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Data: the internal communications blind spot?

Lisa PantelliLisa Pantelli·

‘Tactics without strategy, is the noise before the defeat’, Sun Tzu.

For decades, marketing and sales teams have recognized the power of data to drive sales and customer engagement. In the world of communications, PR campaigns are increasingly strategic and developed based on audience insights. Yet, when it comes to internal communications and employee engagement, the sector remains woefully behind.

Having worked with clients of all shapes of sizes, I was not surprised when in May this year recruitment firm VMA published research which found that 31% of internal communications teams do not have a strategy. To add to this, Poppulo’s own research in 2014 found that over 60% of internal communicators don’t measure what they do. Furthermore, Poppulo’s 2016 Inside IC Global Survey found that while 95% agreed that measurement was ‘important’ or ‘very important’ over half of them said it was the activity they spent least time on each week.

Considering that internal communications is viewed by many as an enabler of employee engagement, for me the absence of a strategy could be an indication of why UK employee engagement scores remain stagnant. Additionally, despite CEOs increasingly citing employee engagement as one of their top three priorities (PWC, 2017), if we’re not measuring what we do and demonstrating solid Return on Investment (ROI, then how can we provide a credible justification for further investment in the function?

I believe that to do this we need to draw on solid, evidence-based research and insights to develop strategies. We need to clearly link what we do with the success of business metrics, increased engagement scores and, if we can get that far, driving sales. That in itself makes a far more interesting story to tell.

Investment in the internal communicator

Communications directors nowadays need a strong commercial understanding of the business priorities and how they can be addressed. Many internal communicators have yet to really demonstrate their value, with expectation that their role is limited to content, with measurement restricted to simple input and output measures.

There is undoubtedly an appetite amongst internal communicators to take a more sophisticated approach, but investment – such as training, additional resource, or simply dedicated time away from the day-to-day – in these teams and individuals is crucial if the sector as a whole is going to evolve and we can demonstrate our impact.

But which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

The argument will always be that investment can only be made if the business recognizes the value in what we’re trying to achieve. So where do we start?  

Before you run for the hills at the mention of data one more time, just to reassure you, it really isn’t that scary.

Using data effectively can be the single most powerful difference between transactional communications (top down) and transformational engagement (behavioral change).

Chances are, you already have access to insights to help inform your strategy. Perhaps it’s high attrition rates, low customer service scores, low or stagnant engagement scores or perhaps it’s just that people don’t understand what they’re doing or why they’re there.  Look at what you already have and then start to build a plan for what other information you need. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Have a clear purpose and know what it is you want to achieve. What problems are you trying to solve? Be clear on what it is you want to achieve. Where are you adding value to meeting business objectives? How could you increase engagement with what you do? When you have your objectives, think about what data you need to meet them. For instance, a practical example of a problem you’re trying to solve might be attrition. Are your attrition rates high? How much is it costing when you lose an employee and recruit? There’s absolutely a role for internal communications involvement here.
  • It’s quality over quantity every time. Don’t drown in masses of spreadsheet. Is there someone in the business who can help you find the data you need? Or, perhaps it’s a very focused audit or series of workshops you need to deliver. Insight isn’t just numbers. It’s also qualitative, and can be anything which provides you with solid evidence to support an opinion or underpin a plan.  
  • Work with other teams. Don’t feel you need to gather, model and analyze data on your own. The key to using data successfully is being able to work closely with other teams to reach a common goal. By working collaboratively, sharing data and insights can be used to formulate strategies that are more unified and better focused on achieving corporate goals.
  • Use the data to communicate with senior leaders. They will be far more receptive if they can see the relationship and impact of internal communications against other organizational priorities. Rather than going into meetings saying ‘we think’, ‘we feel’ or ‘we believe’, go in with what you know. The power in this simple, yet subtle change is significant.
  • Use it regularly. Don’t rely on data once a year. If you do you will be looking back rather than forwards. Look at options of how you can gather data on a more regular and ongoing basis. Even if it’s a focus group or pulse survey every few months. Just make sure it’s relevant!
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