WHPRMS April Blog: Strategic Planning: Measure Early and Measure Often

I recently had the pleasure of serving as a judge in the 2018 Lamplighter Awards, a communications review program for the New England Society for Healthcare Communications.

It was an eye-opening experience, that’s for sure.

Much like the WHPRMS Communications Review Program (more on this later in the article), we rated submissions on strategic planning, objectives, creative execution and results. The categories were weighted, with results being given the most weight.

That makes sense, right?

So how do you measure your work and prove your results? Sometimes we’re all so busy or understaffed that measuring the success of our work seems like an afterthought.

It’s critically important we measure our work because its validation for what we do – and it gives us opportunity for advancement in our careers. I know this from personal experience. I’ve advanced throughout my career based on my ability to demonstrate and deliver results, whether they came while working in a large hospital marketing department, or as a sole communicator at a nonprofit mental health/substance use disorder agency.

Two years ago, I developed an employee magazine designed to improve morale issues. Staff recognition efforts were nearly non-existent at the time. Before I plunged into producing the piece, I analyzed the makeup of our workforce demographics and took the temperature of the organization by measuring staff perceptions of leadership values and caring, work environment, communication and information sharing, and their ability to share ideas and give feedback. I also gave leadership and employees an opportunity to participate in the magazine and developed content they would find motivational and appealing. After the publication was distributed, I had anecdotal evidence that both staff and leadership loved it. That was great and I could have stopped there, but we have a large workforce of nearly 500 people, so I followed up with surveys. The survey revealed significant changing staff perceptions in the areas noted above. The magazine exists to this day. It’s not only used as an employee recognition tool, but it’s used in our recruitment efforts as well.

Interestingly enough, I told my boss before the start of the project that my “side goal” was to win an award for the publication. I followed up later by submitting it to the WHPRMS Communications Review program. I have to say he was truly excited when he learned I received the 2016 WHPRMS Carol Mehlberg Award, WHPRMS’ highest honor. He was downright impressed when he read the feedback provided by two judges, both who gave me perfect scores.

“The level of thought in your target audience and measures of success were extraordinary. I’ve evaluated and even managed internal communications for over 20 years and this is the best I’ve seen. I really like the level of thought you put into the results/outcomes. Often with internal employee communications we do not stop to measure the impact and solicit feedback, yet our employees are our #1 asset. Great work!”

These are some powerful and inspiring words! It’s all about results and outcomes, right?

For three years, I had been steadily working toward a promotion. This was all validated when my boss read not only the employee survey results, but the judges’ scores and their comments. It opened the door for me to talk about my other accomplishments and results, and led to my eventual promotion.

Just as important, he began introducing me as “our award-winning writer.” He really made a big deal of it.

To this day, the WHPRMS Communications Review program helps keep me focused on the importance of strategic planning, research and results. I’m grateful to have received the recognition.

Truth is, our leaders expect results and our staff deserves them. After all, they are accountable in their work, and we should be too. In fact, we should always be talking about success – as measured by results and ROI – on the front endof everything we do. This helps us determine what works and what doesn’t. Success doesn’t happen without strategy. It also helps us form our future priorities, as I touched on in my first blog.

Back to the Lamplighter Awards.

I was amazed at the submissions. There is a lot of creative and unique work being done in healthcare marketing and communications today. Some submissions were so engrossing and thought provoking that I found myself spending an inordinate amount of time reading them on an unseasonably warm weekend in March.

  • I read a wonderfully written media relations submission about a hospital out east that caught the attention of the Boston Globe, USA Today and other notable media outlets for their working rooftop farm. The communications team at this hospital worked local, regional and national media outlets for seven months between April and October. The uniqueness of the story was an easy media pitch in April. However, to keep media interested throughout the growing season, they did things like invite kids to learn about the farm. Kids? That will draw media attention! By the end of the growing season, they had great visuals…more opportunity for media. I felt the team leveraged the story to gain maximum coverage to the “nth” degree. Most importantly, they demonstrated results with press clippings, stats on social media likes and shares, and broadcast media coverage. It was well thought out and well documented.
  • I also read a submission about a great internal employee communication plan involving a name and brand change of a large health system with multiple entities. The team produced a visually appealing and easily understandable brand book for employees, designed to teach staff about the new branding efforts so they could confidently speak to the messaging of the organization. The submission included consumer brand awareness surveys prior to the campaign launch and after the campaign.
    I’ll admit, there were some submissions that were vague with poorly explained results:

“The results of our internal communications initiative were largely positive. Hospital administrators and staff felt the recognition pinsand CEO letter were motivational.”

To me, the idea itself felt ill conceived, but that is beside the point. The submission contained little background information. More importantly, there was no front-end measurement tool demonstrating need and no evidence of back-end measurement to determine the success of the internal communications initiative.

Carpenters always say, “Measure twice, cut once” to avoid wasting time and material. Maybe we should say, “Measure early, and measure often” so we don’t waste time, money and resources producing ineffective marketing and communication materials.

Serving as a judge in the Lamplighter Awards competition was a rewarding experience. I encourage you to volunteer your time toward these review programs because it gives you exposure to what others are doing in the field. You can see how other healthcare organizations strategize and measure success, and then compare it to your work. You will also see how submissions are written.

Plus, it’s a great low-cost learning opportunity…so you can save your conference dollars for WHPRMS and our Communications Review program.

Speaking of conferences, the Mother of All Conferences is set for Sept. 19-21 at Wilderness Resort/Glacier Canyon Lodge in Wisconsin Dells. WHPRMS is teaming up with our colleagues in Minnesota and Illinois to host a first-ever tri-state conference!

So, have you thought about your WHPRMS 2018 Communications Review submission? Have you measured your success in the last year? Do you have a project that you worked on that demonstrates strategic planning, well thought out objectives, cool creative, and strong results? If so, it’s never too early to begin writing your submission. If you are currently working on a project that will wrap up in June, you may just be able to sneak it in before WHPRMS’ Friday, June 29 deadline!

Click here for more information and to view an informative webinar about the Communications Review program.

Good luck and let me know if you have any thoughts about this month’s blog!

Mike Wiltse

Mike Wiltse is associate director of communications for Journey Mental Health Center in Madison. He can be reached michael.wiltse@journeymhc.