What Did You Learn? Episode 9

Clear lines of communication and swim-lanes within an organization are more important than ever. This is not the time to have muddy waters.

And that’s where empathetic leadership steps in. With remote work (and for many workers, the addition of kids at home), it’s the “perfect storm” right now. Leaders need to step up and promote organization, efficiency, and clear communication among their teams.

These are some of the learnings from Andy Gradel, Director of Digital Marketing at Wolters Kluwer Health, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch this episode of What Did You Learn? to hear more about Andy’s marketing insights from the coronavirus pandemic — as well as what he hopes will last for years to come.

Ahava: Hi. I’m Ahava Leibtag. Welcome back to What Did You Learn? I am so excited to have my good friend and colleague Andy Gradel here with me today. Andy is the director of digital marketing at Wolters Kluwer Health. Andy, welcome so much.

Andy: Hey, how you doing? Long time no talk.

Ahava: Yeah, I know, I know. But the nice thing about this is that I get to talk to you in depth and our audience gets to hear all the great work that you’re doing at Wolters Kluwer. So tell us a little bit about what they do there.

Andy: Yeah, Wolters Kluwer. It’s an interesting company. So, it’s based in the Netherlands, offices worldwide. And there are divisions that offer information services products to and all different products across health, tax, legal, government, all different sectors.

So, I’m focused on health. It’s quite the, uh, trial by fire because my first job as part of this enterprise project to pull together 268 websites into one big enterprise site. And it is, it’s daunting. But I keep joking that these are the times that projects like this are made for, you know, digital people were social distancing before it was cool. So now we’re all in our basements, which we would have been in anyway, moving thousands and thousands of pages. So, it is. Actually, the timing isn’t bad. It really isn’t.

Ahava: Well, that’s a good attitude. Speaking of timing, what have you been doing with yourself in the last 700 days? Have you picked up a new hobby?

Andy: You know, I’ve been playing a lot of board games, actually.

Ahava: Oh, us too! We are obsessed with Settlers.

Andy: Yeah, we’ve been playing Fireball Island, which is this, oh, it’s great. It’s this this board game that can take up like your entire kitchen table, and it’s almost like you have these Indiana Jones players you move around a board and then you get to roll marbles at them.

Ahava: And have you baked anything?

Andy: I haven’t. That’s the thing. I mean, my, it’s funny. My nine-year-old just brought me a homemade milkshake a couple minutes ago. I was in the middle of a call, actually, which, with our CEO and all the sudden, my nine-year-old walks in with a milkshake and just hands it to me. So first, I mean that was really cute. But second, then I’m like, Oh, my God, will they think it’s like a mudslide?

Ahava: What is one thing that you wish you had known before this whole thing started back in March?

Andy: Yeah, it’s interesting because I transitioned from in office work to primarily remote work in January of 2019 which was a great transition. I really enjoyed getting to drop my 2 to 2.5 hour commute and I enjoyed the opportunity to talk to people all around the world. But then all of a sudden, the combination of working for a global company where you would get emails at all times of the night, normally, you know, people in Europe and Asia who’ve been working while I’ve been asleep, you know I’d wake up, there’d be a full inbox. I was used to that.

But then once everyone was working remotely, now you know those loose guardrails that were in place, that kind of kept people between eight and five started to break away, and I guess things have become a little more flexible over the past couple months where the time people spent commuting. And now I mean there’ve been days where there are meetings at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. You know, so that to me is the biggest shift.

And, you know, I’m not sure if I had known that was coming, that I would have done anything differently. But I’ll be really interested to see if, over time, as people settle into working remotely and not in the office environment, if that’s a semi-permanent byproduct of the times or if these are new, normal working hours and we just didn’t realize it.

Ahava: Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s like almost like we traded one set of craziness for another. You know, I’ve been working for 15 years and running for 15 years, running remote teams. And, um, when I first started Aha Media Group, so we’re in my home office and my home is right outside the door we’re off of the laundry room and then the kitchen, so I can almost hear everything that goes on, which is super fun sometimes.

And I, um, for years I used to go back into my office at 8 a.m., you know 8 p.m. I would put my kids to sleep and I would go back and I would work until 10 p.m. And then I just couldn’t do it anymore. And I have found that in the last few months I’ve had to come back into the office because there’s just all these distractions in the middle of the day because they’re home, they come in, they need this, they’re having technological difficulties. And so, one of the reasons I think that our work hours have expanded is because our core work hours are now getting interrupted by the needs of these little people.

Andy: Exactly. And that’s where I, I’m insanely lucky. And I have said this almost every single day for the past couple months that I’m insanely lucky that my wife doesn’t work. So, when the kids decided not decided, sorry, when the kids came home and started remote learning, that didn’t really distract or disrupt my life much because all of a sudden she became their teacher as well. But I can’t I can’t even imagine trying to do my job while also juggling the kids, you know.

Ahava: You are really lucky. A lot of people listening think you’re really lucky.

Andy: I am so, every single day I say that you know, I’m so thankful that I work for a company that had embraced remote working early on.

Ahava: What is something that you would say to the people listening like, what did you take away from this experience? What did you learn from having that big picture and trying to consolidate? It’s almost like there’s a metaphor there in general for what everybody’s going through.

Andy: Yeah, I think, I think one of the things this has taught me is that clear lines of communication and swim lanes within an organization, especially a big organization, are more important than ever right now. Because this is not the time to have muddy waters inside your walls and complexity.

You know, you need to be able to react quickly. People have to know where they can go for approval and answers, and, you know, and that’s huge right now.

But I think the other thing too, the past few months have taught us is that, you know, there’s lots of examples of companies that are doing the right thing and seeing that can have both a positive effect on society as well as their bottom line as well. I mean, because at the end of the day, I mean businesses need to make money to keep doing what they’re doing, you know.

Ahava: Revenue is not a dirty word.

Andy: Yeah, and that’s the thing. I mean, it’s so hard these days to cut through the clutter and get someone’s attention for a minute. But I think we’re going to look back on this time you know months or years later, and I honestly think the companies that saw the opportunity to do something good in a time of need such as offering products to frontline workers or a lot of things we did.

You know, we offered free access to products and opening up previously gated content or anything like that for people that needed it. They’re going to see karma reward them in the end. I mean, it’s in one way. It’s the right thing to do, and in the other on the other side, it’s the ultimate lead gen free trial offer, which, which sounds a little weird saying that, but I honestly believe that that the companies that are doing the right thing, you know, it will come back to them tenfold.

Ahava: What do you think about healthcare in general, and what healthcare marketers should really be thinking about?

Andy: Yeah, and this is I can’t imagine what it’s like trying to lead a digital team in a healthcare organization right now.

Ahava: I mean, well go watch all of the other What Did You Learns? And you’ll hear.

Andy: So yeah, and that’s the thing. I mean, I think about the 16, 17 years I spent leading understaffed, over-stressed teams that on a good day, were already working at 100 percent capacity, and now you’re going to throw COVID-19 and everything else over the fence, and furloughs, yeah, and that’s the other side of it. So now I mean, it really is. It really is the perfect storm right now.

And this is where I think efficiency is key. You know, the teams, that, once again going back to the swim lanes, you know, the teams that have clearly defined roles, the teams that have really good digital infrastructures and have learned how to take content, and make it work one-to-many throughout their properties and they’re not updating the same thing in 28 different places on their site. They’re the ones that arenow thriving in the spotlight.

Ahava: In terms of efficiency, the teams who are doing the best jobs are the ones who have leadership that know exactly what they want. You know, discipline is knowing what you want. And they, at the very beginning, they said this is what we need to do to be clear to our audiences about what we’re doing about this. And you can tell when you go to the different blog posts and the different coronavirus microsites who really has a vision for what they’re trying to do for their audiences and who’s sort of just like, sort of muddling around trying to figure it out. And even when you look at the Department of Health pages of different states, you can see that level of strategy. So, I think it’s a really good point that being really clear and efficient is the way to go.

So, three years from now, well, it won’t take that long. But you and I are sitting, you know, at a conference, no mask. What do you think is the one thing that you and I are going to talk about where you say, you know Ahava, that pandemic shaped my leadership style in X way.

Andy: It’s interesting. A couple a couple weeks ago actually was talking my boss about this and the words empathetic leadership came up a lot. And we’re talking about this massive project I have going on. You know we’re trying to corral all these websites and you know, there’s a lot of work on top of people’s work and, you know, how do you get people to work together? And actually feel good about contributing to the greater good of the team. And I think empathetic leadership came up a lot there and also how you build a team during times like this. I mean, you have to work with their teams and colleagues, and everyone together has to learn to be flexible.

So, I’m lucky that I’m not, you know, Dad, the teacher during the day. But for some people they are. So I think that flexibility helps build trust that just puts everyone in a team in a better place.

Ahava: Let’s finish up with my favorite part, which is, if you had six words to describe this time period, so mine are what fresh hell is it today? What’s your six words?

Andy: Yeah, I gave a lot of thought to this one. And it’s, thank God for my bungee chair, because when I started working remotely Oh, I’m telling I could sit in this thing for like, 16 hours a day. When I, when I started working remotely, I the first thing I did, I ran out to, you know, the office supply store, and I bought the faux leather quasi executive chair with the high back. And, ah, little did I know that after about 4 to 5 hours every single day, that thing would just start hurting. So, once I invested in a really good chair, which happened, I mean, it was as soon as the pandemic happened, and I started working some extra hours and I realized I needed something better to keep me comfy. And all of a sudden I’m loving life at this point. So, it’s just so great.

Ahava: The foundational elements remain the same.

Andy: Exactly. You’ve got to have a great chair.

Ahava: So where did you get this magical chair?

Andy: Oh, God, I think where everyone shops these days, it was Amazon or something along those lines.

Ahava: It’s called a bungee chair?

Andy: It’s a bungee chair. Actually, it’s an office chair, but with bungee ropes in it. So, I guess it’s almost like the mullet of office chairs. Where it’s the business up front, the party, I guess, under your butt.

Ahava: Actually, that’s a joke going around about 2020 right now. What if 2020 is a mullet? Maybe the second half will be the party in the back.

Andy: Oh, we can only hope, we can only hope.

Ahava: But anyway, thank you so much for joining me. It was great to have you and thank you. I know that our audience is going to love a lot of things that you said. Hopefully will help inspire them to feel good about the work that they’re doing, as well.

Andy: Hey definitely, here’s to the back half of 2020.

Ahava: There you go. Party in the back.

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