Get Reworked Podcast: How to Get Employee Communications Buzzing
There's no single recipe when it comes to internal communications. But one thing that's consistent is the importance of employee feedback.
In this episode of Get Reworked, we talk to Judy Whitcomb, senior vice president of organizational strategy and effectiveness at Vi, a Chicago-based operator of luxury senior living communities across the US. Throughout her career, she's worked in HR, learning and development, marketing and communications. The pandemic and its aftermath put all that experience to the test.
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"One thing we learned early on was that we had to be thoughtful and we had to be intentional about our communication strategy," Judy said. "And we couldn't share information with residents without sharing things with our employees at the same time, so we understood the necessity of communicating concurrently about what was going on."
Highlights of the conversation include:
- How Vi adapted employee communications to the challenges of the last two-plus years.
- The keys to effective internal communications, whether it's in a crisis or normal times.
- The role of HR in employee communications.
- How to ensure that all voices are heard as part of an employee listening program.
- Why the company decided to rollout ViHive, its new internal communications app.
Plus, co-hosts Siobhan Fagan and Mike Prokopeak talk with Judy about learning management systems, how useful it is for HR to think like marketing and whether it's better to be an HR generalist or specialist. Listen in for more.
Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].
Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.
Mike Prokopeak: Hey Siobhan!
Siobhan Fagan: Hello, Mike.
Mike: How are you doing today?
Siobhan: You know, it's a beautiful day, it feels like spring. It's Cinco de Mayo. Life is good.
Mike: Life is good. You know, and I'm kind of eager to bring in our guest today. Because I think in the idea of employee communications, they're really doing some interesting work. We hear communications come up so often in the digital workplace in areas of employee engagement as we're talking more about new approaches to work remote and hybrid strategies, and communications has got to be a pivotal element of that.
But we don't often hear directly from the people who are kind of right there with employees. We'll hear from consultants or we'll hear the generalities from people — you just you need to do more communications — but we don't actually get a chance to dig into it too much. So that's why I'm eager to bring in our guest today.
I'd like to introduce Judy Whitcomb. She is the former chief human resources and learning officer for Vi. She's now transitioning out of that role — and we'll get into that a little bit with her — into more of an organizational effectiveness and strategy role.
Vi, if you don't know the company, is a Chicago-based operator of 10 senior living communities across the US. They provide 5-star resort-style amenities to the residents of those communities, that includes restaurants run by award-winning chefs, but they also offer in addition to independent living for seniors, assisted living. So they've got kind of wide range of employee population, so hospitality workers, but also executives and managers, but also folks who are on the frontlines and working in nursing and healthcare as well.
Judy herself has a wealth of experience in HR roles at Vi, as well as in the past. She's worked for companies like United Airlines, she's been a chief learning officer, a CHRO, as we just mentioned, and is now kind of more in this advisory role.
While she's been at Vi, her company has been officially recognized as a Great Place to Work from the Great Place to Work Institute, a top 5 aging services organization by Fortune magazine, and was recognized by Chief Learning Officer magazine as a Learning Elite organization, which is how I know Judy, from my prior life as editor over at Chief Learning Officer magazine.
We're going to be talking to her about the launch of ViHive, which is a new employee communications app that they've launched with over 3,000 staff members of the company, and some of the lessons they learned. So, are you ready Siobhan?
Siobhan: I am.
Mike: All right, let's Get Reworked.
How Vi Reacted in the Early Days of the Pandemic
Mike: Welcome to podcast, Judy.
Judy Whitcomb: Thank you and happy Cinco de Mayo.
Mike: That's right. Happy Cinco de Mayo.
All right, let's dive right in. I want to talk to you about the pandemic. I want to go back in history a couple of years, because the rollout of the ViHive, this employee communications app, comes out of the experience of the last couple years. And I want to go back to just over two years ago when this uncertainty was happening in the world. This was a big thing for Vi because of the population that you're working with, the pandemic had the potential to ravage the population there because of the many senior folks who'd be susceptible to illnesses.
So what did you do in those early days of the pandemic to communicate with your company about your plans? I mean, what were you doing at that point to just try to get out in front of all that's happening?
Judy: There was no playbook related to communications during the pandemic. During my career, I can think of a lot of different crises. You know, I was at United Airlines on 9/11, and I think about communications at United on 9/11. Then we had the financial crisis around 2007, and there was a big upheaval in the financial services market, and employees were losing their jobs. People were losing their homes. But what was different about this was the length of time, and the lack of uncertainty in an environment that we just didn't have answers all the time. So I would say that that is probably the most unique. And then, on top of that, just the sustainability of trying to manage our senior living communities, keeping our employees safe, keeping our residents safe, and trying to provide as much accurate information as possible.
So I'd say that that was what was unique, and it has spanned over a couple of years, and there's a lot of things that happened over those couple years. You know, I think 2020 was really kind of a perfect storm. There was a pandemic, then there was the racial injustice. We were dealing with a lot of different things.
And you mentioned earlier, you know, we're a senior living company. We're a people company and our people are what differentiates us. Our employees are what differentiates us, and because of our hospitality culture we have done a lot of our communications face-to-face, right?
We use stand-up meetings, all-employee meetings, quarterly meetings, everything's face-to-face, and so with a pandemic, you know, all of a sudden, you're social distancing. You can't gather people in the room. You have to all of a sudden hold people out of service for quarantine. There were shortages, if you recall, of PPEs. There were fears in the marketplace about job stability, if you recall, a lot of the hospitality chains laid off people because of the sudden decline in travel. So there was just a lot of things going on.
And so we were aware, our CEO had pulled us together back in January of 2020, to have a call with our executive team to talk about, at the time it was the Coronavirus, right, we really didn't know how that would impact us. But we were already in January starting to think about the implications, and again, everything was changing from month to month. So you know, that's what was different, a lot of things going on at once, a lot of uncertainty, and then that long period of time. And by the way, we're continuing to cope with which direction to go with a lot of different policies and practices.
How Vi Communicated With Frontline Workers During the Pandemic
Mike: Yeah, I'd love to hear, Judy, because you had people who were on the frontlines of this in the early days. They could not stay home and remote work. Executives, and perhaps folks who were office-based workers, they could. But you had people actually giving critical care to people. They couldn't stay home, they couldn't be remote.
So what did you do to communicate to them information because your company sort of became like an information venue for both your employees as well as the customers, the residents who were there, because, as you said, nobody really had a full grasp of what was going on. So what were some of the things you did to help the frontline employees there?
Judy: Well, one thing we learned early on was that we had to be thoughtful, and we had to be intentional about our communication strategy. And we couldn't share information with residents without sharing things with our employees at the same time, right, so we understood the necessity of communicating concurrently about what was going on what to expect.
And then beyond that, what we didn't know, you know, there was a lot of things we didn't know. But sometimes, we don't know something just to say that, was really important. So one of the things we focused on early on was ensuring that we had concurrent communications going out to our residents and employees at the same time. The worst thing we could have possibly done was share something with our residents or their family members, and then having one of our employees hear from one of our residents.
As you can imagine, that required a lot of coordination with the corporate office, with our field locations, and we spend a lot of time and a lot of deliberation on the best ways of communicating. We felt it was really important to start with leaders first because in our communities when employees have questions, they don't necessarily go to the HR department. They don't necessarily call the corporate office. They go to their managers.
And so our focus was always ensuring that our managers and leaders knew what was going on, what we knew, what we didn't know, and what people could expect from us. So those were key priorities. I'd say the other priority for us was repetition.
Because we could expect, you know, running a 24/7 operation somebody might be off. Somebody might miss a communication. And so repetition was really important, and we developed some new communication strategies. We leverage some unconventional tools we've never used before. But with our residents and with our employees, repetition was really important in ensuring our leaders knew exactly what was going on.
How Often Communication Happened During a Crisis
Siobhan: So Judy, I want to follow up on what you just said, because I was curious if the cadence of communications had to be updated during this period. I imagined that it was, you know we were all getting a lot of different information sometimes conflicting information, you were also dealing with places that I imagine were in different states. So we're experiencing the pandemic at different speeds.
So did the cadence of communications have to change? And how quickly did you have to find these alternate means of communications?
Judy: Yeah, the cadence was daily. I mean, if you recall early on, there was so much different direction on who you should quarantine, in working in senior living healthcare. You're also dealing with different states, you're dealing with federal regulations, you have information from the health department, you had information from the CDC. And so the necessity to communicate daily was really important, sometimes multiple times a day.
So it wasn't uncommon that employees would get a communications locally, but then we'd send something out more broadly. So the frequency just accelerated, I would say I spent a good part of my role, and not just me, others on our leadership team, focusing on employee and resident communications.
We worked really closely with our operations partners to ensure that our communications were aligned and really partner with them to ensure our residents and employees had a consistent amount of information from us.
The Role of HR in Communications
Mike: I remember in those early days, I mean, I kind of blocked this out. But do you remember getting emails from everybody who you happen to be on their list saying, during these unprecedented times, we're here for you like, oh, I don't remember buying something from you from your site, like six years ago, but thanks for the message.
There was so much, there was so much noise that was happening. So you know, yeah, I don't envy that job that you had to do. The question I have for you is you were CHRO at that time, you were in an HR role. Yes, communications is part of the HR role but why did it become such a focus for you? Was it because of what you talked about, this is something that isn't necessarily about our customers or our residents, but it's about our internal population as well. Why was HR such a pivotal piece of it?
Judy: Well, I'd say we weren't just a pivotal piece, we were partners with our operations colleagues, right. And so I worked really closely with our head of operations, our head of marketing, our head of care. We had such a large team of individuals, it wasn't just my area, it was a lot of different areas within the company. And we had a very collaborative group really focused on consistency of our message, making sure we're communicating the right information, by the way, also getting feedback from our locations if things were unclear.
So it wasn't just one-way communications, it was two-way communications, our executive directors, and each of our locations, constantly provided us feedback. So did our HR directors, there were calls twice a day with our locations, to talk about things around quarantines, PPEs, making sure we had supplies, making sure people were given the time off that they needed. There were so many different areas that we constantly...so that's what necessitated the frequency, it wasn't that we had this large desire to send out emails and videos and have conference calls. It really was the ever changing direction and just so much unknown.
So that's what precipitated the need for frequent communications with our team members.
Siobhan: So Judy, you just talked about this being a two-way communication channel so that it wasn't just you handing over communications, but that you were receiving this feedback from the people who were working, as Mike said, on the frontlines.
And I was hoping that you could tease that out a little bit further, because I would love to hear more about how the employee feedback shaped your communications and how you actually received this feedback from employees?
Judy: So again, great question, one of the things that we did early on, and again, not every day now, but early on, we had calls at 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock every day, 10 am, 2 o'clock every day. And then any calls we need to do in between that, and we have those calls, but at 10 and 2 o'clock, our executive directors, our HR team members from the communities could call in and talk to a panel of diverse individuals representing our care area, HR, operations, facilities management, from the sanitation and cleaning side, we had a well represented group of experts on this panel, and there was no set agenda for this call.
We would cover topics but on that call, we would get questions, we get concerns. And that was really an opportunity to kind of think through things and talk through things in each particular location. And if you recall, you know when the pandemic hit, it moved west to east. And, you know, interestingly, at the same time, the pandemic was going on our partners in the hospitality industry, were laying off people, and I remember saying, you know what, here's an opportunity, we can start to leverage Some of those folks in the hospitality industry and provide temporary employment and we kept telling our folks on the East Coast or communities on the East Coast, please staff up, you can hire, you can over hire, because we know, we saw the pandemic move from the Washington, California area to the East Coast.
And so you're talking about that cadence those calls that two-way communications a couple of times a day, that's what facilitated the two-way communication. We were thinking and working in the moment, we were, you know, relying on experts, relying on the data that we received, and constantly adjusting, and then figuring out what's a consistent message we have to give everyone.
Siobhan: Judy, I'm listening to and I'm thinking about the specific circumstances that your people are operating in, and I'm thinking there's probably a third stakeholder for the communications, which is the families of the people who are staying in your locations.
So did that play a part in this feedback that you were receiving from employees? And did you have to incorporate that into your communication strategy?
Judy: Great question. So Vi operates life care communities, we have independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care, a good population of our residents are independent, living independently, but we have, of course, as Mike alluded to, we have individuals, residents in our communities that live in assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care. And to your point, it was equally important that we communicate with family members.
And so we had a strategy around that as well was incorporated in our overall communication strategy, not different information, but the same information. You could go to our website, and you could get frequent updates, what we were doing at specific locations, but we also had outreach at each location too, so if there was an outbreak, or there was a particular issue, it was different by state and different by location. And so we did do outreach to family members, we posted information on our website.
So it was frequent in two-way communications with family members as well. In some cases, residents had to quarantine and we had to provide information. So it just depended on the resident, if they're in independent living, we had the information available, but we had a different responsibility if somebody is in one of our care venues.
Mike: Judy, I'm thinking about this now and saying, okay, you went through this experience, your whole organization went through this experience, not just your internal employees, but your customers, your residents, their families. And in certain moments, it was just about, okay, let's live in this moment, and let's just figure out what we do.
But then that shifted over time, our window of thinking shifted out a little bit, and as you're thinking about this now, how do you hear the voices of people who are maybe silent, typically, within an organization, you know, maybe there's a language barrier? Maybe there's an employee population that doesn't necessarily give you feedback actively for whatever reason.
How do you ensure that now that we've kind of moved past this moment of crisis and communications crisis, to that you get those perspectives and those voices as part of your listening strategy?
Judy: That's important, regardless of a pandemic, I think it's heightened during times of crisis. We did provide during the pandemic, a number of venues for employees to reach out to us, you know, first of all on language barrier, we have always focused on creating communications for employees that speak English as a second language, we have a good part of our population of employees who speak Spanish as their first language, Tagalog and Creole. So it was really important, especially around safety, security, training, that we provided materials in multiple languages.
As it relates to getting feedback, we set up outreach, so employees in contact could report, we have a hotline report number for employees, so if they speak a second language they can talk with somebody that can speak Spanish, and they can address their issues or concerns. That's one way.
And then we conducted a number of pulse surveys during the pandemic, and those were specifically focused on do you feel safe? Do you feel like you've had the training, and you have the resources to do your job well? So those pulse surveys helped us gauge, and having them in different languages helped us gauge, how we were doing.
We also had to rely heavily on manager feedback. I think our employees have great relationships with their managers, a lot of our managers speak different languages, and so they're not afraid, or have never been afraid to express concerns that come up that our employees have, and so you know, there were multiple channels in which we could get communications.
It was apparent to us, we have a lot of employees that don't use computers at work. Mike, you talked about it earlier. We have a lot of team members that work at the corporate office who we're in the office is at our communities. But we also have a lot of employees at the community that don't use computers or use email, right, so how do we reach them? And that was kind of the impetus for us focusing on this communication app, we'd been talking about it for five or six years, it just accelerated after we got through the big wave of the pandemic, that need to be able to reach out to people quickly.
I mean, during the pandemic, we would use everything we create, we used to use a marketing tool called Constant Contact, I think you're all familiar with that. It's a marketing tool, right? We started creating concurrent communications to residents and employees and leverage that marketing tool to send out communications, you know, focusing on employee safety, security and really those basic needs.
We leverage video messages, I can't tell you how many videos we created from our head of resident care, our head of operations and our CEO, we pushed out videos, we used a tool that we primarily use for emergencies, called alert media, we use that tool to push out immediate messages. So we recognize language barriers as a challenge, we recognize technology as a challenge. And what we tried to do during the pandemic was use a variety of tools. And I'm going to punctuate this, ensure that the managers and leaders in each of the locations were fully aware of what was going on, and were able to give us feedback.
And the other area we focused on, we increased cadence around, was all leadership calls. This was an all hands on deck, we had these calls, once or twice a month, we held them less frequently as things moved along, but at the beginning, they were held frequently. And we focused on the pandemic we focused on staffing challenges, we focused on health and well-being.
We had guest speakers join us because we recognize people were getting tired and burned out. We wanted to make sure people have the resources they needed. So we leveraged every channel that we possibly could, and I'd still argue today, even with our communications app, we still need to do that, can't assume one message gets out to everybody.
Mike: All right, we want to get into ViHive for sure. But I want to ask you, before we do that, you talked about trying new ways of communicating, you talked about doing pulse surveys to make sure that you're hearing the voices of the folks who maybe weren't being heard from in the organization.
What did you look at to ensure that what you were doing was working? You know, what were the metrics that you were watching to understand, oh, you know what, we sent out this video from the CEO and that got picked up and we saw X amount of engagement with that, what what were some of the things that you were looking at to sort of move those communication dials up and down?
Judy: Yeah, well, first of all, Constant Contact was a great tool for us, because we could actually see how many employees actually opened and read, you know, what we sent out. So we knew that that wasn't going to reach everybody, that message would go out, and anywhere between 30% and sometimes 50% of the employees opened up and read that, right. So that was one way we were able to measure it.
The pulse surveys, I have to be honest with you, were one really good way to say how do people feel? You know, do they feel supported? They have the tools and resources, and then being able to read the comments, and not just the survey itself, but to read people's feedback, and say, are there areas we need to focus on? That was really valuable to us. Not just looking at the comments, but what was the participation level? Do we have a high level of participation in the survey?
So we've always conducted annual employee surveys, but these pulse surveys that were short, they were focused on three or four things, and the high participation rate gave us a really good gauge in how well we were doing.
I'd also say, in 2020, during the pandemic, as long as I worked at Vi, we had the lowest attrition rate at anytime I could possibly remember. So when you're talking about key statistics and key data, I think we ended 2020 with 15% attrition companywide, which is pretty remarkable in healthcare and hospitality. So we felt that that was a good gauge of how well we were doing.
Hopefully, those are some of the metrics that all organizations look at, their attrition rate, their employees actually take the survey. We just finished our annual employee survey and I'm proud, I think we were at 92% or 93% participation. So when you have such high participation, you know that you have pretty validated responses and a good gauge of how employees are feeling.
Siobhan: So Judy, I think you've set up a great argument for why you needed ViHive. But for our audience, I'm hoping that you can tell us a little bit about the actual application that you created and how it works.
Judy: Well, we've been talking about a communications app for probably five or six years. You know, we know employees use apps to do their banking, order food. If they go to Starbucks, they want their drink ready, they use apps. And we felt that this was a good way in which to reach a broader audience and have more engaging two-way communication.
So, back in 2021, we really made a concerted effort to identify an app provider. And then from there, it was really important that we customized it to meet our culture. So we just implemented ViHive in in March of this year, and we're excited about it. Because it's not just one-way communication, it's interactive, it's a way in which employee's voices can be heard, we can take polls and pulse surveys pretty quickly.
We also, what's great about ViHive is that it connects our communities with one another right? In the past, we'd have 10 communities, they operated as a community, but now we've connected them like a hive. And that's what we're excited about, it allows communities within communities to connect, collaborate, I'm going to say learn, have some fun, and then celebrate.
So we feel like it's a good place a good community, where people can come and be part of the Vi family.
Siobhan: So it sounds like it's not what people used to think of as communications, where it's this top-down layer, and you're just sending out broadcast messages, there is an interactive element to it. And people in different areas can actually send each other direct messages?
Judy: If someone has signed up for the app, they can tag another colleague, team member, and mention them in a post, they can reach out to them through ViHive.
Just the other day, one of my colleagues posted a message on ViHive asking who has bedazzled them for the day? And it was kind of neat last night, I was reading all the different posts where people, you know, our employees tag one another throughout their community, and sometimes it was a corporate office team member tagging an employee in the community, and thanking them for how they make a difference.
So it's fairly interactive, we've gotten really good participation. I think, today we're probably slightly under 70% of our employees are signed up for ViHive, I would expect in the next couple of months that we'll get into the 90s. But yeah, it's interactive, it's fun, it's not one way it's not an internet where you're on seeking information, it's a way to interact.
Siobhan: So Judy, you had mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, how some of the people who work for Vi are not necessarily comfortable, or not using computers, does the company provide its employees with smartphones?
Judy: No, we in some areas, to answer your question, in some areas, there are individuals that need a mobile device as part of their role. But if someone does not want to use their personal mobile device to access ViHive, we have mobile devices in the communities, or they can use a desktop computer in the community, to access ViHive.
So we have kiosks in different areas of the community where employees can access it and get the same information, they have the same access to the application.
Mike: I'm going to kind of come back to a philosophical question about that, because it was really helpful to kind of hear the nuts and bolts of how this works.
I think the philosophical question I have about this, and I think about communications in general, is especially in companies where we're sort of trained, or we're conditioned to tell people what they want to hear, because it's either easier for us or we think that that's gonna get us ahead, how do you ensure that there's friction in the messaging here and the communications that people aren't just telling you what they think you want to hear?
Judy: I don't know that we have enough experience, you know, our app has been live for about five or six weeks. We're still learning, Mike, every day, we look at the statistics, the data, the comments. What I guess I would say is, you know, when we get to the end of this month or end of June, when we look at those who are not participating or who have not signed up, I think we need to figure out why that's the case, right?
We have really good engagement with the app today, on the posts that are you know, posted on ViHive, I think we have 72% or 73% engagement on posts, which is really high. But we also have a good part of the population that have not signed up for ViHive. And so rather than focus on those who've signed up and are actively participating, I will really want to understand, we will really want to understand, why people haven't signed up, what are the barriers, what are the obstacles, what are their concerns, and really try to figure out how to address those.
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Because to your point, there could be that concern out there, and I think we would be naive to say that there are people out there that might have that feeling right, and The only way we can demonstrate our commitment to this app being a two-way communication tool is to learn more from those employees.
Siobhan: Judy, I love that you're asking those questions. But at the same time, while you were speaking, I was like, most companies would kill for a 70% adoption rate after only five or six weeks. So that is actually really impressive, and it speaks to you meeting a need in your community.
Judy: Yeah, and I want to clarify, the adoption in our comments, you know, responses, yeah, it's incredible, we're working with a company and they said, they haven't seen an organization that's had such high participation and engagement. And we think that that has to do, we did a lot of upfront marketing, we've tried to make it fun. It's not about just company information being pushed out, we try to make it you know, one of our rules is, you know, we want to be efficient, we want this to be one-stop shop for employees to get information so they don't have to log into SharePoint, they don't have to log into our HRS system.
So one being around and proficient, one around being engaging, right? Is the content engaging? Does it facilitate two way communication? And we look at the posts, like, why are some posts getting more attention than others? You know, we also want to create a sense of belonging and purpose. And so we've been using the tool to spotlight employees, and recognize employees and give others, the employees, an opportunity to recognize one another.
So I think it's a lot of different things, we're happy with results. But I would be very happy, we would be very happy, if we had 100% of our employees signed up. And I, again, I think it's always important to look at those you have not engaged with, and understand why, because that means we're still missing out on an opportunity, and so that will be our focus.
And we have, one of our team members, I have to share this, is one of our strategies around marketing, she is called Queen Bee. We don't share who Queen Bee is, but we have Queen Bee on ViHive, recognizing, posing questions, and again, to make it fun, make it light, recognize those who post I think that makes a difference.
So again, we're continually evaluating things. And we want our leaders to be more involved, too. I mean, I think it's another area, we've had a lot of discussion around, like, people take their cues, our employees take their cues, from the leaders and getting leaders more comfortable using apps. And I think that's still an opportunity.
So we still have a lot to learn, we still have a lot to leverage, but I think we're making good progress.
Mike: I gotta say, I respect the ambition, I mean I always have I mean, obviously, I mentioned in the beginning that, you know, I've worked with you for almost a dozen years probably know. And you guys always set a really high bar for yourselves and how you approach things in the workplace. And you get close, you get really close, if you don't achieve it, you get really close. But I that small fraction, that is the difference between that high bar and where you're at, you're always kind of looking to try to figure out what's next in there, what's going on there that we can kind of push this to the next level. So my compliments to you.
Judy: It's really a team effort. And I really do mean it, we mean that, we want to fully leverage every tool available to make our, you know, our team members have a tool that supports them, that engages them. And I just feel like we have an obligation. Our employees serve our residents, they care for our residents, and we have the responsibility as a company to provide our employees that same level of service and care.
So I think that that is how our leadership team is always approach things, and not settling for average, really trying to understand how we can do better. And, you know, I think we've made a lot of progress.
I was excited, I was reading comments last night, it's nice to see things in other languages, we post something and people, our employees are responding in different languages. I took five years of Spanish and I'm like, okay, I get 70% of this, I just push the translate, it translates for me. And I think just that in itself, the ability for employees, that speak English as a second language, to communicate in the language they're comfortable with, is such a big win.
So anyway, thank you, and we're not done. I'm, I'm excited about what we can do. And I know everyone's very committed to seeing this successful. And again, making it fun, not making it always feel like this is work, or here's the policy, I don't want people to come there to this, I want them to be engaged and say this is fun.
Underrated/Overrated With Judy Whitcomb
Mike: All right, you brought up fun. So this is a perfect opportunity to segue and take a little break, we've still got some more questions for you for ViHive before we close out the conversation.
But we do like to take a little break in the podcast and do a little thing that we call underrated / overrated. And what we do is we throw a few topics at you and you tell us whether or not you think that thing is underrated or that's overrated. Feel free to give us a little bit of explanation if warranted, or change up the rules if you want to say something else. So are you willing to play along with us Judy?
Judy: I'm game.
Mike: All right. I'm going back to your learning and development roots here, I'm going to ask you, do you feel like the LMS, the learning management system, the, the granddaddy of the learning technologies is underrated or overrated?
Judy: I think it's overrated. And my opinion has shifted over the last few years. Like, I think there's so many great things about an LMS. And I've worked with a number of them. And I can't say there aren't great LMS out there. But I think we all know, over the last few years, people are pretty fatigued, they're tired.
And I've seen the ability, we've talked about internally looking, you know, at ViHive, being able to put, and we've been doing this, bite-sized learning, you know, these smaller bits of learning into our app on different topics. It doesn't have to be through an LMS.
And so I think the more you can consolidate technology, for your employees, to simplify things for employees, and for managers, as long as you can report on it, and you can measure things, and you have metrics. I think there's a lot of other tools out there that can be leveraged.
I'm open, but my opinion has shifted.
Siobhan: So Judy, I'm going to also touch on a previous role that you've had, or a role that you're segueing out of, and that is, as a HR leader, taking a marketing segmentation approach, is that underrated or overrated?
Judy: Underrated. And that's probably not a surprise to Mike.
I was doing an interview this morning with someone, and we were talking about talent acquisition, and, you know, you think about talent acquisition, talent development, we were talking about older workers. And a good lot of the population in the United States is, is over the age of 50, 55 and 60, right. And there is a worker shortage, and that's going to continue, people are going to get older, and redefining work, is going to be, we should be doing that, if you're not doing that now, you should be redefining what work looks like, it's not a 40-hour work week, it's not in an office anymore.
And so in that message, that value proposition for employees, is different. It's different for somebody in high school, a college student, somebody midway through their career, someone maybe pursuing an encore career.
So to win, you have to cast a wider net, and you have to be able to appeal and win the hearts and minds of those that you're trying to woo to your company. And again, those needs are different.
So I do think messaging, and you have to deliver by the way, I think that's really important, it can't be just words, you need to understand that, and sometimes you may say, we're just going to focus our marketing efforts in this way in our segmentation in this way. In other cases, I think it behooves companies to cast a wider net and think about what's important to those individuals.
And again, you're making some broad assumptions. And then what does that value propositions? I think, channel strategy is critical. That's how companies win and business and how they sell products and services. That's what we have to do and human resources as well.
Mike: All right, Judy, got one more question for you on underrated / overrated.
I've heard this from a number of folks who have been in functional roles, let's say like a chief learning officer, they're responsible for that aspect of their organization's people strategy. And then they move, you know, they're ambitious, they move into a CHRO role, where they maybe oversee learning and development, as well as recruiting and talent acquisition and all these different areas of people within the organization. And they say, you know, I kind of lost the fun stuff when I moved into a CHRO role, you know, I kind of the passion that I brought is kind of been diffused.
Do you feel like being a CHRO versus being a functional specialist is underrated or overrated?
Judy: Gosh, I've been both I mean, I started my career as a specialist at United, and I really believe there's value in being a CHRO, being able to look at big picture.
Everything's related, right? Your talent acquisition strategy, your total reward strategy, your learning and development strategy, your employee relations strategy. So I believe that it is, gosh, it's a really noble career. It's not for everybody.
I know some really great specialists. There's colleagues I have at Vi and there's colleagues outside of Vi that I know that are exceptional specialists. And there's nothing wrong with that if you have the desire to have an impact in a company and be able to look at all the different levers and human resources that drive results that interplay with one another. The job is golden.
So that's my answer. I don't think I've changed my view. Do I have preferences? You know, I will always gravitate towards learning and development, talent management, because I believe that that's the secret to retention. And it's the secret to attracting talent, is to have a fantastic great world class learning and development program.
But it's super cool to see how everything's related and how you can, I don't know, tinker with things a little bit, and have a large impact for your organization.
Mike: It's a great question, that's for sure. There's no black and white answer to it.
Siobhan: So, Judy, at this point, some people say we're out of the pandemic, I don't think you and your team members would say that necessarily. But we are out of that panic mode of the early days.
And I was hoping that you could talk a little bit about what kind of strategies, what kind of tactics, what sort of lessons did you learn from those early days from that sort of crisis communications, that you're going to adopt moving forward? And do any of these lessons actually surprise you?
Judy: You guys ask great questions.
You know, I would say one thing we didn't talk about that I feel was really important during the pandemic that we did, and will continue to do is use experts to share information.
So one of the areas and again, I would do this in a heartbeat again, you know, if we continue to struggle with the pandemic, we brought experts in to talk with our leaders about vaccines, we brought experts in to talk about, you know, the different types of therapeutics, we hired individuals that led, we had panels for leaders, that's something I would continue to do, like I think education in a situation like the pandemic is absolutely critical.
And we recognize that there was a lot of ambivalence around what the CDC said, so we, you know, we hired people from the Association of Immunologist, I don't know if I have the right term, but that's something we would continue to do, bring experts in, right, don't rely just on news information, but bring those experts in to talk with our leaders and ask questions.
You know, I think the things that I'd say we learned or we continue to do, is managing through a crisis starts with thoughtful and intentional communications. And sometimes that means taking a little bit of extra time, be thoughtful, intentional and inclusive. And I think I mentioned to you earlier, we included a lot, we worked really closely with our business partners to ensure that we were in agreement with what the messages were. So I think that that's absolutely critical.
I think, again, a lesson I would carry forward is always address employee safety, security and basic needs first. Early on in the crisis, we realize that our leaders we needed to communicate, you know, how to stay safe, how to, you know, take care of your basic needs. And then we had to focus on change and uncertainty. So a lesson I would carry forward, I talked about frequency of communications and consistent communications, you know, I kind of say, listen, understand and then push the communication acceleration button, and over and over again, keep repeating.
Mike: I'll ask the question in a slightly different way. And you can kind of use this to close this out, Judy.
And the question is, you know, if coming back to ViHive, you know, it's early days, you're just a few weeks into it, but you're seeing some impressive results. If it works like you're hoping it will, what is the long-term effect going to be for Vi?
Judy: You know, I believe we should see the long-term effect will be high levels of participation and engagement at all levels with the app. And what I mean by that much higher level of participation, and then participation in posts, and then that should show up in our employee survey results. And we plan to ask questions about that.
But even despite, Mike, having an app, I still believe that we can't rely just on an app. We are a people organization, so there's so much value in face-to-face communications, right, so as we get through this pandemic, we're back to trying to have all-employee meetings and face-to-face meetings, even with this app, it's one-stop shop, it's a way to collaborate and communicate. I also think we have to go back to our roots as we're a people business and you can't do everything through an app. I think that's really important.
Wrap Up and Final Thoughts
Mike: Yeah, that's a, I think, a great point to end on, that it's partly about the technology, certainly technology can facilitate, but it comes down to what you're about as a company.
So I want to take a minute and just say thank you for joining us, Judy, and thank you for sharing your perspective with us.
Judy: Well, it was delightful to talk with both of you again, and I really appreciate get the opportunity to share our story.
Mike: All right, if folks want to learn more about Vi about ViHive about you, where do you recommend they go?
Mike: Right, and that's viliving.com. It actually comes from where does it come from? Where does the name come from?
Judy: Vi is the Latin root for life, so our heritage is Classic Residence by Hyatt, and number of years ago, you know, there was confusion around our brand name. And you know, people thought, Classic Residence by Hyatt was long-term extended care.
So we made the decision. Gosh, I want to say it was 2011, to re-brand our company to Vi because we believe when you move into one of our communities it's not the end of the life, it's the next chapter of your life.
Mike: All right. Well, thank you again, Judy.
Judy: Thank you so much, have a great day.
Mike: We encourage you to drop us a line at [email protected]. If you have a suggestion or a topic for a future conversation, we are all ears. Additionally, if you like what you hear, please post a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you may be listening. And be sure to share Get Reworked with anyone that you think might benefit from these types of conversations. And then finally, be sure to follow us at Get Reworked on Twitter as well.
Thank you again for exploring the revolution of work with us and we'll see you next time.
About the Authors
Siobhan is the editor in chief of Reworked, the premier publication covering the r/evolution of work published by Simpler Media Group, Inc. Siobhan leads the site's content strategy, with a focus on the transformation of the workplace.
Mike Prokopeak is editor in chief at Reworked, the premier publication covering the r/evolution of work, where he leads content development focused on the transformation of the workplace.