Blind Faith

Using outputs and proxy measures like employee engagement to judge the success of internal communication are a form of organisational ‘Blind Faith’. What should our measures of success really be?

What is the benchmark of successful internal communication in your organisation? Or, to put it another way, what are you judged on by others, particularly senior leaders and other stakeholder groups such as Human Resources (HR)?

For many internal communicators, I suspect that it will be the perceived busyness which is associated with how much output you and your team can create. Intranet posts, newsletters, events, videos, posters, manager briefings and the other day to day internal communications paraphernalia which we are all familiar with.

For some leaders and other stakeholders this is all they need to see to ‘know’ that internal communication is happening successfully within the organisation. The more elaborate and prolific the content, the more reassured they are that all is well, particularly if that content features them, their deeds, decisions and successes. The blissful ignorance of Blind Faith!

For some internal communicators this organisational blind faith can be reassuring and comforting, enabling them to avoid the inconveniences of being judged by harder measures, such as tangible outcomes and organisational impact. For others, it is deeply frustrating when they know that the copious outputs they are creating have no discernable purpose, objectives or impact and that their efforts (and the constant demands for more of it) are effectively just keeping them busy ‘sending out stuff’.

For this latter group, the question should probably be ‘what do you want your success to be measured by then, instead?’ swiftly followed by another question ‘how do you get your leaders and stakeholders interested in accepting that alternative as the defining yard stick for measuring IC success, or the lack of it?’

What measures should we track then?

Now measurement has for a long time been the nemesis of the internal communicator. A mysterious dark art which some of us aren’t naturally very good at. After all we’re more comfortable with words not numbers, right?

That can lead us to turn to other metrics which organisations habitually track, as our own measures of success. For example, levels of employee engagement, staff satisfaction or internal net promoter scores.

With this in mind, a few weeks ago I asked other internal communicators what they thought we should be really tracking and monitoring in internal communications.

Now, the people who voted for Employee Happiness or Staff Satisfaction should immediately go and sit on the internal communications naughty step! As organisational communicators we are not in the business of making employees ‘happy’ or ‘satisfied’. It is perfectly possible for employees to be unhappy or dissatisfied at work and still do a decent job. They just need to be informed and listened to, to do that. In addition, happiness or satisfaction are subjective concepts which I would argue are entirely immeasurable in an empirical sense.

Lecture over.

So, what about the others, Employee Experience and the top scoring Employee Engagement? For these two, I’m going to be slightly controversial and say….

……neither of them.

Or, perhaps more accurately, neither of them on their own.

Another form of organisational Blind Faith

Letting the success of what you do as an internal communicator be directly judged by either of these proxy measures is another form of organisational ‘Blind Faith’.

Why?

If you’ve ever done any kind of formal research (unfortunately another skills gap for some internal communicators, like measurement) you’ll likely know the difference between primary and secondary research.

Secondary research is essentially a method that involves analysing existing data from research which was done or collected for another purpose, to try and understand your own issue or situation. Conversely, primary research is about directly collecting data to analyse your own issue or situation.

To extrapolate this to monitoring levels of employee engagement/experience to judge the success of internal communication. If you are doing this, you are allowing your success as an internal communicator to be solely judged by data and evidence that was collected for an almost entirely different purpose.

Does that feel right?

Blunt instruments

Now, we know that there are some close associations between employee engagement and internal communication. The Four Enablers, which underpin the Engage for Success movement have clear links to internal communication, and are things which we can influence to a lesser or greater degree:

Strategic Narrative

Engaging Managers

Employee Voice

Organisational Integrity

However, employee engagement and employee experience are more than internal communication alone, and the surveys and other tools which attempt to measure them are blunt instruments when it comes to gauging how successful IC is. They often just don’t ask the right, or detailed enough questions, about internal communication as a function.

To really judge the success of internal communication you need your own measures and your own data, preferably gathered by your own primary research.

I’ve written before about how to measure what matters in internal communication, at the level of the activity we undertake and the campaigns and channels we run.

I am also a firm advocate for completing a regular survey of internal communication in organisations, as a more direct measure of success. Unfortunately, trying to do this can involve having some arguments with higher profile functions such as HR, who can perceive that you are attempting to duplicate effort with their employee engagement survey or subject employees to survey overload.

My advice is to stand your ground and not allow the two issues to be conflated, or if you must (as a compromise), try and get some more meaningful internal communication questions into the bigger survey.

If you win the argument and can run your own internal communication survey, do take a look at the ICQ10 developed by Dr Kevin Ruck. This is a great measurement tool that links internal communication performance directly to organisational engagement and can help you answer that question I posed earlier – ‘what do you want your success to be measured by then, instead?’

The other question ‘how do you get your leaders and stakeholders interested in accepting that alternative as the defining yard stick for measuring success?’ Is the topic for a whole other blog!

Martin

I can help with the measurement and evaluation of internal communication activities in your organisation. Please get in touch for an initial, no obligation, chat.

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

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