Measurement….it’s been one of the major preoccupations of the internal communications profession for well over a decade now. Practitioner reputations, intellectual property and very profitable businesses within the industry have been built on the ever growing clamour to measure everything that internal communicators do. The benefits of doing so are often cited as being seen to be more credible in the eyes of leadership and management, adding demonstrable value to the business and proving your return on investment (ROI) when under the scrutiny of the finance team.
If you follow any social media chatter about internal communications, as I do, you are probably indirectly urged, cajoled, encouraged and pestered on a daily basis to measure. This can be stressful, and for busy internal communicators who are maybe working alone or in small teams with no or low budgets this barrage of peer pressure to measure everything probably serves only to activate the ‘imposter syndrome’ and create feelings of inadequacy.
I think it’s time for us to take a more pragmatic view of measurement in internal communications. We need to take a step back and be selective and realistic about how much of our work we can and should measure. For many of us, measuring everything just isn’t practical or appropriate and we shouldn’t feel bad about it if we can’t do that.
What should you be measuring? Introducing the five Os
Sometimes the demands to measure internal communications are not backed up by any explanations about what you are supposed to be measuring or where to find out about this. If there are explanations, sometimes they are often over complicated with references to abstract concepts buried deep within such things as the Barcelona Principles or the AMEC Framework. How these can be translated into the specific discipline of internal communications is not always obvious.
The good news is that measuring internal communications is neither mysterious nor complicated. You just need to understand what it is you are trying to measure in the first place. Let me introduce you to a way of thinking about measurement which I’ve found really helpful during my internal communications career, the five Os.
If you’re going to measure anything in internal communications, the first step is to work out what it is you are trying to achieve with the communications. Identify some objectives. These are essentially your definitions of success.
It’s worth noting that there is a difference between business objectives and communication objectives. Business objectives are often about such things as saving money, increasing sales, restructuring teams and organisations or improving customer satisfaction. Most organisations have a range of key performance indicators (KPIs) that they keep track of and take notice of, particularly in the board room. The business objectives of any activity in the organisation should be closely related to these KPIs.
In contrast, communication objectives are usually related to the people in the organisation, how they behave or think and what they need to do to make the business objectives happen so that the KPIs are achieved.
Having identified your business and communication objectives, you’ll then decide what communication channels and tactics you will use to help you achieve those objectives. Outputs are broadly the communication products and interventions that you create as a result of those decisions.
Newsletters, blogs, intranet articles, videos, face to face events delivered (and the number of people who attended), posters, leaflets and infographics are all some examples of outputs. Outputs are easy to measure because they are inherently visible, but all they really tell you is how productive you’ve been.
I often think of outtakes as the things people can remember and their immediate reaction after the communication outputs have been delivered through the communication channels in the organisation. So, this could be message recall, increased awareness of particular topics and the feedback and sentiment that comes back as a result of audiences receiving the communication. In the digital age we’ve also added clicks on links, content shares, likes, downloads, follows and webpage impressions to the list of outtakes.
Outtakes are a useful indicator of the ‘reach’ of communication outputs, but reach shouldn’t be regarded as the sole definition of success for them. Your messages might have reached and been seen by a significant numbers of people in your organisation, and the recall may be good, but this doesn’t mean that the message was understood and acted on in the way you wanted it to be. To understand that, you need to measure the remaining two Os.
Outcomes are often the changes in how people behave as a result of receiving and acting on communication outputs. Measuring the outcomes will usually tell you if your communication objectives have been achieved.
Behavioural change is driven by changes in attitudes and beliefs, which can be tracked through things such as employee survey responses or focus groups. An example of an outcome driven by behavioural change could be communicating the introduction a new process or way of doing things and explaining why this is necessary. If the outcome of this is that people in the organisation are persuaded to follow the new process, and this can be measured, then the communication was successful.
Other communication outcomes could be numbers of volunteers for an activity, sign-ups and completion of training or accurately following guidance and policies.
Organisational impact is the first prize of internal communication. If your communications have created some kind of organisational impact then its job done and you will have achieved the business objectives you identified before the communications started.
Let’s revisit the previous example of process change. If for example, by changing their behaviours to follow the new process you communicated, your colleagues have increased sales, improved customer satisfaction or reduced costs then there has been an organisational impact which can be measured.
Other organisational impacts can be more subtle, such as changes in organisational culture which empowers people to deliver a better personal performance through being more satisfied with their work or the social purpose of the organisation. This type of organisational impact is more difficult to see because it usually occurs over a longer period of time, in some cases years.
It’s OK to be selective about what you measure
Developing skills in measurement is an important aspect of working as a professional internal communicator. However, once they have those skills I don’t think that internal communicators should necessarily be measuring absolutely everything that they do. As I mentioned earlier, for some lone internal communicators and smaller teams this just isn’t practical and the wider profession needs to recognise this and give them a break. I know this won’t be a popular opinion with some, but we need to be realistic about what smaller teams can be expected to achieve and after 20 years working in internal communication teams both big and small I’m a realist.
Measurement of internal communications is important, if only to prove to yourself that you are making some kind of difference in your organisation. If others, such as leaders and management take note of the results you’re achieving then so much the better. However, if you are short of time and resources then be selective.
Perhaps you have a few big communication campaigns or projects in your organisation each year which are worth evaluating, and for which your measurement data will be of interest to others in the organisation who have some kind of stakeholder interest. It you have a regular communications product such as a newsletter, intranet update or face to face event, then maybe that’s your best candidate for getting started with some regular measurement of communication. It will, at the very least, give you some clues as to how you can make improvements to those communication products and channels
Measure what you can, but don’t feel bad if you can’t measure everything.