Measurement and strategy. They were the two subjects that really jumped out of Poppulo’s Inside IC Global Survey last year, for all the wrong reasons. We expected measurement to be an issue, a consistently stubborn problem, for internal communicators because it always has been. However, now more than ever it’s an absolutely critical element of any effective communicators job.
But it’s so often perceived as being too difficult. And that ill-founded perception exists despite the emergence of powerful and easy-to-use software developed specifically for the internal communications industry by Poppulo, which not only measures and analyzes communication outputs but also outcomes.
Nevertheless, we were still taken aback at the scale of the problem when the results of our survey came in. On the positive side, over 95% of the 700+ IC professionals from around the world agreed that measuring their activity was important, but rather alarmingly, more than half admitted it was the activity they “spent the least time on each week”. Tellingly, two out of three said they felt communications “difficult to measure”.
As a result of these findings, we decided to commission one of the world’s leading experts in organizational communication measurement, Angela Sinickas, to create The Ultimate Guide to Measuring Internal Communications, which we published earlier this year, to a tremendously positive response. It has prompted us to focus similar attention on the second standout issue from our Global Survey, strategy.
Internal communication strategy Infographic
Successful companies share one common trait, they spend a lot of time and energy making and executing plans to ensure they continue to flourish. Yet, when it comes to internal communications there rarely is a strategy. In fact, our Global Survey showed that ‘only one in three internal communications departments (35%) has a long-term strategy in place for internal communications”. This, regrettably, is in line with other international research.
The one-in-three ratio is even more alarming as even in the minority of cases where strategies do exist it’s reasonable to assume that not all are as good as they should be. This is the backdrop to our decision to create The Ultimate Guide to Internal Communications Strategy, and why we commissioned Gregg Apirian and Mike Lepis of Vignette, the Employee Experience Agency, to write it.
Our ambition is to present a clear, step-by-step path to help leaders, internal communications and HR practitioners develop and deploy effective internal communications strategies. And our goal is to guide internal communicators to uncover their vision, build a strategy and create an employee experience that they can be proud of.
To coincide with the publication of the whitepaper we are also publishing two strategy-related blogs by highly respected internal comms professionals, Sharon O’Dea on auditing communications and Katie Marlow on measurement.
Additionally, the accompanying infographic has been extracted from the strategy whitepaper.
One of the first things Gregg and Mike address in the Introduction to the guide is the frequently misunderstood difference between strategy and tactics. As they point out: “The first order of business in developing an internal communications strategy is to clearly define what it is not. A strategy is a carefully chosen plan that is created to bring about a future state of operations. Tactics, on the other hand, are the actual means used to achieve the goals defined in the strategy.”
“The confusion between the two is a common mistake within the internal communications and HR community. In some cases, tactics are applied from other companies or competitors without any consideration as to whether they are an appropriate fit. The essential rule is that tactics are most effective when aligned with an overall strategy.”
The reason d’être of any internal communications strategy must, of course, be to support the organization’s overall strategy and objectives. So, having a clear understanding of these business goals and objectives is the critical and essential starting point to the creation or development of any communications strategy.
When that understanding is achieved, the guide outlines how four pillars can be used to craft a foundational internal communications strategy that wins over leaders and employees alike.
These four pillars are:
- Vision: A future state goal (or set of goals) that serves as a guide for this process.
- Alignment: Synchronizing goals with stakeholders, leadership, and peers throughout the organization.
- Research & Insights: Validate the vision with well-supported data and insights about your people, culture and employee experience.
- Creation: Prioritize actions that will shape your strategy and the methods you will use to plan, deliver and achieve your objectives.
In their section on Research & Insights Gregg Apirian and Mike, Lepis stress the importance for internal communicators to know as much as possible about their audience, and that includes leaders as well as employees: “It’s essential to know as much as you can about them and their preferences.”
In her blog, Sharon O’Dea also stresses the importance of knowing as much as you can about communication channel preferences. But to know this, you’ve got to find out what channels are working and those that aren’t. Which is why an audit is necessary, and shouldn’t be made a lesser priority to other activity.
Whatever about historical distaste for, or difficulty with, measurement, Katie Marlow says it really doesn’t need to be like this. “Measuring how our work is making a difference to business should be part and parcel of our activity, not a time-consuming activity managed as a separate entity.
“What’s more, it gives us credibility in the boardroom, a power to our counsel, and helps us to protect and gain budget to do our work well. But above all, for me, it demonstrates the difference our work makes. Guessing how well we did just doesn’t cut it in modern business.
And as professional communicators we should not be satisfied with a ‘feeling’ that our efforts have made a difference,” she says.
Removing guesswork and building a strategy based on measurable, data-driven insights is very much a focus of the Ultimate Guide to Internal Communications Strategy.
Applying modern research, insights and action planning methods will greatly benefit any strategy. By doing this you will better understand your audience, which will enable your internal communications strategy to deliver greater value back to your organization.