Consistency is a bedrock of creating a purposeful organization. Your purpose needs to be clear, communicated often and integrated into all aspects of your business. When people in and outside of your business see your purpose or mission regularly, it builds credibility and trust. Your purpose then becomes a guiding force for navigating a crisis. Or, in this case, a global pandemic.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with John Palmer, Director of Public and Media Relations at the Ohio Hospital Association, to talk about building a purpose brand and how purpose shaped OHA’s response to COVID-19. John walks us through the behind-the-scenes effort that went into getting the organization aligned around its purpose and how that effort helped them navigate the pandemic.
Laying the Foundation for a Purpose Brand
One of the most important factors of building a mission-driven business is an invested leader. “It’s a credit to our President and CEO Mike Abrams and our leadership team,” shared John at the onset of our conversation. “When Mike joined OHA in 2012, he worked with the board of trustees and leadership team to develop a new mission, chart a new strategic plan and align the association around it.”
“Our CEO recognized from the start that consistent branding and reputation management were an important part of putting our mission into action. Essentially, we all needed to have an understanding of our mission, purpose and role as employees to fulfill our mission of collaborating with member hospitals and health systems to ensure a healthy Ohio,” added John.
This was when the work really began internally. “We realized we needed to be an organization that lives and breathes our mission and purpose,” said John. So, the OHA communications team embarked on a company-wide audit. This included tracking down all of their touch-points with members, staff and the community. After assessing the effectiveness of each piece and considering best practices, they eliminated, added or rebranded these pieces in accordance with their new brand guidelines.
John highlighted that the brand guidelines are much more than the look and feel of the brand. “At OHA, it’s a constantly evolving document that helps reinforce where and how our purpose is incorporated into everything we do. It illustrates what we do and why we do it.”
“Because of this work, it’s much easier for everyone to see how our work connects back to the mission,” added John. Knowing their purpose also yielded stronger connections across the organization. People were taking ownership of the mission. “Today, I see greater collaboration across the organization. We all have a shared mindset to bring the mission to our strategy development and implementation. So, we are all evaluating and determining what approach to take based on the purpose.”
OHA also established a Communications Strategy Group. The group, comprised of the organization’s communication team and representatives from various departments, came together to discuss communication projects and initiatives.
Purpose in a Pandemic
“COVID-19 was a curveball to our society and health care system. We have a pretty thorough continuity plan and most of us had already experienced SARS and Ebola. But, the magnitude of the pandemic shook us personally and professionally – just like everyone else. At the same time, however, we also felt grounded in our mission. We knew we needed to support our members and work with elected officials on Ohio’s medical response.”
The Ohio Hospital Association quickly identified that data collection was important component for the state’s COVID-19 response and preparedness. Serving as a primary data collection entity and liaison for hospitalizations in the state, OHA was able to educate state officials on the needs of Ohio hospitals and communicate issues that might be arising.
“Luckily, a lot of things we needed to do were in alignment with the way we already operate. We also started to see there were a lot of things we could still do, just virtually. Our mindset shifted from we can’t to how can we get this done,” said John.
“The thing I’m most proud of when I think about how we navigated the first year of this pandemic is that we always tried to live up to our mission. We decided to see it as an opportunity to step up and lead, not duck and hide. We made ourselves available to our members and to state officials. We’re still doing this. Accessibility became a priority, whether it is our employees, equipment or technology.”
“What I’ve learned over the years, especially in 2020, is that purpose is never a done deal. It requires ongoing attention. We’re still making refinements. I’ve also learned how it has contributed to building a great organization.”