Article Archive
May/June 2021

Culture: Clarity Can Help Organizations Live Their Values
By Nicki Gibbs
Today’s Geriatric Medicine
Vol. 14 No. 3 P. 26

An increasing life expectancy and the large baby boomer population—in addition to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic—are rapidly changing the health care landscape. Health care organizations are facing significant economic, environmental, political, and technological changes, all of which influence how employees work and how patients choose providers and health plans.

At the same time, stakeholders are demanding better business practices and want organizations to be environmentally and socially responsible. It’s more important than ever to keep a business aligned to its values across all communication channels.

As face-to-face communication decreases and the volume of information increases, organizations must consistently and cohesively activate their values to create authentic connections and establish trust. Integrated communication ensures brand messaging is consistent across all channels used to engage audiences. To succeed in this, a health care organization must have a clear set of values it communicates and activates.

The Need to Meet Rising Expectations
Today’s health care workers, like other employees across industries, have high expectations for their employers. They are looking for jobs that provide meaningful work, flexible schedules, and advanced opportunities for growth and development. Millennials first drove the shift in workplace expectations away from just a paycheck and benefits. This perspective, however, is now widely shared by more workers as social consciousness rises and burnout in the workplace intensifies. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the pace of these rising expectations. A recent Mental Health America survey of health care workers indicated that 93% of health care workers were experiencing stress, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed.

That’s not all. Health care workers also expect the organizations they work for to commit to diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and environmental stewardship. A fall 2020 Quantum Workplace survey indicates 75% of employees think more diversity is needed in the workplace. Many organizations appear to be listening. Thirty-eight percent of executives see their organizations taking on more responsibility for societal issues as something that will have an impact on the organization over the next couple of years.

The COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice movement have also contributed to rising patient expectations. Many patients today are selecting providers and making health care decisions based on an organization’s purpose or mission. A recent Accenture survey of nearly 30,000 people indicated 63% “prefer to support companies that stand for a shared purpose that reflects their personal values and beliefs and are ditching those that don’t.”

But simply stating a mission or purpose is no longer enough for organizations. They must follow through with action and consistency to bring their mission and values to life—or risk being called out. Transparency and trust have never been more critical. Seventy-four percent of consumers crave greater transparency from organizations; yet, nationally, trust began declining in 2017 at a steeper rate than ever before. If health care organizations say one thing and then act in another way, they risk damaging the trust of their workers and patients. For example, if a health care organization’s mission is based on putting patients first, it must also consider the impact on patients when faced with financial pressure to reduce front-line staff.

Being mission or purpose driven is no longer a viable choice. Health care workers expect their work to contribute to an organization’s mission or purpose, and patients are keeping tabs on whether the organizations they choose are acting in the best interest of their stakeholders and the communities they affect.

Brands That Live Their Values
An integrated communication strategy is the connective tissue that ensures brand consistency across all channels and aligns communication with business objectives and goals. It considers who the target audiences are and how and where to communicate to engage them.

Integrated communication also acts as a barometer for how an organization aligns its values both internally and externally. It creates transparency into the connection between the values the organization talks about publicly and those it brings to life among its audiences through communication channels. Internal and external audiences alike are quick to call out a health care organization if they see dissonance between the values the business promotes and the way it operates every day. An authentic representation of values builds stronger brand loyalty and trust.

It’s easiest to see the connection between integrated communication and values through real-life examples of brands that successfully or unsuccessfully infuse them. The following example illustrates the power of aligning cross-channel communication with values.

Boston Scientific — Acting on the Value of Diversity
Boston Scientific lives its organizational value of diversity through its Close the Gap program. The company launched the Close the Gap program more than 10 years ago to give all patients—regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation—access to quality health care. The program specifically addresses racial inequities in health care, noting that people of color are underrepresented in clinical trials and Black people have higher heart disease mortality rates than do white people. The program increases access to health screening and treatment for people in underserved populations who are at an increased risk of suffering from certain diseases.

The program comes to life through Boston Scientific’s integrated communication strategy. Its commitment to diversity is demonstrated across a microsite, social media, advertising, and public relations. The initiative and surrounding campaign is authentic because its roots stem from a deeply held company value of diversity and the program’s longevity speaks to the company’s ongoing commitment.

How Purpose, Mission, and Values Affect Business Metrics
Purpose, mission, and values—when activated properly—have the power to influence real business outcomes. The following are four additional ways being aligned to a clear purpose or mission and values can affect a health care organization in a positive, tangible way during times of stress, change, or crisis:

• Improved employee retention and recruitment. Health care workers want to work for organizations that remain steadfast in their commitment to making a positive difference in the lives of their patients and the communities in which they serve.

• Healthier and more connected workplace culture. Organizations that clearly define, communicate, and activate the value they deliver to the world or their stakeholders have employees who are significantly more motivated and passionate than are employees at companies that don’t effectively communicate their purpose or mission.

• Thriving innovation and creativity. Having a clear purpose or mission allows health care organizations to be more innovative, which is especially important in times of industry disruption and rapid change.

• Increased loyalty and trust. It pays to build trust and loyalty among your patients. Numerous studies show that organizations achieve success from sustained loyalty.

Implementing Values Into Integrated Communication
Health care organizations looking to ground their integrated communication strategy in values should first assess how well they communicate their values today. Social listening and community engagement are effective starting points to evaluate how consistently values are communicated to the outside world and how audiences respond. Content adjustments are necessary if values are inconsistent and misaligned.

Social listening can also allow businesses to keep a pulse on crucial conversations, including the pandemic, current health care issues, health care–related policies, and more. It’s impossible and unnecessary for an organization to effectively participate in every conversation. In fact, doing so can often appear disingenuous and self-serving. Values should, however, act as a powerful guide to evaluate which causes the organization should participate in and support and which it shouldn’t.

Distraction, disengagement, and inconsistency result when purpose, mission and values are out of sync. Health care organizations experience better retention, engagement, innovation, and creativity when purpose or mission and values are clear. Employees work more effectively together toward a shared objective, and patients trust organizations that work toward delivering positive value to their stakeholders or a larger global community.

An integrated communication strategy should be just that: integrated. It should be a cross-functional effort. Any team that engages internal or external stakeholders, including HR, legal, marketing, and brand, should be in sync. The foundational values system must be layered into integrated communication to keep teams consistently aligned and working toward business objectives. When customers, employees, and partners understand what the organization believes in, they can clearly see how the organization brings those values to life every day through its words and actions.

Nicki Gibbs leads strategy and services development at Beehive Strategic Communication, a purpose-driven strategic communication firm specializing in integrated communication and other services. She has more than 20 years of strategic communication experience and is Prosci Change Management certified. Gibbs’ ability to imagine what’s possible creates contagious enthusiasm that moves businesses forward.