It is a constant challenge for leadership to deliver messages within the walls of their own organization. Nowhere is that struggle more strongly felt than at hospitals.
When operating a 24/7 health system with hundreds and often thousands of caregivers, connecting with internal audiences is a serious challenge for leaders, especially when facing a time of transition or uncertainty.
The best internal communications plan faces a serious opponent: Gossip.
Recently, we surveyed associates at one of our clients about how they received information about the organization. Across service lines, rank, and roles, gossip was the number one source.
They said gossip was not only prevalent, but more often than not it was accurate. In certain cases, a major story had made the rounds via gossip days before an official press release or email announcement.
The hospital published email newsletters, but care providers said they were usually too busy to read them. Gossip on the other hand? There’s always time for gossip.
These same people did agree that one thing could compete with gossip—getting news directly from trusted members of leadership. In person. Straight from the source.
TAKE IT TO THE PEOPLE
Health care leaders that want to stay ahead of gossip to deliver news or discuss their vision for the organization need to communicate with their people face-to-face.
When an associate hears a statement directly from their leaders, that can override anything they hear from someone by the watercooler.
If you’re going to use face-time to deliver internal communications, are a few key steps to help make your efforts successful:
- Identify key leaders—Communicating with associates can’t just be the CEO’s job. Identify 3-5 trusted senior leaders who will commit to being a part of the engagement team. These leaders should be visible, well-liked, and seen as having credibility.
- Get Marketing involved—We’re talking about a communication plan, so bring in the experts. Your most senior marketing officer should be there to lead the team’s efforts.
- Stay coordinated—Use regular meetings keep your team aligned and avoid contradicting messages. Agree on a plan for when/how leaders will engage people each month to keep anyone from going rogue or duplicating efforts.
- Be honest—Sometimes leadership has to backtrack on a previous statement, or makes a bad decision. When this happens, you have to own it; admit it right away. Nothing will break your lines of communication faster or more devastatingly than perceived lies, spin, or distraction. Optics matter, especially to internal audiences.
HOW TO CONNECT
You have your engagement team assembled. Now it’s time to connect. Create opportunities that make it easy for people to engage with you. Your associates are busy, so you have to be as convenient as the gossip you’re competing with.
A few tactics to consider:
- Leadership Rounding: This includes remote care sites, and the late shifts. Everyone on the engagement team should do this at least once a month.
- Town Halls: Attendance must be optional. No forcing people to communicate.
- Cameos at team check-ins and standups when there are important messages to share.
- Coffee with Leadership: Spend an hour or two at the start of a shift in the cafeteria. Buy a cup of coffee for anyone who wants to chat.
- Take your lunch in the cafeteria. Make it known that anyone is welcome to join your table to ask you questions.
It’s hard to stay ahead of all the gossip mill in a health system. Leadership teams that are accessible and proactively engage people have the best chance to successfully communicate messages and build like and trust inside the walls of their organization.