Few internal communication practitioners would dispute that measuring internal communication outcomes is hard.
But it’s not impossible, especially if we collaborate with other parts of the business.
When it comes to measuring internal communication (IC), we know what we should be doing – setting SMART objectives up front that link to organizational strategy, identifying KPIs and using quantitative and qualitative measures to tangibly demonstrate success.
But it’s that last bit that’s easier said than done – tangibly demonstrating the value we add to organizations.
Research conducted in 2017 by CIPR Inside, found that 92% of IC practitioners agreed internal communication could drive financial performance and team productivity, as did the CEOs who were interviewed. However, all agreed it was difficult to prove.
But it’s not impossible.
When we talk about measuring internal communication, we often talk about it in isolation from the rest of the business. Yet our colleagues in HR, IT, Marketing, Sales, etc all have valuable data that may help us to evidence the value we add to our organizations.
For example, if you’re running a security awareness campaign around phishing emails, your IT team can provide you with data that shows if there’s been a reduction in people opening scam emails.
Your finance team can then quantify how much that’s saved the company in lost productivity due to laptops being out of action, fines due to data breaches, etc.
Before you know it, internal communication can legitimately claim to have saved the organization thousands of pounds or dollars through a targeted, well-executed campaign that changed behavior.
And while we can’t claim sole responsibility for the success of initiatives, by sharing data and collaborating with other functions, we can show how integral our role was.
Jude Tipper, who heads up communications for the South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, agrees.
For the last two years, she’s been collaborating with other departments to agree shared measures that have enabled her to demonstrate the role IC has played in major successes.
“Last year, I worked with other functions on an employee wellbeing campaign. I held a workshop up front with key individuals from other departments to agree what success looked like and how we’d measure it. It meant we all had accountability and it was in everyone’s interest to share data.
“Because of this, we’ll be able to link things like an increase in employee physio and counseling referrals to our comms activity.
“But more importantly one of our organizational objectives was to achieve a certain percentage of employees saying in the staff survey that the Trust takes positive action around wellbeing.
“That percentage was linked to a significant financial incentive for the Trust – and it was successful in achieving it. While IC was just one element that contributed to that success, we were able to prove we had played a role.
“Measurement also informs how we evolve our approach to IC. Last year, we used employee insight from previous flu campaigns to improve our messaging and saw 76% of employees get their jab – up from 33%.
“We then used campaign feedback to tweak our approach this year and, once again, sustained the increase. Having happy and healthy NHS staff is directly linked to better patient care and a recent CQC inspection that found our patient care had improved overall, highlighted the role IC had played.
“If we hadn’t collaborated with our clinical colleagues to obtain data, we wouldn’t have been able to tangibly demonstrate the link.”
Jude’s example highlights the importance of internal communicators having good relationships with other departments, ensuring they understand the impact you can have, and more importantly, how working more closely with an IC function benefits them too.
And it’s imperative you have a strong understanding of the business you work for and know what data might be available to you.
However, it’s one thing having the relationships and access to the data, but what do you do with it once you have it?
Advita Patel has worked in internal communications for 12 years, although she started her career in IT, which she feels gave her a good grounding in data analysis, a skill she fears many internal communicators lack.
“Many internal communicators aren’t from statistical backgrounds and measurement can seem daunting, especially if you don’t know how to create dashboards, or how to work out ratios. But there will be people in your organization that do, so find them and spend time learning from them.
“I think we do ourselves a huge injustice by not measuring the important part we play.
“It’s not about boasting, it’s about making connections and saying, if we hadn’t run this awareness campaign, an employee might not have been inspired to think up a new idea that’s saved the business money.
“Ok, the idea wasn’t ours, but it might not have happened without our inspiration. We should never underestimate the value we add.”
While at Manchester Airport Group, Advita was part of a team (led by Anna Russell) that undertook an impressive piece of measurement to demonstrate to ExCo the impact internal communication has on engagement.
Using HR data such as retention, absence, performance and conducting interviews with team leaders to understand how they communicated, Advita and her colleagues correlated all this data against individual teams’ engagement survey scores.
They then looked at specific issues, for example, well-being, to see what internal communications they delivered on that topic, what individual team leaders did to support it, rates of absence, and how engagement scores differed across teams.
One of their key findings was that team leaders who engaged more with, and therefore received more support from, the internal communication team tended to have better engagement scores.
Advita adds, “This not only enabled us to demonstrate to ExCo the importance of internal communication to engagement but helped us identify areas to focus on. The next step would be to link engagement to productivity and profits so that we could say that internal communication impacts the bottom line.”
And the best thing about this example is that it required zero budget. While it did take a lot of time and resource, you could argue that if we’re to be trusted advisers, our time is better spent understanding our data first, rather than spending time creating communications that aren’t measured in any meaningful way.
There are many reasons not to measure – lack of time, fear of failure, shortage of skills – however, our organizations are full of data. Much of the work is already done for us, we just need to know how to interpret it, learn from it and of course, link it back to organizational goals.
Measuring effectively is a skill that can be learned – so add it to your CPD for the year, look for courses, learn from colleagues, read resources.
If we want to be taken seriously as a strategic function, it’s time we got serious about measurement.
We won’t see change overnight – especially in the way we’re perceived by organizations – but it will pay dividends in the long run.