Q&A: How an operational transformation revitalized employees at two agencies

Frankie Stokes, senior associate, strategic marketing and corporate communications, CMI Media Group and Compas

When the start of the COVID-19 pandemic changed business practices, forward-thinking organizations also looked for opportunities for growth, flexibility, and purpose.

Companies like CMI Media Group and Compas took the pandemic as a chance to improve internal processes and transform the workforces at these partner agencies. Spearheaded by its joint leadership, the result was Operation Elevate: a strategic focus on creating leadership and an organizational structure to centralize and operationalize current procedures and workflows across the agencies for all departments. As part of Operation Elevate, steps included filling team gaps and shifting tasks or load shedding.

In this Q&A with Eugene Lee, Chief Operating Officer at CMI Media Group and Compas, and Julia Missaggia, Chief People Officer at CMI Media Group and Compas, the conversation focused on how these improvements benefited employees and clients. The questions and answers explore the agencies’ priorities and processes during the changes. 

Q. What was the catalyst for the Operation Elevate initiative?

Eugene Lee: When entering the pandemic, where nearly every operational piece of an organization needed to be looked at, we felt it was time to transform ourselves. We knew that things would never be the same and how big of a task the transformation would be, so we started early. 

We also saw that our clients’ and employees’ expectations were shifting, so there was a need to transform as well. We took on every aspect of our business that delivered our primary purpose, which is the creation, management, optimization and execution of an effective strategic media plan. That simple statement comprised the review of thousands of steps: every system, form, document, conversation, email and process to deliver for our clients.

This effort needed to result in our employees feeling fulfilled in their careers. We identified nearly a hundred pain points among our employees and have reworked how those impact them to improve their experience with the work.

Q. How does load shedding affect the agency overall, and why was it a priority to address it?

Eugene Lee: Load shedding was essential for us to become more efficient in our efforts and ensure that every action our teams took was purposeful and up to date. We eliminated antiquated steps, shifted manual processes to make them automated and stopped doing things that didn’t provide value to the team, the purpose, or the client.

Sometimes, load shedding isn’t enough to create efficiencies, so each process also underwent a process engineering exercise. We also realized that systems needed to be updated or changed where some off-the-shelf platforms weren’t efficient enough for our needs, so we’ve taken on the task of building one that is. While the development of identifying the companies’ needs was manual, the integration of technology was at the forefront.

Q. How has technology integration increased through Operation Elevate?

Eugene Lee: It’s not as easy as just adding technology. We’ve had to carefully determine what technology was needed, bringing the right ones to the organization instead of just adding more technology. We also took on the replacement of old technology with newer options to bring new capabilities that align with our needs to the table. Some technology has defined how we do our work, and there often is a fear of changing this, so change management has become a big part of the implementation, changing or adding of technology.

In a client-facing sector, room for growth exists on both sides of the agency. The need to improve technology use isn’t limited to internal systems, as the healthcare marketing industry is continuously evolving with data technology practices. 

Recently, Khari Motayne, our vice president of engagement strategy, spoke at a SXSW panel about the role of healthcare data and marketing technology. He spoke about how AI will shape the future of what health equity looks like. In the short term, companies are rebuilding trust with audiences from a health equity and media perspective, and in the long term, there will be more testing and innovation with data, especially with the use of AI.

Q. How have the agencies adapted to these changes?

Julia Missaggia: Rolling out any new policy or shift requires immense flexibility, as the idea of continuing everyday practices without disruption by the latest changes can be a challenge. All of these changes were driven by cascaded communication plans and ample time for employees to adapt. We included employees in that process, where continuous feedback loops were used to see how our efforts were landing. Because of the employee involvement, we were able to adjust in real-time and pivot to meet the evolving needs. Overall, these changes were well received because employees felt they were involved in the process and understood the purpose.

Sponsored by CMI Media Group