🏥 Internal Communications Introductions: Meet Elisabeth Wang
Executive Director of Brand Building and Communications for Piedmont Healthcare
I enjoyed talking with Elisabeth Wang to learn about her career path. In particular, during these uncertain times, it was a powerful reminder of resilience. I was inspired by this tweet which showcases the behind the scenes work that she has led with her team. This is her internal communications story.
About Elisabeth Wang
Based on feedback from my kindergarten teacher to my parents, I’ve been in communications for a very long time – but professionally since 2001. Currently, I’m the executive director of Brand Building and Communications for Piedmont Healthcare, Georgia’s largest healthcare provider with eleven hospitals, 2,600 clinically integrated physicians and 24,000 employees. At Piedmont, I have the privilege of leading a team of 16 smart and creative writers. My free time is spent reading, cooking and occasionally blogging about one or the other. Follow me on Twitter @elisabeth_wang.
What sparked your professional path into Internal Communications?
Internal communications found me, rather than me finding it. I started my career as a teacher and worked in PR and sales before entering the industry. I had unique experience with physician communications that led me to Piedmont Healthcare when they were looking for someone to fill a new role for physician communications.
They were in the early stages of creating processes and approaches that would not only serve a single hospital, but an entire hospital system. I was hired to solve that challenge for medical staff communication. My passion grew, and I saw the kind of impact I could have in my role. I saw how my stakeholders responded when I did my job well, in particular, when they were in the know and had information they needed or wanted.
Looking back, I can remember early into my role at Piedmont when I did my first benchmark survey six months after implementing a few new tools. I was excited for the positive results. I could see my stakeholders respond and their excitement. I saw that I could make a difference. I was able to take a message and translate it into something that could be understood by others and design how it was delivered.
At that moment, I realized when your skillset meets your passion, that's when you find purpose. For me, that's what my opportunity has been in internal communications.
How has your role evolved?
My role has grown since then. Next, I went to work on employee communications as we moved to electronic medical records and made a major system switch. I led a major project to transform how we did our work. I was tasked with communicating to all employees and physicians that their roles would change. I learned to lead a change management project on hardly any budget that made a truly significant impact on Piedmont. It was an exciting project to work on and it opened the door for me to lead all of internal communications. My role has expanded and evolved a few times since then.
My career is similar to an hourglass. It started with a wide breadth of PR, Communications and Sales, then it narrowed into internal communications for a specific stakeholder and now has expanded back out to internal communications, external communications and employer brand marketing. It's been a fun and exciting path so far!
How do you describe your role to others?
We are the glue of the organization. It’s about taking information and then turning it into something that someone can digest, managing when it's delivered and incorporating the feedback to make it even stronger. It’s about helping your organization achieve its goals. It’s also about translating executive business priorities into what it means for employees. Often, it starts with data, metrics and scorecards. We take those raw materials and create something that's manageable that any employee can embrace.
We are the ones that connect IT to HR to Leadership to Nursing and across the organization. An example of that is the following: our IT security came to me with a problem with phishing emails. We had to figure out how to educate our entire workforce. Our Quality Team had previously developed a safety language of key principles. Our staff had memorized these principles to impact how they talk about their work, but I was able to make the connection for how they also applied to our IT security goals. For example, one of the safety tools STAR (stop, think, act and review) applied to careful clinical decision making and not falling for a suspicious email
We were able to connect different units throughout the organization and help them talk to each other and achieve their goals while making an important impact. Internal communications is a fantastic opportunity with so much purview into various parts of an organization.
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished?
While we are still going through it, I would say it’s how we have responded to COVID. This crisis has tested every organization, but it has tested healthcare, in particular. I have never been more proud of our team and watching us lead through COVID. Our executive leaders have specifically acknowledged how important the communicators have been.
When the CDC was updating their guidelines on a regular basis, we were making sure our frontline team was informed with the information they needed. At the same, we were collecting stories and keeping staff engaged and encouraged. We're not clinical and we aren't truly patient facing, but we were with our clinical team members, leaning into an unprecedented situation and working to support them.
We were able to do this because we already had the tools in place like a robust intranet, a hardwired suite of email newsletters, and a team that was organized to support each part of the larger organization. We also had a thorough written crisis plan. We knew what to do, and we didn't have to stop and create processes in order to keep going.
Three of us rotated to provide our systemwide command center with 24/7 support and in addition, each individual hospital also had their own communications lead in their command center. As a team, we produced more than 300 emails and 450 pieces of intranet content in a three-month period. This speaks to the quantity of unique messages needed to go out.
While we are still very much in the trenches of our third surge, we’ve learned so much about COVID and have new and promising treatments including vaccines. This is a huge ray of hope.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Internal Communications?
You must be a good writer, communicator and translator of information - those are the table stakes. In addition, you have to be able to manage relationships. There's nothing that has been more helpful to me in my career than having had good relationships. This allows you the opportunity to help others, and ultimately show how we can serve our organizations.
How do you continue learning about the field of Internal Communications?
I’ve been involved in two professional organizations - PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) and IABC (International Association of Business Communicators). I also stay connected with the enormous network of internal communicators across the globe. I am active in social media conversations on Twitter and LinkedIn where you can learn from each other.
I also try to seek out relationships with others in industries different than mine where I can gain new perspectives. One of my close friends leads internal communications in Portland for the Port Authority. It's amazing what I can learn from her.
Networking with others in my field and being willing to ask questions has helped me significantly. I can put out a call to ask if any of my connections have had this experience and could they share perspective, and they reply with guidance. I find those conversations really valuable. There's a lot of smart people doing internal communications, and I’m grateful to be able to interact with them often.