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Michelle Hege

As the H in DH, Michelle’s leadership extends beyond the agency. In business, communications and strategy — and as an innovator in social change marketing — Michelle knows what she’s doing. Even when she doesn’t know, exactly. Which is also fun. “In our business, every day is different, and every challenge requires new thinking,” Michelle says. “That’s what I love — a new problem, a different industry, an unusual opportunity. When you stop being stretched, you stop growing. I’m still growing, and I love it.”
CEO
Raiser of voices
Strategic adviser
Listener leader

Michelle’s take on:

The value of audience voices

From the start, Michelle says, our work at DH has been research-fueled. We dig into data, we pore over studies and — especially for social change campaigns — we listen to the people we need to reach.

Before we try to tell audiences anything, we ask them about their realities. What are the reasons behind their behaviors? What motivates them? Their answers help us design campaigns that lead people to positive and sustainable change.

Take an early DH campaign to get more families to enroll their kids for state health insurance — a watershed moment for DH, in which we learned that asking the right questions of the right people would be crucial to our work. We asked stakeholders to talk about the barriers to enrollment. One key issue was the complex application form.

“It was like having to do your taxes. It was too hard,” Michelle says. “So we worked with Department of Social & Health Services to turn it into a 1.5-page form.”

It was an unexpected solution — inspired by the people who knew the problem best.

Addressing crises quickly and honestly

The public expects a quick response from any organization facing crisis, whether the crisis stems from a natural disaster or an employee’s mistake. Social media and 24-hour news cycles won’t wait, and public reaction will come.

Michelle’s advice:

Say as much as you can as soon as you can. Always be 100% honest and provide as much transparency as possible.

It’s the right thing to do, and withholding facts only magnifies the damage when they come out later.

“People are scared to admit they screwed up — it’s a human-nature thing,” Michelle says. “But same principles apply again and again. People are willing to forgive companies that are honest and apologetic.”

Then communicate action. State your next steps, whether they’re policy changes or other repairs. And follow through.

Leading by listening

DH is a self-empowered team, so employees have the freedom, trust and autonomy to make decisions, get organized and do the work. After putting the tools and processes in place, leading an empowered team looks a lot like listening, Michelle says.

When team members raise concerns about the tools and processes, respond. Facilitate conversations. And be willing and ready to evolve.

“It’s based on shared values and shared commitment,” Michelle says. “And it’s work that’s never done.”

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