5 Things I Learned from Engineering an Internal Comms Turnaround During a Pandemic (CASE STUDY)

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Get practical guidance, ideas and takeaways from a top-level pro who’s shepherding her organization through a period of profound transformation.

Bessie Kokalis Pescio, VP of Global Internal Communications, Phillip Morris International

There’s on-the-job learning—and then there’s on-the-job enlightenment.

I’ve held a lot of roles during my career, many of them at Philip Morris International (PMI), but nothing could have prepared me for the challenge of effectively communicating to our 71,000+ employees about our company’s historic transformation.

By the time I took on the role as head of global internal communications​ in late 2019, PMI was already roughly three years into its transformation, having announced in late 2016 that it would build its future on smoke-free products that—while not risk-free—are a far better choice than cigarette smoking. Our bold new mission was a powerful motivator for our organization and employees.

However, a transformation doesn’t happen overnight–certainly not one of this magnitude and scale. It requires consistent communication. But as we made across-the-board changes to the company—from our capabilities and skills, to the way the business is organized, to our ways of working, etc.—at some point our transformation became confusing, maybe even overwhelming, to our employees. When we surveyed them, we realized that during the process of overhauling our business operations and mission, we hadn’t done nearly enough to empower our team’s autonomy and confidence in the transformation. The majority of our employees weren’t clear on their unique role in the transformation and, as such, couldn’t take ownership of it.

When we stopped and took stock, it was easy to see that the “what” was clear—our mission makes us stand out and is truly transformative. The “how” was less clear.

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