Chuck Gose: You are a self-described morning person. How do you begin your day?
Elisabeth Wang: 24 oz of water and then coffee. I read a devotional scripture and then read something for enjoyment — may be fiction or non-fiction. I browse social and catch up there and then think about my day. Maybe not all in that order or as linearly as it sounds.
CG: You left out any breakfast for the morning. I’m hoping to hear about a stereotypical, “healthy” southern breakfast.
EW: Not stereotypical, but right now I’m on an overnight oats kick. ¼ c .oats, almond milk, greek yogurt – that’s the base and then I add flavors. Strawberries and cocoa, bananas and peanut butter, blueberries and almonds – something like that.
CG: And then grits, right?
EW: Absolutely. I love grits.
CG: Then you’re allowed to stay in Atlanta. Congratulations.
EW: If you want a great southern meal, come visit and I’ll fix my famous shrimp and grits. Yum!
CG: Let’s move along to your job at Piedmont. This is going to sound negative and I don’t mean it to but you’ve been there a long time. So I’m going to ask one simple question: why?
EW: This is the longest I’ve been with one organization – nine years. Yes, that’s a long time. But within those nine years, I’ve had five different titles. I started there as a physician communications specialist and now I’m the Executive Director of Communications and PR. Moving from an individual contributor to leading a team of 14. So, Piedmont has been a place where I’ve been able to grow and try new things. So, while I’ve been there a long time, it hasn’t been doing the exact same thing or dealing with the same challenges the whole time.
CG: Going from being an individual contributor to a manager, what was the biggest adjustment you had to make?
“As a leader, the most important part of your work is making sure your team has what they need so that they can do their work.”
EW: My time isn’t my own. As an individual contributor, you’re just working on your work. As a leader, the most important part of your work is making sure your team has what they need so that they can do their work – my work comes second, or at least it should. I still struggle with that sometimes.
CG: Confession time. I really like that you just referred to yourself as a leader. Whether it was intentional or not, it’s a strong statement. I get the impression that a lot of communicators, even those in managerial roles, don’t consider themselves leaders. What are your thoughts on that?
EW: I’m definitely a leader. I was a leader before I had a “title” of leadership. I’ve always had a sphere of influence that I could lead in – now it just has actual people in it.
CG: Let’s stick with this leadership angle, but switch it from Piedmont to you. You mentioned earlier about how you check social media in the morning. You’re an active user. And while I’m up early in the morning, it’s not as early as you but I see your activity. What do you get out of spending time on social and which channels do you get the most out of?
EW: Professionally – that’s Twitter and LinkedIn. I think I have a responsibility to be “up” in my field, and right now, that’s where the most relevant content is. So that’s what I’m doing – and where I can, I join in the conversation. It has led to great connections.
CG: I’m 100% in agreement with you there. But (and it’s a big one), there are a lot of internal communicators who shun social media or I feel are missing out on some of these conversations and connections. What would you say to them?
EW: You’re absolutely right – and some of them are on my team. I think that you still learn and grow if you’re not on social – it isn’t that it is the only way, but today, I do think it is the fastest way. I mean, who doesn’t want to learn from other’s mistakes or best practice? And social is a personal thing.
CG: I know if I was your employee, one of the first things I’d do is check the @elisabeth_wang Twitter feed to see what was on your mind.
EW: Yes, and I think the smart team members do. I follow my boss – get notification when he tweets – as well as our CEO and other key leaders in our organization. In a way I think it is part of my job, but I also think it is just being smart.
CG: Like If I saw you tweet “Line was too long at Waffle House for my grits. I guess I’m coming in early” that would change my morning.
EW: I’m already in early.
CG: One of the aspects of healthcare communication that fascinates me is the variety of employees you have to communicate to and with. I’ve always heard that nurses are the most challenging. Is this a myth or is it true?
EW: I think they are hard, but I don’t think our challenge is unique. I remember a presentation about an electric company with line workers. I have a family member who works the line and I can imagine that is a tough workforce for communicators. Nurses do have access to computers – more than they let on that they do – but getting folks’ attention is always tough.
CG: You’ve nailed it there. Access is only part of the battle. It’s getting their attention that is important. How do you do it?
“You have to first give them what they want and then try to slide in what you want on the side.”
EW: You have to first give them what they want and then try to slide in what you want on the side. We track our most popular posts in our e-newsletters so we know what gets clicks – that goes at the top or in the subject line. Other info can fill in around.
CG: So email is one of your channels, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. What are the other tactics or channels that you find the most effective?
EW: Effective – face to face. Town Halls, but they aren’t efficient. We’ve just launched a new intranet that is social and gives us an unbelievable amount of data. It is intuitive, so it learns a user’s behaviors and starts to deliver the content that it predicts they’ll want. Then we use fliers and signs, we have banners, etc.
CG: All kinds of reports demonstrate that communicators know it’s important to measure, but few do. It sounds like measurement is important, or even critical, for you.
EW: Measurement is a huge part of our culture at Piedmont. I think it is a trend in our industry, but no doubt a must do at Piedmont. In fact, just before this meeting, I had one with a Tableau team member who is helping me build a dashboard from our communications pulse survey data that all my team will be able to use, interact with, help them be better consultants with their clients, etc. Yes, we’re very data driven.
CG: Take politics out of it, and healthcare is unique to the US in how it’s run, marketed, everything. At an event we were both at, you talked about mergers and acquisitions being a big part of your communications plan.
EW: Yes, M&A is huge in healthcare.
CG: How is your communication team involved before, during and after?
EW: Communication is a big part of change management and M&A can’t happen without that. So, I’m a part of Core Team that leads our integrations. We’ve done three in my years at Piedmont and it will only continue. Yes, I’m one of the first on the ground – along with HR and our project management office – and spend a dedicated amount of time there each week.
CG: Now that you’ve got three under your belt, are they getting easier or is each unique?
EW: Each is unique but there are lessons learned. I wish I could say they were easier. I’m hoping the next will be easier. This last one was the largest we’ve done which made it tough.
CG: What determines “largest?” Cost? People? Yes?
EW: Number of employees / bed size. We added 3,000 employees with our last integration. We had 13,000 employee before and now have 16,000 – that was a significant jump.
CG: So in addition to being a communications leader at Piedmont, an active Twitter user and an expert at shrimp and grits, you are also involved in PRSA. Talk about your activity there.
EW: Well, along the same lines as why I’m active on social, I think there is growth, knowledge, etc. to be gleaned from being active in a professional organization. I’ve been involved with PRSA for a couple of years now – after having attended Connect ‘15 – which is where I met you, I believe.
CG: And we had pizza.
EW: Yes, we had pizza. I was asked to join the section board, which I did, and one thing led to another and now I’m chairing the Connect ‘17 conference.
CG: That escalated quickly.
EW: Yes – it did. Be careful what you wish for?
CG: So far we’ve talked about the past and present, but lets look to the future. What are some of your comms goals that you want to accomplish this year, either for your team or you personally?
EW: Like I said, we’ve just launched a new intranet, so I’m really excited about optimizing that. We’ve just turned on a fraction of its capability at launch. I think we don’t even fully understand what it is going to allow us to do yet. That’s team stuff. As far as me personally, this coming year, I’ll be working alongside the HR team at Piedmont to develop a strategic plan for employee experience. That’s a “stretch assignment” in Piedmont terms that I’m really excited about because I am so passionate about employee experience.
CG: Stretch smetch. This sounds like the perfect role for you. And one that I’m glad to see a communicator like yourself get to work on. I think communicators have lost their way a bit on the engagement topic and I think employee experience allows them to focus more on employees. Do you agree?
“I think we agree that engagement is such a fuzzy term. It also feels like we’re blaming employees for something – why aren’t you engaged?”
EW: Absolutely. I think we agree that engagement is such a fuzzy term. It also feels like we’re blaming employees for something – why aren’t you engaged? Rather, we should be creating an environment / experience that compels employees. So, I do much prefer experience over engagement.
CG: I’ve said that I think engagement should really be a by-product of employee experience. The quality of the experience will dictate the engagement to some degree.
EW: Yes, and engagement for what? In my organization, it is for change management. We need “engaged” employees so that we can go through the change management curve much faster – because our industry is calling for it. So, you have to answer, “to what end?”
CG: And that’s a great statement for communications in general. And perhaps something communicators should ask themselves with each message, “To what end?”
EW: Yes – and partnering with their clients on. We shouldn’t be short order cooks (not my term) but when we get requests, and this is going to go back to the measurement piece, what is the client hoping to achieve. If the client can’t articulate it or if it doesn’t align with our strategic framework, then maybe we need to rethink if it is worth putting resources to it. And by resources I mean my team’s time.
CG: Let’s wrap this up with a simple question. Describe your role as a communicator, not with words, but with one emoji.