John Twombly is the Internal Communication Manager at St. Louis Children's Hospital. John has worked at the hospital for over 20 years, overseeing all internal communications to 3500 employees daily.

 
Chuck Gose: Here’s a fun fact John. While creeping on your LinkedIn profile, I learned that we share 338 connections.

John Twombly: Yes, and surely quite a few from the UK, right?

CG: That whole Independence thing worked only somewhat I guess.

JT: Right on. By the way, nice Chuck Chat with Steve Crescenzo awhile back.

CG: It was tough getting Steve to come out of his shell but I did my best.

JT: His snaggletooth video is hilarious, and I like his advice about doing less and doing it better.

CG: We’ve talked enough about Steve. I want to get back to these common LinkedIn connections. I don’t think internal communicators take advantage of LinkedIn enough. What have you gained from it?

JT: Connecting with internal communicators resulted in a more informative feed. A couple years ago, for example, several people said good things in a LinkedIn group about a cloud-based HTML email platform. We eventually adopted the platform at our hospital in order to go mobile for our 3,500 employees. Later, the rest of the communication/marketing teams in our system, BJC HealthCare (30,000 employees), adopted the tool.

CG: That’s a great point you make about connections improving the feed. Unfortunately, this is part of what so many internal communicators miss by not being active on LinkedIn. There’s a lot of great info being shared, yet people tend to hung up on things like endorsements and answering requests.

JT: Agreed. I believe LinkedIn is where I learned about your podcast, ICology. One of your 2015 podcasts mentioned the PRSA Connect Conference, so I attended last year. I learned about an internal social network that we’re now hoping to roll out soon, and the bonus is that it’s free for nonprofits like us. The win-win is once again we’ll pilot the tool at the hospital for a possible rollout for the entire system.

It’s fitting that this advancement for us ties back to your podcast, Chuck. You often talk about how employees should have access to communication tools comparable with those available externally.

CG: Tell me a little bit about where you work.

JT: I feel fortunate to work at a place where people do so much for patients and families. St. Louis Children’s Hospital is the oldest children’s hospital west of the Mississippi River. When it was founded in 1879, half of children in urban St. Louis died before age 5.

"The mission, once 23 words, is now five words: 'Doing what’s right for kids.' This simpler and more memorable mission sharpened our focus."

CG: And if I’m not mistaken, you joined a few years after that, right?

JT: Good one, Chuck, the years are racing by!

I’ve traditionally been a utility player, doing some employee communication but always having other responsibilities. My job changed in 2015 to a complete focus on internal communication. It was the right thing to do for our employees. What our initial annual plan called for has been achieved. That includes mobility, multimedia and much more employee voice.

CG: And does your data reflect that too?

JT: Yes! We now have results based on analytics, surveys and just plain listening.

Our click-through rate is way up since the early months because we’ve seen what registers and what’s ignored, and adjusted accordingly. We’re now near the top percentile in the click-through rate benchmark for about 700 organizations worldwide using the same platform.

We’ve gotten more selective about what we communicate because people are busy and only have so much bandwidth. And we know employees love reading each other’s comments.

CG: If my math serves me, you’re coming up on 22 years of being at the hospital. That is truly remarkable.

JT: Thank you, Chuck. One big change that had an impact not just on communications but organizational performance at St. Louis Children's happened in the late 1990s. After some challenges in the early years -- a merger and then reengineering, for example -- our leadership revisited our mission. A lot of people back then were concerned about retaining our unique identity after the merger. Long story short, the mission, once 23 words, is now five words: “Doing what’s right for kids.”

This simpler and more memorable mission sharpened our focus. Leaders could better connect for people why we’re doing what we’re doing to that mission. And it led to a better understanding among employees that we’re doing all the right things for all the right reasons.

"Our IC survey last year showed email is king for both routine and urgent information. Email helps ensure people from all shifts have access to the same information, 24/7."

CG: Let’s jump back to the mission statement. As a communicator, this had to be an amazing thing. Being able to tie back everything your organization does to five words - but five truly powerful words.

JT: Absolutely, and actions speak louder than words. Our employees love it when they see the cool ways we’re advancing our mission. Recently we staged a teen prom for patients stuck in the hospital who could not make their high school prom. We also opened our Purina Family Pet Center. It’s an area where long-term patients can meet with their pet dog or cat from home.

Outside of our hospital, we provide preventive care outreach to medically underserved kids at schools and agencies. By helping kids early on, they have a better chance of attending school regularly and being more successful in life.

CG: I know that communicating with healthcare workers is challenging. What are some of the key channels you use in internal communications at the hospital.

JT: About two-thirds of our staff don’t work at a desk. That’s why mobility is so important. Our IC survey last year showed email is king for both routine and urgent information. Email helps ensure people from all shifts have access to the same information, 24/7.

Our HTML email platform has brought about more transparency. Every communication has comments enabled, without any screening before they post. That way we see right away what employees think and what questions they may have. Digital signs and computer screensavers help because our people are on the go and don’t have to sign in to see the message. People throughout our entire health care system use an intranet for tasks like travel reimbursement as well as time and attendance tracking. With face-to-face communication, we like to share video “Mission Moments” to kick off our monthly all-manager meetings.

CG: Explain these video “mission moments” a bit more.

JT: A mission moment can be a clip from TV news coverage, an internally produced video or even just a simple thank you with a picture from a family. They’re just inspiring stories, reminders for people of why we’re here and how we’re making a difference

CG: Do you find yourself producing more video? Or different kinds of video?

JT: Yes, both more and different kinds, for a few reasons. One, it’s way easier to embed video now compared to a few years ago. Two, for quick videos I just use my phone and editing software. For higher end needs, I use an external resource.

CG: What’s a big project that you and the communications team are tackling in 2017 and/or 2018?

JT: We’ve had lean/continuous improvement for years, but now we’ve expanded the effort across the entire hospital. That means every area huddles around a board each day for better planning and teamwork.

So, we now have a communications, education and engagement team focusing on this major change. One important tactic is creating short videos showing the “inner genius” of our staff and their teamwork in improving their workflow.

We also did a survey last fall in the infancy of this effort to measure things like awareness, understanding and commitment. Those survey results will serve as a baseline for subsequent surveys to see if we’re making progress. The source for many of our questions was “Internal Communications: A Manual for Practitioners” from Liam Fitzpatrick and Klavs Valskov.

CG: There’s a new study out that shows the vast majority of employees do not know who the executives are, like the CEO, CMO, etc. A hospital is different from most businesses (and that’s a good thing) but there is still very much a business and administrative aspect to it. Do you have these same challenges of employees not knowing who the leaders are?

"Only 55 percent of employees at larger organizations feel like they fully understand their company’s mission statement."

JT: Leadership visibility is important, so we instituted video highlights from employee forums as well as periodic podcast interviews with leaders. Our leaders also visit departments throughout the hospital regularly because we do a ton of employee recognition.

One more interesting number from that survey that represents an improvement opportunity for many organizations. The survey found only 55 percent of employees at larger organizations feel like they fully understand their company’s mission statement.

CG: As I shared earlier, you’re speaking at PRSA Connect 17 in Denver. What is it that you enjoy about speaking at communication events?

JT: I like that we’re all there to help each other. I feel a kinship with other internal communicators, particularly those who, like me, are the sole internal communication person on a team or in an organization. People in that kind of role need to be highly skilled and versatile while making sure communication advances organization goals and business needs.

CG: We’re going to wrap up this Chuck Chats the way we’ve done all of them. Describe your thoughts on internal communications in emoji form.

JT: Thanks, Chuck, it’s been good talking with you, and I appreciate all you do to advance our profession. cryingemoji This emoji relates to what I consider the highest compliment over the years. That’s when people say a story had so much impact, it made them cry.