Michael dowling

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Embrace Change.

Sound familiar? I may have read it somewhere before.

Does The New York Times executive director Dean Baquet have to embrace change when ad revenue at the paper paper is off double digits? Does Mark Zuckerberg have to change HR bereavement policy to stay more competitive as the “new thing” luster (but not revenue) wears off the Facebook brand? Does Michael Dowling, Northwell Health CEO, have to embrace change when facing an insurance market that has to set prices for 2018 in less than three month?

For a professional that spends a lot of time looking at brand and business heritage, mining the perceptual depths of consumer, one might think I don’t embrace change. That I’m not incentivized to embrace change. You’d be wrong. Tomorrow is the only day I care about.

Sure I look for business proof that feeds the framework of brand strategy. Sure I do some rearview mirror planning. But tomorrow is “beyond the dashboard.” Future revenue is tomorrow. All earthly business delights are to be found tomorrow.



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I love the North Shore-LIJ Health System, now called Northwell Health. I’ve invested hundreds of hours helping build the brand and business, beginning in 2000 or about. I’ve been met the organizations best and brightest physicians, administrators, and board members and feel a deep kinship with the brand.  My brand strategy for the system, 15 years old now, has worked through 4 ad agencies and even more campaigns. So it pains me when I read these mission words on a website:

At Northwell Health, we believe every role, every person and every moment matters. We embrace our Culture of C.A.R.E. (Connectedness, Awareness, Respect and Empathy) with our people and the communities we serve and our organization’s values of Caring, Excellence, Innovation and Integrity. This helps us make a powerful and positive impact on our patients’ and customers’ experiences.

There is nothing wrong with a broad mission or even 4-letter acronyms. That said, I suspect this value statement was written by a new ad agent or copywriting employee with no strategic north star. Anyone with the organization for more than a few years, including CEO Michael Dowling, knows this cookie cutter paragraph is on every hospital website, in one form or another, from here to Abu Dhabi.

A brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks) is the mission statement writ small. A mission statement is an expansion of the brand strategy – but this one is not close to the uniqueness that is Northwell Health. It’s gop. Directionless, rudderless gop. Sorry Northwell. You can do — and have done — much better.



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When I worked on the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System business with Welch Nehlen Groome, system CEO Michael Dowling would meet every Monday morning with new employees and welcome them. The system employed about 30,000 people so Mr. Dowling had an opportunity to go really viral with his mission.

At face value the mission, embodied in the tagline “Setting New Standards in Healthcare,” didn’t sound like much.  Operationalized, it was a brand game-changer.

The brand planks supporting the strategy were unassailable and uniquely North Shore – creating tremendous wealth for the brand. Yet what was missing from the equation and where I didn’t do a good job as brand planner was getting senior management to acculturate the brand plan through the employee world. Had every Monday morning Mr. Dowling shared the brand strategy with his impressionable new employees, imagine how much stronger his brand would be today.

People think health systems are about saving money. Done correctly, they are about redistributing healthcare wealth (clinical and economic).  North Shore had a system for doing this.  It was, and is, its secret sauce.

All companies, big or small, need to share their unique brand strategies with employees. Otherwise, every employee at every company is driven by the same strategy: earn a paycheck.

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