise strewn across the aisles, worker outfits, and the workers themselves unkempt. It might have been the day you lost one of your hub caps in the parking lot because it was full of potholes. 

Or maybe, just maybe, it was the day in 2010 when you left the store and felt like the whole experience was frustrating and no longer friendly or enjoyable. 

What Happened? 

The symptoms cited in all the news reports filed on January 23 and thereafter were certainly true, but they weren’t necessarily accurate. For anyone paying attention, Kmart actually died the day that management stopped making things important. It died the day employees were not engaged in the business. It died the day the company stopped listening to customers. It died the day people at all levels of the company – from leadership to store clerks – saw their work as unnecessary, or worse, not valuable. 

The death of Kmart occurred on different days for each of us. From the day we decided, the company was no longer worth our time, money, or effort. The sad truth is that its death was completely preventable and provides lessons for other organizations, specifically communications pros and marketers. 

What we’re talking about is something that pervades organizations of all shapes and sizes: indifference. 

At the heart of this indifference is the lack of a coherent efficacy that is fueled by strategic communications and aligned with the business strategy, mission, and brand purpose. An effective value or purpose platform leads to a communications strategy and narrative for stakeholders to grasp and follow. An effective communications strategy allows the business strategy to be accessible to employees at all levels and be felt by customers. An effective communications strategy links all the enterprise’s respective functions – HR, Legal, Production, Marketing, Sales – knitting a common purpose and belief system in the culture and reinforcing it through decisions, policies, and systems. 

An effective communications strategy and approach reinforces trust and ensures the business doesn’t let itself stop caring. 

Sometimes the most critical role of brand supremacy and communications impact within a company is about making the entire experience Important consistently and clearly!

Gary

Overcoming organizational and leader tolerance for operating with blinders on

 “The worst thing in the world is not being told the truth.” – Anonymous 

A common deficit of leadership – CEO, functional leader, political/governmental, non-profit, academic – is isolation. Any leader will tell you that at the end of the day they – and they alone – must wrestle with the issues and make decisions. To get it right more times than not, leaders must possess a 360-degree view of the environment, taking in multiple perspectives and opinions. Unfortunately, the isolation that envelops leaders often includes withholding or sanitizing information and perceptions, effectively walling off critical views and considerations.

So, why does this happen?

There are many reasons leadership lacks openness, ranging from fear (sharing negative information), uncertainty (the information can’t be verified), territorial (need to keep information from others), superficial (only share top-line data), ignorance (not recognizing what’s important), and intellectual apathy (not really understanding what the data means). The cumulative impact of this information gap is an inefficient, misinformed and misguided enterprise. Countless losses, missed opportunities, poor management decisions, and misaligned resource directives derive from such organizational blindness.

Combating this takes patience, perseverance and commitment. Over the years, we have witnessed countless examples of leadership blindness and specific remedies. Following are a few that have withstood the test of time:

  1. Set the Ground Rules – Leaders must establish expectations from their staff and employees, including receiving any and all information, data, opinions, points of view, insights and perspectives. Further, “owning” information versus just passing things along is an important element of the process.
  2. Leverage Multiple Sources – Leaders need to gather information from a number of places and people throughout the organization. This both mitigates false data and reinforces opinions.
  3. Remember that Facts Don’t Tell the Whole Story – Verifying information needs to go behind the facts or data. What is behind the data? What is driving the facts?
  4. Be Intellectually Curious – Leaders who work their way through the business uncovering information and knowledge from new and different people expand their aperture and secure their confidence about what’s really happening. From an organizational standpoint, instilling new ways of promoting and prodding discussion and debate on the business results in a more resilient enterprise capable of addressing myriad situations.
  5. Gather Feedback – Leaders, especially CEOs who encourage honest and frequent feedback, are more apt to have a clear and consistent comprehension of the forces surrounding the organization.
  6. Rely on Third-Party Interpretation – Bringing the outside in can uncover a new landscape or footprint of the business.
  7. Be “The Canary in the Coal Mine” – By raising uncomfortable facts or opinions, leaders can help loosen the situation and allow for a more open debate, ultimately leading to a better decision. W2O’s Founder and CEO Jim Weiss often acts in such a way, thereby forcing stronger and deeper discussions on topics affecting the organization.
  8. Rescope Meetings – There is no more effective technique to ensure that the business and the leader are operating with all the information at hand than refreshing your meeting model. Make it more informal. Use little or no PowerPoint. Open the discussion. Simulate decision paths. Use outside examples from your industry or other industries for context.
  9. Seek Data, Uncover Insight – CEOs realize that data coupled with sound insight is a game changer. Make sure you have the proper analytics to dissect situations and the accompanying insight enable a precise path forward.
  10. Change the Conversation – An often, underutilized strategic lever for leaders is communications. Specifically, employee or internal communications. Determine upfront “how smart and engaged you want your employees to be?” and then implement an ecosystem that encourages feedback, ideation, curiosity, and knowledge.

Living in a digital age provides many benefits but none more than the wealth of information and insight available to leaders of any size organization. Ensuring such data and perspectives are part of how an organization and CEO operates is critical to success and impacts thousands of lives and livelihoods.

Seeing clearly again allows leaders to embrace new thinking, new technology, talent and strategy, and direct the business with confidence.

Getting there might be a challenge but not trying is a tragedy!

– Gary


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Will 2021 be the year companies and brands reintroduce themselves and communicators address the why?

2021 Trends in Corporate Communications

One of the most practical business decisions in 2020 was the focus on resources, priorities and investments in employees, customers and communities. The result, along with the rest of society, was to hunker down during the pandemic and ensure the business and its critical stakeholders were intact. Now as we move into a new year, much has changed in our world and in our lives. From a company perspective, new expectations have formed. From a corporate communications standpoint, a different set of principles has emerged, casting traditional value and deliverables aside. To that end, we offer the following important trends that are unfolding and the impact on business, society and people.

“(Today) reminds us that no matter what befalls us in life, we can take the charred remnants and we can reconstruct a life unimaginably richer than that from which the shards and pieces fell.”   –  Craig D. Lounsbrough

1. Time to Re-Introduce Yourself

After a year of playing defense, companies and brands are poised to retell their story, re-establish their value, and re-engage with the marketplace in a proactive manner. Pfizer, GM and Burger King have already begun the trend. Are you the same organization as you were before COVID-19?

2. It’s About the “How” 

After years of worrying about the “why,” we saw a shift to understanding the “how” of decisions, strategies, messages, promises and statements. If you are not prepared to answer the “how,” then forget about the “what.” Particularly in thought leadership, addressing the “how” versus the “what” is more important than ever. Most industries and markets all speak to the “what,” but few recognize the key to breaking through is the “how.”

Unlocking the “how” will be the key to corporate communications’ success in 2021.

3. Data/Analytics/Insights to Get Smarter about the Business (vs. Communications) 

We are turning a page with regard to data and analytics. Instead of chasing clicks, hits and visits to determine the effectiveness of communications activities, data is being used to better comprehend the business. Its policies, decisions, leaders, efficacy, value, connectivity, communications, products and services. Communicators must be astute to employ research and analytics to educate leaders and become more precise in marketing, communications and development.

4. Who is Your Focus?

Notice we didn’t say “what.” In 2021, corporate communications will be looking to identify their primary audience. Has it shifted? Audience expertise must be an obsession for corporate communications if the company is to be centered for success.

5. ESG is a Philosophy Not a Program

You’ll be hearing more about ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) as the financial community places more metrics and importance on organizational compliance in these areas, including DE&I. The key learning for communicators is to ensure ESG and DE&I do not fall prey to becoming a campaign or program. ESG and DE&I represent corporate philosophies that dictate how the business is being operated and managed. The tenets must infiltrate every facet of the business, including both internal and external communications.

6. Relevance Determines Sustainability, Efficacy

We’ve been discussing Relevance as the new Reputation for four years – since we introduced the Relevance Quotient, which ranks the most relevant organizations in the world. Relevance determines whether or not someone actually listens to you, knows you, believes you, and engages with you. It captures positioning, leadership, products/services, narrative, employees, value and connectivity.

In 2021, Relevance will play out further as consumers migrate to companies and brands with a sustainable future and strong efficacy. Corporate communications must navigate the organization’s relevance path, guiding it around a sea of sameness, a lagoon of lethargy, and an arc of apathy.

7. Search is More Important to Identity than Your Website 

So much time and resources are devoted to corporate websites and, of course, getting content, cadence, tone and connectivity correct is important to stakeholder engagement, but search is becoming a true indicator of identity. What comes up when people look for your organization? What impression does it make? Spending more time on search pays off handsomely in the long run.

8. Corporate Communications Must “Own” the Corporate Story 

With resources tight, attention spans short, and priorities getting longer, corporate communications functions must determine what they “own” in order to break through. Bottom-line: corporate communications needs to manage the narrative. How the business talks about itself. The language it uses. The examples it provides. The culture it nurtures. The policies it espouses.

The corporate story illuminates the organization’s soul and ignites all communications – internal and external.

9. Corporate Positioning is More Important than Thought Leadership 

Thought leadership has been the mantra of corporate communications for a long time. And, until last year, it was a wise course of action. But then the pandemic hit. And with it the need for a stronger, clearer view of an organization’s and brand’s position. Talking about policies and decisions and responding to shifts in competitive set and market demands will loom large. More so than addressing key topics of interest.

10. Employees Are Not an “Audience” but an Active Enabler

If 2020 taught us anything in communications or leadership it was that employees and internal communications were no longer a secondary consideration. Rather, employees went from spectator to player, fully engaging in all aspects of the business and breaking down silos, mores and tenets that long plagued effectiveness.

The question in 2021 – “How smart and engaged do you want your employees to be?” – takes on a completely new meaning as leaders, managers and communicators look to communicate in clear, concise, authentic, personal and contextual ways to enable people to drive the business through any challenge or opportunity.

2021: A Year of Action

Every struggle. Every shift. Every window to something new…always leads to the next level of maturation. The next level of confidence. The next level of learning.

This year has the makings of a truly special time for corporate communications. One of richness, texture, depth and a significant greater cause.

“The Stone Age didn’t end because they ran out of stones.” – Anonymous

 – Gary


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

10 organizational truths that shaped an unprecedented year

So what did we actually learn in 2020? Well, there will certainly be countless exposés on the year from a number of pundits. However, if you look closely, a few critical disruptors will alter the business and communications playing field for years to come.

They are:

  1. Science won – Pharmaceutical companies and the country’s leading scientific authority led the path forward toward an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, garnering trust and hope.
  2. Silos disappeared – The virtual working model invariably mitigated the corporate silos that exist in a physical environment.
  3. Culture endured – Speaking of a virtual working environment, organizational cultures strengthened, with values and purpose girding structure and system.
  4. Innovation flourished – Throughout confinement and quarantine with no travel, companies found new, different and ingenious ways to conduct business, engage employees, cater to customers, and develop products and services.
  5. Empathy reigned supreme – Leading, managing and working with each other shifted to a more humane and respectful reality.
  6. The workday didn’t end – On the downside, it was very difficult to get away from work as the days and weeks tended to blend together.
  7. Leadership came from different places – In a virtual world, we experienced confidence, direction, strategic thinking and diverse perspectives from almost everywhere in the company.
  8. Agility didn’t slow – Organizations actually gained speed during the pandemic as their workforces found ways to accelerate, grow and survive.
  9. Connectivity happened in a box – We connected inside a Zoom or webinar box for much of the year, learning about each other, talking about personal issues, and exchanging information in ways not imagined before the pandemic began.
  10. Organizational confidence suffered – Having said all that, organizations have experienced a diminution in confidence, fortitude and progress.

A Precursor for 2021

Much of what we went through this year will in fact be a once in a lifetime occurrence. Heading into 2021, there are four specific initiatives for leaders and communicators to consider:

  1. Re-Introduce the Company – One of the most important priorities for almost any business – large and small – is to evaluate and reposition its business in 2021 so stakeholders can once again discover its value.
  2. Reiterate Values and Purpose – Given how society survived a pandemic, doubling down on values and purpose will buttress company culture.
  3. Revisit Managerial Tenets – Respect. Dignity. Listening. Sharing. All of these skills were on display this past year as people searched for humanity amid a global crisis. Incorporating such tenets into your leadership model is no longer a luxury but a necessity.
  4. Reorient Work-Life – Individuals will need to rethink work-life orientation leaving ample time for personal life to reduce stress, friction, depression, etc.

Coming through the year we’ve just had is no easy feat. But while our lives and our work were disrupted, we were able to disrupt the disruption through perseverance, strength, smarts, collaboration and selfless behavior. If nothing else, 2020 taught us we can thrive and adapt when things go awry.

Here’s to a safe, healthy, productive and meaningful 2021!

Gary


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

In a social/digital reality, relevance is the most valuable currency…so why are leaders and communicators ignoring the obvious?

If we’ve learned anything in 2020, it’s that Relevance matters! Amid a global pandemic, contentious election season, and a social awakening, organizations and leaders discovered that being in sync with their stakeholders – employees, customers, patients, influencers, regulators, government officials – allowed them to be viable. Reputation, while important, took a back seat to being in the now.

Since 2017, W2O has been tracking and experimenting with Relevance. Our Relevance Quotient is the industry’s single most trusted monitor of corporate relevance in both healthcare and the FORTUNE500 (e.g., Delta Airlines cites the data on its website). The Relevance Quotient is a gateway for leaders, communicators and organizations to dissect the elements of relevance and act on the most important areas to strengthen connections to markets, audiences and society.

As we wrap up another year of Relevance analysis for our client partners and industry segments, we have captured the critical dimensions of Relevance every organization – large and small, local and global – must respect and activate if they are to be truly valued in an increasingly tumultuous competitive environment:

  1. The Mindset of Relevance – is Personal. Meaning it must be emotional and empathetic. Relevant organizations like Delta Airlines make a point of acknowledging customers by name, thanking them for their patronage, and listening to their needs. This mindset starts at the top. CEOs of relevant businesses speak to human concerns and human solutions from the workplace to the marketplace.
  2. The Magic of Relevance – is a Symphony. When organizations operate with a relevant mindset it looks and sounds like a well-tuned orchestra. All of the parts coming together to connect, relate, accelerate and confirm an affinity between the company and its stakeholders.
  3. The Machinery of Relevance – is Insight. Integration. Collaboration. Relevant companies ensure business strategy is integrated in all functions and outreach; measures are designed upfront; data and analytics lead to insight, which is inherent in all decision-making and programming; and collaboration whips the culture together.
  4. The Miseducation of Relevance – It’s Not a Program. Campaign. Message. Our four years of data covering hundreds of organizations in dozens of industries point to one thing that disrupts a leader’s ability to steer the company in relevant waters – Context. Relevance must be designed as a destination for all functions and operating units in an organization. It is not a communications and marketing issue, although communications can certainly drive such an effort. Rather, it’s an organizational mantra that seeks to better know, understand and operate on behalf of its stakeholders on terms that balance both the business and their interests.
  5. The Efficiency of Relevance – is Focus. Relevance eliminates the myriad things companies do that ultimately don’t mean much to growth or success and targets what is most meaningful. The most often cited take-aways from relevant leadership are:
    • Listening and incorporating insights from stakeholders into the business – from products to people – tells the most relevant story.
    • Expertise and perspective drive disproportionate relevance vs. announcements (new offering, partnerships, etc.).
    • CEOs are a critical ingredient for relevance (topics, interest, engagement, analyst POV, employee POV).
    • Owned content can (and should) stand out and lead.

As we set our sights on 2021, becoming and maintaining corporate relevance should be a major imperative for any leader looking to ensure investments, talent, products, services and assets are optimized with the right customers and markets. In today’s real-time world, if you’re not relevant you don’t exist.

Relevance is truly the new Reputation!

Gary     

Look for our annual Relevance Quotient Rankings for both FORTUNE500 companies and the top 100 healthcare organizations in early 2021.


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

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.

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?” 

Gary          


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.

Gary


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.

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

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

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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