ICology: The digital workplace in healthcare

Ep #17, Rachel Butts with Children's Health

Rachel Butts is the Digital Strategy Program Manager for Children's Health in Dallas, TX. By trade, Rachel is a communicator but has recently taken on a new role as the organization has moved into the digital workplace. She's passionate about taking care of the people who take care of their patients. She bridges the gap between the technology being deployed and the people who use it. 

She shares some her biggest challenges and successes in her role, along with the omnichannel approach she uses for internal communications success. You can connect with Rachel on LinkedIn and Twitter

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Episode Transcript

Chuck: Welcome to ICology, the podcast dedicated to interesting people doing interesting things in the world of internal communications. In this episode I have guest Rachel Butts, communicator with Children's Medical Center. If internal comms is your passion, then this is your podcast. Listen in. 

Now, I get to go to a lot of events, a lot more than most communicators do and I feel very fortunate about that. And when I do, I get so excited when I come across communicators who are as passionate about communications and technology as I am. And so it was last January at ALI Strategic Internal Comms Conference that I heard our guest today Rachel Butts speak. And it's not only clear that she gets it, but that she loves it. And there's a clear difference there and it's when you find that combination you know that you found an amazing communicator. One that not only gets it, but also loves it.

Now this shouldn't be hard to find in communicators but for some reason it is and passion is more than just interest and effort. And with interest and effort you can be successful in a lot of different things. When I've talked about social media I've said you can be successful with two things interest and effort. But it's a passion for what you do that truly makes you amazing at what you do. And so that's why I'm excited today to have Rachel Butts who's the digital strategy program manager for Children's Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. Rachel, welcome to ICology.

Rachel: Thanks Chuck, I'm super excited to be here.

Chuck: Well I was glad that you agreed to be on the show. I obviously was impressed by the talk you gave at the ALI event but was more impressed by your passion and enthusiasm for communication. So let's start off though by telling our audience a bit about the Children's Medical Center there where you work. But also your role as the digital strategy program manager.

Rachel: Okay. Well I am honored to make life better for children at Children's Medical Center which is part of Children's Health, the seventh largest pediatric health care system in the nation. We're a not for profit health system and we do our best to care for the North Texas region and international as we can reach out and take care of special cases for our highly developed care. So we're excited to make life better for children around the world.

And my role is kind of a hybrid, it's something that's developed recently. I am by trade a communicator and have been in a communications role supporting the clinical division, so nursing, restoration therapy and other bedside care staff and when we decided we were going to move into a digital workplace they needed someone who has connected to the front line and I am passionate about taking care of those who take care of our kids and they thought I'd be great to step into the role that kind of bridges the gap between digital strategy, the technology we use to communicate, and the human beings using that technology. So that's what I do as a digital program manager here.

Chuck: And then so I'd imagine you work very closely with IT?

Rachel: Yes, definitely. I said when I got this role that I had the opportunity to make new friends. IT wasn't really part of my circle as a communicator before and in this role it was great to connect with people in that profession.

Chuck: Well and I tell ya, it's always been a bit troubling to me because there's sort of a...it's a thing out there, right, about that communicators and IT don't get along. And frankly I've never really understood it because really both of these groups are very passionate about what they do, very professional about what they do. But also I think sometimes don't get recognized enough and so you think those two groups could align more much like you've done versus be sometimes combative, other times. And so I applaud you in sort of helping to bridge that gap between comms and IT. So as we get into questions more and this is...I was some real truth here on this answer. Because I don't want...

Rachel: Okay.

Chuck: ...I don't want a real soft answer, I want a real...I want to find out from you.

Rachel: Okay.

Chuck: What is the biggest internal comms challenge or obstacle that you face in health care?

Rachel: Getting the same message across a 40 location system to people who have completely different work experiences. It is so difficult to reach someone who works 3 12-hour shifts versus someone who works 5 days a week 8-5 versus someone who works only nights. Reaching the people that we need with our message is the most difficult communications challenge and really we have to kind of circumvent it in non-conventional ways because it's such a big deal.

Chuck: Now obviously we talked about your...it's pretty clear you're a fan of digital and technology it's in your title. But let's...

Rachel: Yes, it is.

Chuck: ...take a step back a little bit from that, before we dig too deep in digital. I want to find out, what are some of the non-digital channels that Children's Medical Center uses to get messages out in front of employees?

Rachel: So from a communications perspective we still use a lot of print. We make posters, different units depending on their specialty will have printed newsletters and so that's not a medium I think that we'll ever get rid of. We have posters boards in the break-room and things like that. We've even resorted to restroom signage, we have a captive audience and so if we can put something on the back of a staff restroom door to get their attention we will, you know, there's no branch too far to walk out on for that.

And then from our employee opinion survey results we find that one of our employees' favorite channels our their front line leader, their direct supervisor. And so a non-digital platform that we love to incorporate is educating our leaders so that they have all the information they need to serve as that communication connection for the front line.

Chuck: Now I'm certainly one that I hope that print is never eliminated. I think it's often a mistake when companies do it because they think they're either being forward thinking, or they're saving the environment, or whatever that might be, but I really do think in your case and I think in other cases that print communication still has a lot of value and it's largely around the fact that it's, even in the technology we have today it's a true mobile form of communication. Obviously maybe not posters but, newsletters.

Rachel: Right.

Chuck: You know they don't require battery power, they don't require a cell signal, wi-fi. And obviously every channel has it's limitations but really print does still have some value. So it's great that that still has a play but when it comes to digital, that is your baby, so...

Rachel: Yes.

Chuck: ...why don't you talk about some of the most effective digital channels that you use.

Rachel: So I think, I say part of the success of this channel for us has been the internal communications team's ability to build relationships but we recently had a unicorn. We do state of the union addresses twice a year where our CEO presents status updates on the system and we have incorporated a new live stream technology that we adopted from our virtual health program. A program that's used to get our physicians into remote locations, and we repurposed it for our employees and according to the unique IP addresses, the in-room attendees, and the people who e-mailed us after the fact with questions, one out of every two employees got to be a participant in our last sort of state of the union addresses. And so our live stream capability and the ability of people to login in offices and conference rooms has been our most successful digital channel to this point and I call them our live stream nation. We were testing the system before we went live with our state of the unions and we were giving away prizes and encouraging people to break our live-stream. And the live-stream nation rose up and they did a great job and then they actually participated in our events afterwards. So that was fantastic.

Chuck: Well and I think so, if there's, I don't know what the rest of your answers are going to be and how the rest of this interview goes, but I will say right now a key takeaway here for listeners is the fact that you adopted another channel. That you...

Rachel: Yes.

Chuck: ...sort of leveraged existing technology and just used it in a brand new way and so I think that's something that more and more communicators can do by just discovering all the technology that a company is using. As you mentioned, there's all these different locations and that's no different than a lot of other communicators where there might be some unique technology being used in one business case that a communicator can leverage and use in another. So I think that's great. What are some other channels you use? Intranet, digital signage, is there a mobile app, is there SMS, what else is in play?

Rachel: Okay. So we have, I'll start with our digital signage because that's really important for a health care setting. Our digital signage works not only as an information conduit but also as way-finding. A lot of our signs are placed in patient accessible areas and so we have information that's both for our patient families, help them get to their appointments on time, and then also staff related content. And we have digital signs that are available as our computers go to sleep, on all the units and in our workstations and that is also a digital signage platform for us. And so we can segment our content based on that.

Our intranet is going through a huge transformation right now, we're moving into a digital workplace. It's going to be significantly more collaborative than what we've worked on. We've got standard operating procedures, people really interested in governance and so this is a full staff push to move us into a more collaborative digital space. We have apps for phones that are not necessarily communications specific but more for safety and crisis management. As you can understand with the health care system there's a lot of things that can happen in a moments notice that need to be reacted to and so we tend to use phone apps for that, a lot because patient family experience can be impacted by the amount of time a caretaker is on their cellphone, whether it's an organization handed out device or a personal device. Patient families may not quite understand why a care taker is using a cell phone and so we are not necessarily, we're not as deep into that method of communication until we can figure out a good way to have our patient families understand why my nurse is on her cellphone or even if it is an organization one. That sort of thing.

Chuck: You know that's interesting, I will say that I hadn't thought of that and that makes a lot of sense because if you're a patient or a caregiver and you see, maybe you don't need something right then but you're just sort of watching and you see a nurse or another employee on their phone you would think that they're probably...you might make some negative assumptions based on their behavior when in fact it might be doing exactly the right thing. So I guess I hadn't really thought about it that way. That's quite interesting. So of the, all these different digital channels, I mean has there been something you've tried that just hasn't worked that hasn't resonated with employees?

Rachel: So I will say yes, and I think that we've done a good job as an organization of kind of dissecting why they didn't go off as well as they could have and working to implement better. So specifically collaborative platforms, we've launched two different ones in the history of Children's since I've been here and they did not survive because I think there was a...from a technology perspective it was a shiny, exciting new thing. From a full support learning institute, which is our internal education group and our internal communications, there wasn't a good grasp over how to support the technology the best way and our employees weren't thinking in a collaborative, digital work methodology, right?

When they're human beings and they're nurses and they're care teams they're talking to each other, they're collaborating no problem. But the way they were documenting their work or solving problems that were outside of maybe the immediate patient care, they were writing things down on paper and documenting later. The idea of collaborative software wasn't a way that their brain worked for their work yet. And so in this current project to go to a digital workplace, we're doing a lot better about creating bullet-proof business cases and helping our staff see that the collaborative workspace will take care of that intermediate writing something down on a piece of paper and then taking it to another place later but can keep you updated in real time. And so it wasn't necessarily the platform, it's really never the platform. You know, it's always the implementation and making sure the human at the end of the process is well prepared to adopt.

Chuck: Well, and it's funny, you know oftentimes we want to throw technology at something to make it better and you made a great point in that these employees were already collaborating. It's already a huge part in what they did so throwing a technology layer on top of that probably complicated a collaboration where, you know, it's something they did natively or naturally as part of their jobs and function. But I think that's interesting to see how, you're trying to, you know again lessons learned right? Everybody makes mistakes, everybody...nothing's going to be fool proof. I love showing people stories about things I did in my past that were awful or...

Rachel: [laughs]

Chuck: ...failed. Because again it's all about, it's not just you learning from your own lessons but others learning from that as well. You mentioned that the, the collaboration just didn't, it just didn't work, didn't stick.

Rachel: Right.

Chuck: The first couple of times, maybe that's a better way to word it versus failure. But how do you determine effectiveness of some of your channels and then what sort of measurement do you apply? You mentioned getting some feedback from employees over their personal preferences. What else do you use to look at measurement or effectiveness?

Rachel: I think this is really interesting being that I'm now stepping across into the IT side more, because from a communicators perspective we're looking at content production or communication that's happening, maybe conversations that are happening on a collaborative software. And IT has a tendency to set metrics around adoption. How many people have logged in? How many people are staying on a page for a certain amount of time? And so with analyzing success and understanding that there's always an adoption curve. I think there's even a third piece of management as a communicator in this in talking to your leaders and helping set realistic expectations for what does adoption mean and what does success look like? And because leaders want quick outputs right? Return on investment relatively quickly. And so some of the things I look for are, are duplicative processes happening? For instance, when we went from paper charting as a healthcare system nationally to electronic medical record, how long did it take before nurses trusted the electronic medical record to stop charting on paper? Those kind of real life metrics that are a little harder to get in a report but I think are the truer indicator of success.

Chuck: I would imagine that would have been a practice for nurses who would've, that would have been a difficult transition for many.

Rachel: Yes.

Chuck: To go from the old traditional paper format versus going to the digital format.

Rachel: Absolutely, and that transition, while it helped clinical staff, I think, adopt technology, there's still that process each time a new one is introduced. And respecting that change I think is important.

Chuck: Now my background in communications was much on the manufacturing side. So it was looking at a lot of disconnected or offline employees and you would have salaried employees, it was sort of managing that mixture. But since then, and I've gotten to work with a lot of communicators in healthcare, I had no idea how many unique internal audiences there were in healthcare. And it was sort of mind blowing to me the first time she started rattling off all of the different segmentations that they attempted to do based on communications. So what I want to find out from you is, sort of rattle off some of those different audiences, but which one is the most challenging for communications there and why?

Rachel: Okay. So some of our different audiences, so with big buckets our clinical services and that is broken down into people who actually physically touch our patients for providing care and to people who effect the clinical space. So our house keepers, our engineers, our audio visual teams who take care of the in-room televisions and ordering systems...let's see...security and internal transport, people who move patients from area to area. So lots of different clinical audiences.

We also have administrative audiences. So legal, accreditation, finance, people who are business development and working on mergers and acquisitions. We also have remote locations who do different things. We may have a, you know, we have our hospitals and then we also have primary care locations, specialty locations. So there's lots of different areas, physically, that people can be. And I think the most challenging audience for us to reach are our physical location staff, people who maintain our physical sites because they may have an e-mail address but they're really only accessing their computer for annual enrollment and then our annual trainings.

A lot of times there can be a difference in...as communicators we do try to write to a mid-level reading level and language level but sometimes that can be a barrier for us in Texas. And, so I think one of the ways that I've tried to navigate that and that my team has tried to navigate that is we make friends with the leaders. So first of all they trust us as communicators that we're actually thinking about their employees and we work specifically to provide the leadership in that group with everything that they need to communicate. Create them printable versions of our online references, give them meeting-in-a-box when some big organizational change is coming because we know that their staff's not reading the things we're putting online.

Chuck: I think it was on an episode once of Undercover Boss, I don't even know if that show is still on or not but I remember one that I watched where it focused on a CEO's interaction with an employee, or I think it was one that you talked about where their job was pretty much cleaning up the surgery rooms. Like after surgery was done they would go in there and clean it up but they really demonstrated how critical that role was to overall patient care and patient safety. And I don't think it's something a lot of people thought of, it certainly wasn't one that I thought of so I can imagine how critical it would be to, you know, keep up to date information in front of them but knowing that's not part of their job like, you know, it's cliche to say about people who sit in front of computers all day but we know that just because that doesn't mean they're paying attention. But when that audience is really focused on that very critical patient care task, that that's, that it would be a critical audience to keep informed but also have some inherent challenges. 

Rachel: Right.

Chuck: So I mentioned before about I get to go to a lot of events and it wasn't meant to brag or anything like that but I know you do as well. You get to participate in a lot of different communication events and you really seem to enjoy it like I do, so I'm curious what do you get out of it, what do you enjoy about being at, speaking at different communication events?

Rachel: So I kind of feel like I was created to find the awesome and share it, and communication conferences allow me that opportunity. Here in our organization I get to teach a class for leaders and I love sharing the research I've done and helping them to develop their leadership and I hope that through the opportunity to speak at communications conferences that I can kind of download what I know, you know, like we were talking about, it's when things don't stick or when I learn how to move from communications into IT, I find that valuable and I think other people do too and so I love just getting to share that with other people.

Chuck: And you're also a big selfie taker...

Rachel: [laughs] 

Chuck: ...at these events so explain that a little bit.

Rachel: Okay. So as a communicator I think most of us are intrinsically designed to create relationships and so I've been testing, actually it was kind of a test to see...when I first started going to conferences I would take pictures of speakers and then provide those pictures to the speaker so that they would have a picture of themselves speaking. And I found that they were grateful in the moment but I wasn't really getting that connection and follow through and so it was like, okay, maybe a selfie would work. And so I've tested it for the past two conferences where every speaker I can get a hold of I'll take a selfie with them so that I have a picture of us together and we have something to kind of talk from as we pick up our friendship and professional relationship as we go forward. So that's kind of, I think it's working! [laughs]

Chuck: Well no, I got to say it's a great strategy because I saw when I first met you in San Fransisco at the ALI event I saw you doing that. Obviously I got to be in one of your selfies.

Rachel: Yep.

Chuck: So what events are you speaking at in the future that you will be taking these selfies?

Rachel: Excellent. So next week I will be honored to go to Oklahoma City to speak to a Women Leaders in Communications luncheon and then later this month I'll be going to Boston for the Internet Reloaded Conference where I'll be presenting on bulletproof business cases. And then in May I'll be going to Nashville to present about, you know, surprising things for a communicator about digital strategy. And that's May, and then June I'll be in San Diego to be part of a panel about communicators in IT so, I'm excited. It's going to be a fun kind of spring and summer.

Chuck: Yep. So I will be there with you in Nashville so hopefully we can get another selfie taken.

Rachel: Excellent.

Chuck: I'll do a little better job this time. Last time I was a little caught off guard. This time I'll be a little more prepared. So before we get into the next part of the podcast I did want to go back and have you share some advice for communicators. And I shouldn't say, it's not just for communicators because we get people who listen to the podcast that are business owners, they might be managers, they may not have a dedicated communications staff...

Rachel: Right.

Chuck: ...but they're just looking for communication advice. So for those that want to implement more digital channels for their employees. What advice do you have that, that might help them be a bit more successful?

Rachel: This sounds simple, but I've found it to be the most successful, not only to differentiate myself as a subject matter expert when it comes to matters concerning employee communications, but to be able to quickly pick through a whole bunch of options. Because any time you look at any kind of technology, I mean if you Google digital signage it's like pages and pages and pages of options, is to sit with your employees and watch how they work.

When I first started, when I first got to Children's, I was lucky enough to have the encouragement to have two hours a week that needed to be dedicated to getting out and talking to employees or shadowing someone on a unit, or traveling to go and see how employees are legitimately working. I found at first they were kind of skeptical, they're like, "What are you reporting on me about?" And as I started to build these relationships, you know my reputation started to spread. A nurse from our ICU would tell a nurse from our acute care services, "Oh Rachel's coming over and she's just gonna hang out with you." And because of that time invested in getting to know my employees and noticing what their work is like I'm able to offer a lot holistic opinion about what's realistic? What kind of timelines can we set? What kind of training do we need to offer? What do they care about anyway? And so I, it's kind of old school but I really think making relationships with your front line staff to know that you know what's going on is the most important way to be successful.

Chuck: And then what do you see, whether it's communicators or business leaders, what do you see them doing where they might be getting in there own way? Where they might not be setting themselves up for success?

Rachel: I think as, broadening it to business owners, the easiest way to get in your own way is to stay in your own head. Jim Rohn says, and John Lee Dumas quotes this at the end of every one of his shows, "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." So when I feel like I come to a block and I don't understand, I get out of my head and find someone who has expertise in this or someone who can help me shift my thinking a little bit and that usually kind of opens the flood gates and moves that block out of the way.

Chuck: Very good advice. Very good advice, Rachel.

Rachel: Thank you.

Chuck: So Rachel I want to thank you again for being a guest on ICology and sharing your story, your advice, your ideas, because I want ICology to be a listening post for communicators. A place for them to hear stories from professionals like you, who can inspire them to be better communicators because I think we can all be better communicators.

Please follow ICology on Twitter at @LearnICology to pick up show announcements as well as other IC news and little tidbits that I pick up on. If internal communications is your passion, ICology is your podcast. Thanks for listening.