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How to measure internal communications

And therefore – by extension – how to improve #internalcommunications too.

 

A couple of important points to set the scene.

Firstly, communication lies somewhere between art and science. The best communication makes connections because it hits a rational or emotional button, or  - even better - some sweet spot of both.

Therefore, the measurement of the effect of communication can never be entirely scientific. We can look for trends and patterns, we can look for correlations.

But if you’re ever looking for ; “because we said this, then there was a 37% increase in this” where “this” is anything beyond a very basic metric, then you’re going to be largely disappointed. You may have those metrics for some of the simpler communications – Don’t forget to turn the lights off! – but not for the things that truly matter, the things that make your organisation more successful.

 

Secondly, I’m in the business of understanding how employees feel. If I can help you understand how they feel, then you can better understand and meet their needs. I’m not an expert on the methods in which you can enable communication to flow in your organisation. I’m not an expert in crafting the messages or curating the conversations. If those are the insights you need, then you’ll need to look elsewhere.

I am an expert in understanding the relationship between employer and employee. Sometimes that’s about employer brand, sometimes that’s about culture, and sometimes that’s about engagement. In this instance I want to concentrate on communication. Essentially, how well do both parties understand each other, how well can both parties communicate with and influence each other?

 

Where to start on measuring the effectiveness of internal communication?

There are three ways I think it is useful to think about:

·         Looking at the success of communication across the organisation – where do employer and employee understand each other, and where not?

·         Looking at the success of communication for a particular topic / strategy / moment in time – more of a specific measurement, has this taken effect?

·         Looking at the connection between your internal and external employee communications – are we consistent in what we’re saying about the experience of working here?


In each case, I think of them as a funnel. You’re moving from the broadest possible questions and topics down to the most specific, and ultimately most relevant to understanding success. It’s a great process for eliminating the irrelevant and focussing on where to stay consistent and where to apply change.


Success of communication across the organisation

This is like, or very close to a classic communications audit. What do people want to know, need to know, and where’s best to share that? Our funnel sees us move from taking a complete overview, then getting a wider/ shallower input, then refining that understanding, and then finally testing some real ideas.

Let me walk you through each of those stages:


Looking at communication as a whole

How communication works now and what matters most. This is working with the internal communications teams and key leaders and managers – those that can provide an overview, without (yet) diving into detail.

It’s looking at how communication works across the organisation. Were communication is seen to succeed, as well as where it isn’t. It’s gaining broad-brush opinions and ideas on how communication could be strengthened. And it’s setting up measures of what success for a new communication strategy would look like, and consequently, how success might be gauged. It lays down a foundation for the rest of the insight, and means that there is a focus on the right priorities, from the outset.

 

Getting a wider input

We’re looking here to get opinion from as many people as possible. Although we don’t yet get the depth and detail, there’s a huge amount of valuable insight which will advise the overall thinking.

Above all, this is an opportunity to look at differences in opinions and perceptions between different groups of people. And that gives the opportunity to create different personas – perhaps based on role or function or geography, perhaps based on demographics, but almost certainly based on people’s needs, desires and their attitude to communication and the relationship they have with you as an employer.

There is huge value there to enable you to more precisely craft communication in future, to push the right buttons at the right time, and involve the right people in the right activities.

 

Refining that input

We know by this stage how people feel, this is the opportunity to understand the reason why they feel like that.

So, it’s involving fewer people, but in more depth and with time to kick subjects around and really explore them. Undoubtedly, by the end of this stage, you’ll understand much more deeply the topics already uncovered. But equally, new topics will emerge, just by having the space and the interaction with others to ideas to develop as people bounce off one another.

You’ll now feel confident in how to respond to what you’ve heard.

 

Developing the findings and recommendations

This is the stage that I think is missing too often. It’s one thing to listen, and to listen hard. But if you don’t give people the chance to react to how you intend to respond, then there is still too much opportunity to veer off-track and to devise solutions and strategies that don’t really meet the needs of your people.

These are sessions for the front-line employees and their line managers. Those in the thick of your organisation, who you need to be able to reach, to influence and to hear from. They determine the success, or otherwise of your organisation. In just the same way it’s they who decide if you are engaging with them in the right way.

Wrong steps cost time and money, often a lot of both, as well as your own credibility. This is how you flush out the non-starters, refine the ideas that could misfire, and polish the methods that will truly cut through.

 

The result is a plan

A plan that is as assured of success as you can be – remember it’s not a science! – and which can be RAG-rated against cost, time, ease and overall effect. This enables prioritisation and budget planning.

It’s a plan that also includes those personas and measures, so you know how to communicate most effectively and how to know when you’ve been effective.

It’s a plan that sets all the groundwork for long-term successful communication.

 

Success of communication for a particular topic / strategy / moment

This is a different kind of task for very specific types of communication.

This is for when there’s something significantly new or different.

·         It could be that the organisation is pivoting or changing in some kind of fundamental way

·         It could be that you have a new product or service

·         It could be that there’s a big reorganisation happening

·         It could be that you’d like to operate and behave in a different way to previously

Whatever it is, there is a priority need to understand if your messages are reaching people, if they have understood them, and if they believe them.

Those are the foundations of your measurement, but not yet what you truly need to understand.

Fundamentally, with changes as big as this, you need to know if people are doing things differently.

So let me work you through those measurements.


Are you reaching people?

We’re in the realms of measuring views and clicks, but:

a)      Not everyone will consume the information in an electronic format, especially if they don’t have a desk or work device

b)      Even those that do have e-mail, then team meetings, town halls, water-coolers and Whats App will quite possibly have more of an influence on whether that message registers

So, you need to find out if messages are getting to people. Perhaps speak to a few, do a “dip” test. And if people are receiving messages, you’d expect it to be the start of a conversation. Are people asking questions, and how? If they’re not, did they even get the message?

Do people understand?

This is where the ability to converse with you really comes into its own.

If people understand, they’ll have questions, there’s no way they’re going to get every nuance in one go.

If people don’t understand, they’ll have questions, there’s no way etc etc. It’s just that in this instance they will be different questions – can you help me understand? Can you explain this again? – or questions that help you realise they have the wrong end of the stick.

Either way you’ll have a good measure of whether people get the idea. And if you’re smart about it, where in the business issues may lie.

Do people believe it?

Now you’re starting to look for the pre-actions, the trigger movements that people are preparing to change how they work. Do they continue to ask questions? Are they accessing more information? Are line managers being asked to share more? Are they using different resources? Is the organisation getting requests for time, equipment, training to make this work? Are people booking into the sessions they need to be ready?

 

Are people doing things differently?

Not just “Are they doing the precise things we want them to do?” those effects may be hard to see or measure immediately. But if we see that productivity changes (perhaps, dips) , or if there’s more contact between departments that don’t normally speak, or if you start getting a different kind of customer enquiry. these are all signs that people are doing things differently. Through your communication and conversations, you’ve influenced a change.

It remains to be seen if the change has the desired effect. That depends in large part on the design of the change, and often that’s not in your control. What you can now say is that you have got people into a position where change has every chance to succeed.


OR, perhaps, you haven’t got people to the place you’d like

Maybe your communication strategy hasn’t been so successful. Maybe you haven’t convinced people to make the leap, and change what they’re doing.

That’s not great, but you know that. And you know that now. And you know roughly at which point you didn’t bring people with you.

Measurement comes with the risk of proving you haven’t got things right. But it gives you the opportunity to put things right, in the right way, and as soon as possible. It might produce insights that question your professional judgement, but it gives you the opportunity to be a better professional. It’s a no-brainer.

 

Connection between your internal and external employee communications

This is coming into focus for more employers, but there is still a very great deal more that can be done.

Increasingly, employers are defining their employee value proposition and managing their employer brand. That is to say, they are defining a position that is distinctive, attractive, realistic and consistent, and trying to influence their target audience’s perceptions towards that position.

It’s often lead by HR or Talant Acquisition, sometimes Marketing. They do a great job of projecting that image externally, but too often that doesn’t follow through internally. The communications can feel like they’re from two separate entities. And the risk is that the experience of what you are promised, and then what you live, feel rather different.


I sometimes think of a job as a bit like a marriage. The spark can wane a little when it’s all wet towels on the floor and the car left without petrol. Again.

It does no harm to be reminded of what drew you together in the first place, or all the small kindnesses, gestures and benefits that it’s easy to lose sight of.

There’s an opportunity to review internal versus external communications, and to assess if the same messages are being presented. And if not, what are the most appropriate ways for that which you say inside the organisation to link to those you’re using to attract new talent.


Look at your funnel again – from the big messages for all, down to the more focussed ones, but the ones that maybe have the most impact, or have the most opportunity to influence how people feel about their employer.

You can’t go back to the first days of courting. That would just be odd; it’d be exhausting. But you can find ways to bring those same messages back to an internal audience.

 

Communication is that blend of rational and emotional, and your measurement should be too. Set up a structure, out in measures, stay alive to sentiment.

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