Strategic Outreach

Managing Change Via Communications

Workin’ the changes, enjoying the ride

I’ve had the privilege of directing external and internal communications “in the trenches” during four major industry revolutions over the last several decades.

From a communicator’s standpoint, what do they all have in common? The need to win over the hearts and minds of those people whose daily work is most impacted by the change, as well as those leaders who must invest their money and resources in the transformation.

Here’s my journey.

DEA Boeing Graphic small

Quality matters: getting it right every time

Believe it or not, there was a time when the unwritten rule in manufacturing was “just get it made, and if it doesn’t work right, we’ll fix it later.” Budgets were based on this. Neither management or skilled labor cared much about quality; the focus was quantity. Their working relationship was adversarial.

Then, after Japanese carmakers carved away American-brand market share with reliable, high-value products, Detroit’s Big 3 leadership got serious and hunkered down with the UAW union, forming on-the-production-floor quality circles driven by input from the teams. Ford’s “Quality is Job One” mantra was a fresh idea, mission and marketing niche. They meant it, and it worked.

My work: As I sung praises for advanced data-gathering tools and statistical quality control for my clients, I articulated the transformation of both the people and the technologies, and enjoyed watching the turnaround.

The take-away: the power of integrity and commitment, supported by advanced technology.

At right: Artwork from our marketing communications; aircraft manufacturing quality control

 

Wringing out wasted time, effort and money from manufacturing processes

A 10-year quest for me. I promoted data tools, robotics and other flexible automation that eliminated downtime and reduced expensive work-in-process that would sit in piles waiting to go into a final product (Re: Just-in-Time; Lean processes). Resistance was high.

My work: Convince leadership to invest and workers to embrace the change, not sabotage it. I did the PR and marketing communications for over 10 innovative companies that sold these technologies to automotive, aircraft/aerospace and other manufacturers.

The take-away: when all is said and done, a talented and engaged workforce is even more important after automation takes root, not less.

 

The world is flat

Globalization was flattening the business world, and we witnessed customer call centers, IT work and other services move offshore. I helped to articulate and market the more sensible “best shore” approach that leverages a productive and cost-effective combination of resources.

My work: communication during overhauls in the IT and law industries.

The takeaway:  the financial value of a satisfied, life-long customer should be the key focus.

 

Doctors don’t want to be clicking on a keyboard when they’re with a patient

Technology was my entry point to the healthcare industry, and I was amazed that so many clinicians weren’t using computers to document patient care so that digital records could be easily shared.

EHR Graphic Revised

Momentum only came after competitive pressures, plus federal government incentives and threats. Then the race was on.

My work: for three years, I directed the communication team for the largest implementation of a single comprehensive Electronic Health Record system to date (in 27 hospitals, 400 clinics).

The take-away: be sure to uncover the resistance to high-impact changes, and focus on getting the voice of the peer champions out there to address it.

The latest

Recent journeys have included care delivery transformation and integration of partner organizations. Change is the only constant; my career has celebrated this fact. New adventures to come.

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March 23, 2018 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B2B messaging, Business Storytelling, Change Management, Corporate Communications, health care communications, My Career | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crack open a good nut graph

walnuts1

Beginning with a shocking statement may be the best way to get a reader’s attention, but there’s yet another story ingredient that helps ensure high readership of an announcement or article.

The statement above is called a “nut graph,” and it’s the nut graph for this blog post about nut graphs.

Given all the competition for an employee’s time and attention, they want to know right up front: “Why should I spend time reading this?”

The nut graph answers this by delivering a promise of the story’s content and message. It:

  • lets the reader know what the subject is
  • creates expectations.

A story without a nut graph is like a walk in the woods without a path: you know you’re going someplace, but you’re not sure where.

Whereas a “lead” is used to grab attention with a startling fact or provocative question, the nut graph is more than just a teaser – it should contain a kernel (the nut), previewing the essential theme or message. In a brief announcement or article, it’s great to combine the lead with the nut graph.

Here’s some examples from a recent series of articles we did at our healthcare system to highlight our new commitment to mental health services.  The theme was: Debunking mental health myths.  First the headline, then the nut graph:

Myth: Children are too young to develop mental illness

From inconsolable preschoolers to moody teenagers, how do you know if it’s just a phase or a symptom of mental illness?

Myth: You can just “snap out of it”

We wouldn’t expect a person with a broken leg or diabetes to just” snap out of it,” and in the same way we shouldn’t expect a person to think their way out of a mental illness.

We intentionally began each article with a “grabber” (something not necessarily obvious) and previewed the subject, all in the same lead – an ideal nut graph.

Final point:  beware of the senior executive who wants to load two or three whole paragraphs of preamble (about the industry and its woes, for instance) into the front-end of an announcement before giving the reader a clue about the subject or news.

February 9, 2017 Posted by | Corporate Communications, health care communications, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Length Matters

If you let your CEO send an emailed announcement to everyone with over 600 words, readership will not be optimum. But the low-readership penalty for 800 words or more is harsher. If you think that the only result will be that the employee may merely skim it or stop reading after the first few paragraphs, think again. They won’t read any of it. They skip it.  Gone.  Most figure they don’t have the time to tackle it, and you’ve just lost the chance to impart any information.

Research shows that if most readers look at a page with 8 or 9 dense paragraphs of type, their willingness to read it at all goes down significantly, compared to a communication of 5 paragraphs. This is especially true when major change is swirling around your organization and people are time-stressed.

Here’s what the experts recommend, and I can attest to this advice based on my own experience:

Target length is 400 words. This will take the average reader two minutes to read. So given the 3-second average time people spend previewing “general distribution” work emails, 100 words is even better. Some internal communicators aim for 300 words.

You simply can’t let a long communication go out to staff levels that, for example, explains a re-organization in detail and then profiles four or five new leaders and their roles. You should, instead, just summarize the re-org and the “why,” then link to their profiles in deeper content/resources on your intranet.

You’re looking at about 285 words in this blog post, so a 300 to 400 word target for your internal communication is not much longer.  My next post will look at research on optimal sentence and paragraph length.

yard-stick

January 20, 2017 Posted by | Change Management, Corporate Communications, health care communications, healthcare integrations, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Communication tactics during integration of hospitals and medical groups: Lessons Learned, part II

This is the second installment of my mini-series on what I’ve learned from directing internal communications during integration of hospitals and medical group organizations.  My previous post focused on strategy  – this one tackles tactical components.

As integration of employees begins, I create an initial communication with “What’s changing, what’s not.”  We ask managers to deliver it and discuss it with their staff;  supporting FAQs, talking points, and timeline overview reference tools are essential.

Allow as much lead time as possible to prepare this communication. Timing is tricky – it’s a balance between getting it out early enough to alleviate staff angst and confusion, and late enough that most change factors and go-live timeframes have been solidified, to make it as meaningful and helpful as possible.

After this initial overview communication becomes available, move quickly to a bi-weekly and then weekly roll-up update for managers and senior leadership. Consider a second version for all staff that has fewer updates (i.e. only those requiring action by staff as opposed to managers).

Other proven tactical tools:

  • Supply “at a glance” overviews of milestones and dates (via a checklist) for quick reference by core leaders and staff.
  • Reminders (in updates) should be a balance of verbal from managers, visible posted notices, and intranet – with minimal reminders pushed via email, except for inclusion in the weekly roll-up update.
  • Hold monthly drop-ins at the facility – informal, with HR and IT project managers/execs on hand to answer questions. These sessions expand awareness, reduce confusion and build comfort level.
  • Age-old big-organization challenge: making sure important time-sensitive communications get to staff clinicians. Respect time-sensitivity as related to needed actions or impact on staff, especially payroll changes. It may not always be possible to fit notices into the cadence of the e-newsletter updates.

 

January 5, 2017 Posted by | Change Management, Corporate Communications, Employee Integration, health care communications, healthcare integrations, IT Process Change | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Communications during integration of hospitals and medical groups: Lessons Learned

Here’s what I’ve learned from directing internal communications to manager and all-employee levels during integration of their hospital or medical group organization into our large health care system.  I’ve done two of each.

  • Develop an over-arching communication plan incorporating all HR, IT and other work streams to ensure consistent messaging to impacted populations (theme, tone, format, terminology).
    • Emphasize positive outcome/future for both organizations
    • Acknowledge short-term inconvenience during change (transparency)
    • Establish channel/vehicle for regular updates to leaders/managers
  • Use a consistent message structure that clarifies what will not change, what will change “now” (i.e. at go-live or start date), and what will change later.
  • Stop the bombardment of one-off email communications about individual aspects of the integration; instead, rely on a weekly rolled-up update (e-newsletter format preferred) that provides everything managers need to know about what’s happening when, and action items. Another version could go to all employees.
  • Equip executive leaders and managers to deliver key messages /information to their employees, always providing clear “actions required” of both the managers and the employees.
  • Align with union contract negotiation timing and politics; fully clarify what applies to each group.
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Kadlec Regional Medical Center in southeast Washington; we integrated all employees there into Providence HR, IT and other systems/services in 2015.

December 27, 2016 Posted by | Acquisition Communications, B-to-B Case Studies, Change Management, Corporate Communications, Employee Integration, health care communications, healthcare integrations, IT Process Change, My Career | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Look at the Load

The list of Top 10 types of resistance in the post below is missing one big, fat factor that can squash the whole change-management equation.  The Load.  Major implementations occur in the context of all other organizational priorities competing for resources and people’s attention.  Change is also more fragile and risky if there is a history of bad implementation experiences with lingering memories of all the stress caused by poor planning and execution.

In the health care industry, doctors, nurses and other clinicians have faced a relentless onslaught of change.  Caring for patients every single day is their primary focus, but every time they turn around from the bedside or the exam room, they are confronted with another expectation. Among them, learning new documentation technology (electronic health record, ICD-10, computerized order entry), on top of time-consuming quality, safety and patient satisfaction initiatives, revised workflows and processes – it goes on and on.

Defining the climate for change is essential.  It determines organizational readiness and strategies for multi-layered sponsorship for the change.  And of course it guides the communication strategy – timing, messaging (regarding critical needs and priorities) and frequency.

elephant sits

July 24, 2015 Posted by | Change Management, Corporate Communications | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Top 10 List: Resistance to Organizational or Process Change

Two lists here. First, the top five for implementation of major technology change in a healthcare setting, for physicians and other clinicians.

  1. Fear of the unknown
  2. Dislike time commitment to get training, practice, become proficient
  3. Fear of looking incompetent amidst peers
  4. Concern about disruption to operations (patient care)
  5. Resistance to standardization (workflows, clinical content, order sets, etc.)

All of these reasons (above) relate to other industries also. Next, five other reasons for resistance that can round out my all-industry “Top 10.” (Thanks to Robert Tanner’s blog for input on this.)

  1. Loss of status or job security within the organization (believe they will be harmed by change)
  2. Non-reinforcing reward systems
  3. Peer pressure (protect the department or group)
  4. Climate of mistrust (bad history with implementations and other change)
  5. Organization politics (some have personal motives)

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Change Management, Corporate Communications, IT Process Change | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Organizational Change Communication Is and Isn’t

Fake Memos for blog post B-sm  Fake Memos for blog post - A-sm

I recently did a presentation for CAPG (accountable care physicians advocacy group here in California) on the do’s and don’ts of communications strategy that supports change management. I began by defining the parameters.

Organizational change communication is not:

  • an increased quantity and frequency of memo announcements from executive leadership, with reminders and cheer-leading messages
  • feel good meetings and conferences with fancy PowerPoint presentations.

To be sure, the initial “decision” announcement from the chief executive that endorses the initiative and commits resources to it is important. It’s the “listen up everybody, we’re going to do this” memo, and it needs to go on record – but it will do virtually nothing to win the hearts and minds of mid-management or staff.

Organizational change communication is:

  • Communication tools/resources/support for the operating layers of sponsorship for the change – the reinforcing sponsors who influence their teams and staff.
  • Support for face-to-face interaction with peers who are champions, and change agents.

I’ll be delving into this deeper in upcoming posts.

April 20, 2015 Posted by | Change Management, Corporate Communications | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Black Hole in the Middle

As a communicator, one of the most enlightening aspects of training for Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM)  is the focus on mid-managers during change within a large organization. When they aren’t on board with a major change, they can truly represent a black hole.  Many organizations have made the mistake of going this route (below):

  1. Executive leaders sign on and sponsor the change initiative
  2. These leaders issue the edict/pep talk in a memo to all staff
  3. Mid-managers shrug their shoulders and quietly begin passive resistance.
  4. Staff listens to their managers and adopts the “who cares” attitude; indifference and resistance builds.

In any cheese-moving, game-changing upheaval, the most resistance to change will typically come from those who have the highest vested interest in things remaining the same. As AIM’s Don Harrison puts it: long-employed managers have been told for years that if they play by the rules, they’ll advance.  Now you’re changing the rules.  They’re confused, afraid, and/or angry.  That’s why our communication tools during change focus on managers – helping them to absorb it and articulate it for their staff.

Black_hole

Resistance can surface “out of nowhere.”  I’ve been part of a major organization-wide change where it was realized in the 11th hour right before go-live that a whole department was on the sidelines and hadn’t done any of the training. The department’s director calmly commented:  “Oh, didn’t we tell you, we’ve decided not to participate.”  Needless to say, that wasn’t an option.

So I’ve learned not to confuse awareness with understanding, much less subscription to the cause.  We strive in our communication programs to answer two questions:  “How does this impact me?” and “What’s in it for me?”

January 21, 2015 Posted by | Acquisition Communications, Change Management, Corporate Communications | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pushing Out Email Communications: Definitely an INTERRUPTION Tactic.

Let’s call it what it is – an interruption. In a corporate setting, sending announcements and other general communications to large groups via email adds to the oad of email traffic flying around in thick torrents every day, especially for mid-level managers.

When these are sent, the goal is to get the email with this important corporate news or “action item” into a queue along with one-to-one (and one-to-few) emails in the manager’s inbox and vie for her/his attention.  Most managers reluctantly allow this distraction and check their email several to many times per day, because they also need to engage in team email conversations and requests via email, amidst the general info blasts that they may or may not read.

Update scrren capture Our once-a-week roll-up of action items, need-to-know items, etc. replaces a constant barrage of single-item emailed memos.

Here at Providence, a 5-state health care system, we’re beginning to train core leaders to rely on a once-a week roll-up of key information, an emailed update with short summaries that include links to the full announcement and other informational resources.  They know they can get all news and action items from the regional and system offices in a single weekly newsletter, with notices divided into three sections:  “Take Action!” (when they have to do something), “Need to Know,” and “Other Updates.”

That’s how it works today. The wave of the future: Have managers and staff take responsibility for selecting non-interruptive channels (RSS feeds, for instance) to receive segmented-by-category information. Instead of randomly-arriving as interruptive email, information is accumulated in folders (not in the inbox) or via a browser

December 12, 2014 Posted by | Corporate Communications | , , , , , | Leave a comment