Hired to modernize and elevate the ADA (American Dental Association) brand, Stephanie Moritz is seen as a transformative and visionary disruptor. But even for this marketing and communications pro — also a mom of two — the pandemic posed daunting challenges to the organization, the healthcare world and to her family. As organizations and people transition from the COVID crisis mode to what’s next, Stephanie’s approach, led by curiosity and design-thinking, is leading the way to innovation and activation.

KS: Stephanie, you are a big proponent of design thinking. In fact, you and the American Dental Association were just recognized as winners in the Cultural Transformation category in the Design & innovation Awards. Tell us how design thinking has guided your professional work.

SM: Design thinking, or human-centered design, is a topic I’ve studied and used often in my work. Especially during the pandemic, when we went from business as usual to needing to pivot and strategically shift the entire energy of the ADA. As the leading healthcare association in dentistry in a pandemic, I leaned into human-centered, empathetic leadership, embraced essentialism, and took action.

How? Together with my talented and dedicated peer group, we led the ADA to work closely with the CDC as well as local and federal regulatory bodies to create resources and get dentists what they needed in this unpredictable and unprecedented time. I couldn’t be more proud of my talented Integrated Marketing Communications team, who was at the helm of the communications for this 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week operation.

I strove to listen, be real, demonstrate empathy and create a safe space. As a leader, I applied human-centered, design thinking principles to our work and encouraged people to bring their whole selves to work. I stationed my office in my kitchen and my colleagues could see my kids, husband, and dog, and I encouraged the same from them – to be real and authentic. We laughed and cried together, virtually, along the way.

KS: Your approach has worked, right?

SM: It sure has. I’m pleased to report that we have not only survived but thrived. Key indicators are very positive with our 2020 net promoter score (NPS) and our employee engagement score the highest it’s ever been, we are seeing growth in key, growing segments and we’ve been awarded by the communications industry for our work during COVID.

KS: In addition to being a c-suite executive, you are also a mom. How do you incorporate design thinking into your family life?

SM: Being the mom of two special needs children, with limited in-school support during the pandemic, at the same time, my husband and I became the entire support system for our kids’ learning, from IT and on-site learning aid to study space design and therapy facilitators.

I tried to see the unexpected family time as a gift. While leading an organization through a pandemic and having special needs children is a lot, having more time at home with my family was a true gift. I also became more choiceful with “yes.” There’s nothing like a pandemic to force focus. Say yes to what matters most, own your decisions, and let the rest go.

KS: As we move forward in these pandemic times, where is design thinking leading you next?

SM: Professionally, I see us moving from crisis counselors to innovators and metrics-driven activators. There are more options available than ever before for dentists today. In order to continue to be the leading voice, the ADA needs to advance to meet the needs of the ever changing and diverse landscape of dentists.

We have transformed our integrated marketing communications team into a forward-thinking, strategic marketing powerhouse, partner and servant leader for the organization, helping to achieve record membership results, combat crises, win awards and redefine how we communicate and engage. During COVID, our work style had to take on more of a crisis “command” style.

Moving forward, we’ll reset and evolve from crisis to consulting and connecting dots, with a goal of serving as innovators and metrics-driven activators. The challenges of the next few years are formidable and will require all initiatives to be evidence-based as well as communications-optimized.

KS: What’s your best advice for successfully navigating the future?

SM: Choose “gallons” not “pints.” Stick with the people who have the capacity to fill you up — the gallons –not drain you bit by bit — the pints.

Aspire to servant leadership. Helping our internal, as well as external, audiences succeed as one team will be critical to future success. My team and I aspire to servant leadership that honors the work of the leaders of our organization.

Communication is key. The challenges of the next few years are formidable and will require all initiatives to be communications-optimized to optimize growth and trust.

KS: Thank you, Stephanie. Your approach to work and life is inspirational – and clearly effective.

SM: My pleasure, Kelley. I enjoy sharing what I have learned so that we can all succeed together.