Jen Hall is the Internal Communication Manager at Novant Health and communicates to a decentralized employee population of 26,000 every day. Novant Health is a an integrated system of physician practices, hospitals, outpatient centers, and more -– each element committed to delivering a remarkable healthcare experience.

Chuck Gose: How excited are you to be a guest on Chuck Chats?

Jen Hall: Super excited! I tried not to read too many of them so my answers weren’t influenced by your great work so far!

CG: Enough of the flattery. I have done a bit of research on you.

One of the things I liked hearing was that you are a data enthusiast. Some might say “data nerd” but I prefer enthusiast.

JH: Ha. Thanks yes. Having real data in internal communication has been a game-changer for us.

CG: What do you mean by “real” data? Is this like “fake news” and “real news?”

JH: Well, kinda!

In the past, internal comms vehicles were measured by perception and how people “felt” about them. So if you had an executive who never read your stuff or “heard once” that something wasn’t great, that was “the data,” which may or may not be true -- and certainly shouldn’t be representative of a 25,000+ workforce.

Now we can actually see how the workforce is behaving.

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You bring up a great point. I think often what people say and what they do are not in alignment, especially with employees. Have you seen that at Novant Health?

JH: We are frequently working with people who aren’t representative of the majority of our team member population. For example, 75% of our clinical team members aren’t tied to a computer. So talking to the one executive who lives at his desk or on their phone doesn’t necessarily reflect the behavior of our base.

"We try to ask ourselves, “Would I still be reading at this point?,” when we review the newsletters."

CG: “Tied to a computer…” I’ve heard that and even said it a bajillion times. But I’ve just now realized how sad of a statement that is.

JH: For internal comms, it’s actually a blessing. We know how to reach people on computers. But we need to know how to reach those who only check their email a few times a week.

What do they read if they only skim one email, one time a week? That’s the data we need--not the high-level anecdote from the C-suite. (That has value in different situations -- not trying to say we don’t need their input.)

CG: So let’s dig a bit deeper into data. Are there any particular data points that have been eye-opening for you and your team?

JH: For sure! We’ve learned that our leaders consistently read BOTH of our newsletters. (We have one for just leaders and one for all team members, which they also receive.)

For team members, we learned that they read “the fluff.” We used to cut out the fun stuff like team member spotlights or wellness tips when our newsletters got too long, but we’ve learned that they seek out that stuff no matter what, and trimming it only makes them less happy with our overall product.

CG: Usually it’s HR, Legal, and IT who take the fun out of stuff, so it’s great that you have the data that tells you exactly what employees are reading and prefer reading.

JH: Haha. Well we try to ask ourselves “Would I still be reading at this point?,” when we review the newsletters.

We usually have 20+ articles submitted per newsletter. We try to get it down to 10-13, but end up with around 15. They’re crazy long… But everything is “a priority”.

It’s hard to cut things that impact day-to-day work, and the HR, and IT stuff, AND deliver the stuff they WANT to read.

We’ve also gotten lucky with good headlines, too, that drive employees to the content.

CG: Let’s talk about headlines. In the external marketing world, this is gold. But in internal, we tend to be kind of boring. What’s your creative approach to headline writing?

"[Emojis] really make our publications stand out in Outlook among the hundreds of other emails. We also carry them through to our intranet."

Through our diversity team, we learned that a large part of our workforce are millenials. So we’ve been able to leverage that and work on fun things that our team would want to see (we’re also all mid-20s to mid-30s). This is as simple as adding emojis to our subject lines and changing subject lines from “Catering policy update” to “Where the cookies went”.


CG: I wrote a post on LinkedIn about companies using emojis in internal communication. So I take it you’re a fan?

JH: Absolutely!

We have issues with many of the emoji database sites being blocked, and some of them go bonkers when opened in certain browsers… but we love them. They really make our publications stand out in Outlook among the hundreds of other emails. We also carry them through to our intranet.

CG: We’ve talked about email success, but how do you measure success on your intranet?

JH: Our intranet is sharepoint-based, so we can run basic reports. We also have the ability to like, comment, and share articles. We can tell how many times an article was read, and we’ve tracked this data over three years for comparison.

Now we are trying to buy a third-party tool to see things like “did someone stay on page for more than 120 seconds,” but haven’t found that yet. :(

CG: And are you using the email newsletters to drive traffic and attention to your intranet?

JH: Yes, but traffic is about 50/50. Our newsletters have short articles that link to the intranet, but about half of our intranet traffic originates from within our intranet. We use large hero images and abstracts to draw attention.

CG: So other than email newsletters and intranets, what other channels or tactics do you use to inform and engage employees?

JH: We just launched a digital signage pilot at one of our facilities, and we have a small presence on Facebook with our Novant Health Team Connect Facebook page. We also do things like live web chats when appropriate. We’re investigating apps for the near future.

CG: Is the Facebook page public or private?

JH: Public; about 10% of our workforce is on it.

CG: Was there any internal resistance to using Facebook? Or is the type of content shared there pretty benign?

JH: We originally started with a Twitter account (which never really took off) so it was obvious to team members that we were trying to push content, not engage with them.

Our issues in healthcare (which likely apply to many hourly employers) involve any perception that team members are expected to engage with their workforce during off-hours, in which they might be entitled to compensation. It took a lot of work to get the right atmosphere and messaging to make it obvious that it was optional (and Twitter had to fail) before we could launch Facebook. 

CG: I’ve heard people use the “hourly employee” thing as an excuse for not leveraging external channels for internal communication so kudos to you for developing the right communication strategy. Labeling it optional is the way to go.

JH: Thanks! We created the account in response to team member requests (we hold focus groups regularly and have an active comms council), so we had good data suggesting we were headed the right way.

So yeah, back to data nerd. :)

CG: I love it. Who’s on the comms council? Can you share other details about how you use them as a resource?

JH: We’re super proud of it and might actually do some presentations about it this year. It’s volunteer-based and has more than 400 team members from all of our markets and service lines.

We ask them for feedback on things we are working on (like the look of our new intranet home page that just launched, if they think digital signage would improve communication, or where they would like the screens to be displayed) and also have them test things with us. We are actually testing a live web streaming tool with them this afternoon.

CG: Employees who work during non-traditional business hours sometimes feel neglected. They don’t see the leaders around or get things second hand. How have you addressed this at Novant Health?

"Customer service is impacted based on how our workforce is experiencing their work environment. And part of our job is to understand and improve that environment."

We’re fortunate in that our leaders make a huge, successful effort to help bridge this gap. They schedule meetings and forums to ensure this group is included.

We are always investigating new tools (like Facebook, digital signage, the app) to find more ways to “meet them where they are.”

Also, for us, it’s clear from our data (!) that they actually have more time to check email and stay up to date with other communications than those who work during day shifts. For us specifically, we make an effort to schedule focus groups during later shifts as well. It’s a constant struggle and something we haven’t perfected, but it is something to work toward!

CG: And it will never be “perfect,” but as long as you keep making necessary improvements, employees will notice.

On its face (pun intended), face-to-face is so valuable, but I see companies drop the ball and waste everyone’s time. How are these forums run and what type of interactivity do employees get to have with leaders?

JH: Usually market leaders have an agenda where they cover things like system growth, financials, safety, etc. and then they leave time for Q&A at the end. They hold multiple sessions so team members can attend on multiple shifts. Team members have full access to their leaders.

Our CEO also has open forums twice a year. The location changes, so in-person varies, but he always does a live webcast, where you can type in a question which our team reads to him over the live feed. So even our CEO will take any team member’s questions.

CG: You mentioned there are 25,000 employees who are part of the system. But talk to me about the geographic layout and the culture.

JH: We are primarily in North Carolina and Northern Virginia. We are an integrated healthcare system with a commitment to delivering the remarkable patient experience. We have a big focus on treating the person and seeing them as more than just a patient. They’re unlike anything I’ve ever seen for healthcare. Truly:





CG: And I would imagine this approach has also had a profound impact on employees and their relationship to the organization.

JH: For sure. Our leadership is constantly engaged in ensuring team members have a positive experience as well, as they truly believe that we can’t deliver remarkable care unless our team members are having a remarkable work experience.

CG: This goes to something I present on which is that it’s the employee experience that drives the customer experience. Or in your case, patient experience.

JH: Exactly! We have a physician leader who drives “the human experience” at Novant Health and also works to avoid physician burnout -- it’s all tied so closely to what you’re talking about.

Customer service is impacted based on how our workforce is experiencing their work environment. And part of our job is to understand and improve that environment.

CG: Novant Health went through a rebrand recently. What sort of impact has this had on the communications team and is it still evolving?

JH: It was pretty epic.

CG: You don’t hear that word used very often with rebrands.

JH: Here are some slides that show you the before and after -- that might help you understand the epic-ness! :)

We had dozens -- maybe even hundreds of independent names and logos. All working semi-independently, semi-together. People would get their pay checks from Novant who? But work for Presbyterian what? It was baffling.


CG: And now?


JH: The team was able to coordinate a massive brand rollout that included signage, t-shirts, “party in a box” giveaways for our clinics, etc. that were all revealed on the same day. The goal was “to turn our system aubergine” (our color of eggplant).

Now, the system feels more aligned and like ONE healthcare system working together. You recognize the color and the logo and things are consistent.

CG: I’m allergic to eggplant, but thankfully only the vegetable, not the color.

JH: Ha! Well just call it “purple” in your notes. :) But our staff has been brainwashed to say “aubergine.”

CG: But a rebrand goes way beyond colors and logos. What was the larger message or messages tied to the internal campaign?

JH: Well, the big idea was to be and act as one system. The way it impacted our team was that how we operated as a company changed that day.

All of the separate mini brands had to STOP and start acting as one BIG BRAND. So all the little things they used to do like hospital newsletters were cancelled -- they needed to start sending content to us for us to filter and work toward a system newsletter. (Not literally that day, but that was the long-term goal.)

CG: You have a lot of segmented audiences based on profession in your system. In your opinion, which is the trickiest or most challenging to communicate with?

JH: Without a doubt, it’s our nursing team. They work three 12-hour shifts and rarely get to check their email. So we don’t get to reach them five days a week -- and when or if they check their email, who knows how buried our newsletters are!

We’ve made huge strides reducing the amount of mass emails that go out, but they still need to take time to find the ones we send.

CG: Given that you’re an emoji fan, this last question should be easy for you. Describe internal communications or your view of internal communication in an emoji.

JH: Iphone-Emoji-Arm We are small, but mighty.

CG: I like it.

JH: Have you had that one before?

CG: Nope. Most people choose alcohol.

JH: Hahaha….