Who has ever heard of a major human resources initiative being funded by the Marketing Department? In the world of enterprise engagement, that will be the new normal, according to Ramon Soto, Senior Vice President and CMO for Northwell Health. Northwell, headquartered in Great Neck, NY, is the new name for North Shore LIJ, reportedly the 14th-largest provider of medical services in the country and the largest private employer in New York State with nearly 61,000 employees. The organization has launched an enterprise-wide branding and engagement strategy to support its name change that started with employees and will shortly roll out to consumers.
“Our brand promise is simply an articulation of the value we create as an organization,” says Soto, “and it’s our employees who create that value every day. “We believe that in a service-delivery world it’s critical that employees are delivering on the brand promise and providing a superior customer experience. Thus it was critical to us that they believe in the brand and evangelize our promise to our customers. Also, given our size, we thought there was a wonderful opportunity to mobilize 61,000 brand ambassadors well before we launched our new name and brand into the marketplace.”
Joe Moscola, the company’s Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, notes that with a workforce of nearly 61,000 people spread over a dense geography, “our employees represent a very captive audience with a huge degree of influence, both internally and externally. Given the rapid pace of change in the healthcare business, creating a partnership between human resources and marketing is not only important, it’s essential. In addition, the competition for market share and talent in order to deliver upon our vision and mission make it critical for us to work together to accomplish our goals.”
A Long-Term Process
According to Ally Bunin, Assistant Vice President for Corporate Communications, this enterprise approach to engagement took a while to evolve. She says that under the 20-year-plus leadership of CEO Michael Dowling, the organization always had a human touch. “The role of employees with the brand is a conversation we’ve had a long time around here. Michael understands the power of people. He’s a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to communication. He likes town hall meetings and one-on-ones. He appears at all of the new hire orientations, and he loves to shake hands, but when an organization gets as big as ours, of course that’s not enough, so over time we’ve had to institute programs such as a CEO chat, videos and voice mail announcements.”
The importance of employees became apparent when the organization realized it had to change its name. Explains Bunin: “We had grown so much, there had been so many acquisitions, there was no cohesive brand. We have 21 hospitals and 450 ambulatory practices throughout the region, so the North Shore LIJ name became a historic reference that nobody got. We’re not Jewish or only on Long Island. Three years ago the CEO had an epiphany that no one could get our name right. He realized that the brand engagement process would have to start with employees, who are so important to driving business. We have a ton of competitors, and no one could understand what we did. It took a couple of years to get the name approved, a new branded message, and he’s championing this from the top down and the bottom up.”
The final impetus for focusing on employees to launch the new brand came from recently hired CMO Soto. “We were already in the process of rebranding when he joined,” says Bunin, “but he had done this before, and he knew that to do it right you have to focus on your employees first. He partnered with our head of human resources and our Chief Talent Officer and they built the strategy.”
The organization, she says, decided to first release the brand internally through a series of initiatives, including the launch of the Northwell App, a mobile app developed by theEMPLOYEEapp® (www.theemployeeapp.com) to manage employee communications on Apple and Android mobile devices. The app is integrated with Northwell’s employee database and allows for near instantaneous distribution of messages and content, including documents, multi-media, and live events. (See ESM: theEMPLOYEEapp for Better Engagement and Communications.) The organization also launched a new wellness initiative called “Taking care of yourself so you can take care of others.”
An App to Link the Organization
Speaking of the Northwell App, Bunin notes that “we’re going to leverage this tool for as much as we can to connect and engage our team, and as a gateway to tools they need to do their jobs. Employees want to do the right thing, but we don’t always make it easy to keep up with all they have to do, so accessibility to information is important. We’ll put our learning module on the app so they can get it on the go. We’ll be pushing information from holiday schedules to how to request a day off to our rewards and recognition programs, suggestion programs and more.” The organization is also revamping its rewards and recognition programs to not only promote wellness, but also the patient experience and to encourage the employee actions that will create patient satisfaction. Employees can earn points redeemable for MC Fina & Co. awards.
“We need to enable our leaders to drive this strategy, because the CEO can’t do it alone,” says Bunin. “It’s not just an HR initiative. We do a lot of coaching and town halls to promote great leadership across the organization – but it takes more than that.”
As for ROI measurement, the first place to look, Bunin says, is at patient satisfaction, which will become increasingly important because those scores will affect how the organization is reimbursed. “Our goal is to drive employee and customer satisfaction to the 90th percentile on a national scale,” says, adding that they still have a way to go, given the large number of facilities and employees. “We have lower turnover than other organizations, but we still hire 100 people per week. In a large organization, where there’s lots of change in generations and technology, turnover is a factor. That said, we can do more to lower turnover, and at the same time address the wellness of our employees.” In that vein, Bunin notes that it takes more than exciting events, such as a “Walk to Paris” promotion held not long ago, to encourage exercise. Each participant received a pedometer, the winners got to go to Paris, and there was a high level of engagement, but “we need more than big events to make wellness sustainable. The new wellness program is individually focused with more accountability.”
So why is Northwell’s Chief Marketing Officer willing to help fund internal marketing out of his marketing budget? “An engaged workforce believing and articulating our story was well worth the investment,” says Soto. “While the overall investment is large, the incremental investment to drive employee engagement and excitement is actually quite small. We believe a well-articulated execution of our story and differentiated position in the marketplace can help shift share on a marginal basis and drive outcomes.”
We asked Soto if he believes that this type of integrated customer-employee branding will be critical to marketing success in the future. “We honestly could not have imagined executing this brand transformation without engaging our workforce,” he says. “There’s tremendous pride in the success we’ve built to date, but relatively little market awareness of who we are. We’ve seen our employees rally around our rebranding efforts, and our sense is they’ll feel tremendous pride in its public execution.”
For CHRO Moscola, working with Marketing creates opportunity. “Given our training and experiences, we approach a challenge from a different perspective,” he says. “When you have a good working relationship and are able to appreciate the respective viewpoints, great things will happen. Human resources needs to continually evolve from a technology standpoint, particularly our understanding of how to leverage digital and social media. Creating those tools and attracting talent with those skill sets is essential to being innovative and creating a competitive advantage.”
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