How Novant Health CEO Carl Armato uses a blog to cultivate the organization's culture

When Carl Armato became president and CEO of Novant Health in 2011, he knew communication with employees would be challenging. After all, the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based integrated system has 26,000 team members in 500 locations across Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.   

He started a weekly internal blog called "Carl's Corner" in February 2012. In the blog, Mr. Armato writes about system happenings of the previous week, or about other topics related to the organization or current media coverage. The blog is drafted Sunday and usually posted Monday morning.

Overall, Mr. Armato says it's allowed him to communicate with employees in a timely and transparent way.

"I began to really talk about how proud I was of every team member at Novant and how inspiring it was to work alongside them each day, and it then became more about the culture of the organization," he says. "And the blog helped me really cultivate the culture of the organization, which I believe is our secret sauce, and our culture is what differentiates us when I look at healthcare organizations across the country."

Blog topics

Over the last six years, the blog has covered a wide range of topics. For instance, in one of his first blogs, Mr. Armato discussed executive compensation and how his pay was determined. He says while many hospital executives may prefer not to talk about that particular topic, he wanted to clearly show he was willing to discuss and answer any question on any topic.

"By having that transparent dialogue, I think it not only made our organization stronger, but it opened up a dialogue with all of our team members to be able to have difficult conversations on any topic," says Mr. Armato.

Mr. Armato also gave the example of an upcoming blog that will address harassment issues recently portrayed in the media, including sexual harassment and bullying. That particular blog is slated to come out March 19.

He says blogs have also focused on stories about the work of Novant employees — such as two employees joining forces to provide a date night to parents with a child in the hospital.

Additionally, Mr. Armato has written about books team members read together, as well as personal issues, such as him being a Type 1 diabetic.

He says he's particularly enjoyed watching team members respond to that and connect with him through the blog.

In one blog about changes in the healthcare industry, Mr. Armato told a story about how is uncle who delivered ice to homes lost his job when the refrigerator came out. "I was talking about change and rapid change, sometimes what people experienced in the past and how we would respond to that in the future," he says. "All of those stories whether they were about me personally or my family, connecting it to what we do every day, I've watched our team members respond to very positively."

Aside from "Carl's Corner," Mr. Armato also does a live blog where he is available to answer questions from employees on various topics.

The book

Now, he has provided his favorite 145 blog posts in his new book "It's Never Just Another Monday." Mr. Armato says the book came together so employees could access blogs believed to have generated the most response. It is free to Novant employees and given to new hires at orientation "so new team members can get caught up on what we stand for and our culture," he says. Those outside of Novant may also purchase the book though a $20 minimum donation to the Novant Health Foundation.

Mr. Armato has used the book in conversations with other U.S. hospital executives about the successes of Novant. When other hospital CEOs ask him what he does to improve employee engagement, he tells those hospital leaders about the blog and to "jump in if you're committed."  

"Posting a new blog every Monday is a big time commitment, but I have to tell you now it's one of my favorite things to do. I tell them to pick a tough topic, go ahead and have a conversation and engage the workforce," he says. "And I think when team members start to see the transparency and openness in the conversation, they'll jump in in a very unique and helpful way."

Moving forward, Mr. Armato plans to continue "Carl's Corner" as well as the open blogs where he's available for two hours in live interaction with Novant sites and team members.

 

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