Friday, March 13, 2009

Internal Marketing and the Downturn

Here's another Down-From-Above, Up-From-Below Scenario. What often strikes me as interesting is the subtext of the downturn is what affect it has on an organization's internal marketing. For many organizations, a tight business climate translates into "top-down" implementation and control instead of "bottom-up" collaboration and cooperation -- lots of control freaks and non-contributors running around trying to 'touch the machine' and appear important.

To be clear, I'm not talking decisions like whether "we're going to have to stop providing dinner" or free juice, less expensive coffee or something like that. Say what you will about all of those little things and whether or not they have an impact on the health of the business, that isn't the point that I'm getting at. What I'm really talking about is more about the difference between a strategy of engaging the organization in more of a grass-roots responsibility strategy versus the top-down hyper-controlling approach that I suspect too many execs take.

Here's a great example of Up-From-Below marketing in this story published in The Boston Globe. I've snipped out a couple of sections from the article, but the entire piece is nice -- worth a read and you might even want to forward it.
A head with a heart
By Kevin Cullen, Globe Columnist | March 12, 2009

It was the kind of meeting that is taking place in restaurant kitchens, small offices, retail storerooms, and large auditoriums all over this city, all over this state, all over this country.

Paul Levy, the guy who runs Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, was standing in Sherman Auditorium the other day, before some of the very people to whom he might soon be sending pink slips.


He looked out into a sea of people and recognized faces: technicians, secretaries, administrators, therapists, nurses, the people who are the heart and soul of any hospital. People who knew that Beth Israel had hired about a quarter of its 8,000 staff over the last six years and that the chances that they could all keep their jobs and benefits in an economy in freefall ranged between slim and none.

"I want to run an idea by you that I think is important, and I'd like to get your reaction to it," Levy began. "I'd like to do what we can to protect the lower-wage earners - the transporters, the housekeepers, the food service people. A lot of these people work really hard, and I don't want to put an additional burden on them

"Now, if we protect these workers, it means the rest of us will have to make a bigger sacrifice," he continued. "It means that others will have to give up more of their salary or benefits."

He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when Sherman Auditorium erupted in applause. Thunderous, heartfelt, sustained applause.

Paul Levy stood there and felt the sheer power of it all rush over him, like a wave. His eyes welled and his throat tightened so much that he didn't think he could go on.

When the applause subsided, he did go on, telling the workers at Beth Israel, the people who make a hospital go, that he wanted their ideas.

The lump had barely left his throat when Paul Levy started getting e-mails.

The consensus was that the workers don't want anyone to get laid off and are willing to give up pay and benefits to make sure no one does. A nurse said her floor voted unanimously to forgo a 3 percent raise. A guy in finance who got laid off from his last job at a hospital in Rhode Island suggested working one less day a week. Another nurse said she was willing to give up some vacation and sick time. A respiratory therapist suggested eliminating bonuses.

"I'm getting about a hundred messages per hour," Levy said yesterday, shaking his head.
In the 'For What It's Worth' segment of this post, I have to say that this type of Up-From-Below engagement should be standard operating procedure, not just a tool you pull out when the water gets neck deep.

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