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Inspired action on IC measurement standards. Let’s raise a glass to that!

Sean WilliamsSean Williams·

It was over a few Mojitos on a balmy night in March in Miami, Florida, during the International Public Relations Research Conference (IPRRC) in 2014, that a handful of measurement believers bemoaned the fact that the public relations industry still did not have any acknowledged standards for how to measure internal/employee communication efforts.

My response was a somewhat refrained  ‘blast it!’ as I pounded the table across from Stacey Smith, of Jackson Jackson & Wagner and Julie O’Neil of Texas Christian University (cursing was inappropriate given the ecumenical representation!),  “Let’s do something about it,” said Stacey – and when Stacey wants something done, it gets done.

This informal discussion led to a formal assignment from the IPR’s Measurement Commission, and I was appointed to head the project.  Stacey, Julie and I recruited Michele Ewing, Kent State University; Rita Lin-Juan Men, University of Florida, and six other experts from North America, Asia, the U.K., and Europe, to form a task force to explore the issue.

This band of 11 first sought to define current and likely standards. It then discussed definitions based on a literature search and practical use for each.  Imagine, even amid the comity and collegial atmosphere, trying to get 11 exceptionally talented, educated, experienced — and opinionated — communicators to agree on these standards. The debates ranged from strict matters of definition, as in: “These academic definitions don’t match reality! What the heck is ‘procedural justice’ anyway?” to honest differences of opinion on whether certain items were even valid measures. “We should be measuring things that employee communicators are responsible for, not things that might have other inputs!”

On top of all those frequently passionate conversations, the team debated differences of the model of internal comms — would the standards be aspirational or entirely practical? If organizational impact is the ultimate measurement, how do we account for the other things that bring it about?

No mojitos for this group until we agree!  The mojito pitcher remained dry for no small period of time as the dialogue continued, but in a triumph of tenacity, we landed on a set of blended definitions, at last. Stacey, Michelle, Julie and I then took these defined measures to the PRSA International Conference in 2015 for further comment. More than 60 communicators from the practice and academia joined in the discussion. Next, they queried the 2016 IPRRC, where another 60 academics and practitioners gave comments and guidance on definitions, current practice, and further feedback.

In fall of 2016, the team conducted a Delphi Study, a qualitative survey technique that is designed to drive consensus, with another 30 plus experts weighing in to sharpen focus and hone definitions. The final list, following two Delphi rounds: 22 Standards — organized by Outtakes, Outcomes and Organizational Impact. 

Three years after those initial drinks and now in Orlando, the team presented its scholarly paper on the measurement standards at the 2017 IPRRC.  The group has now begun work to determine best practices for measuring the proposed standards.  This process will include testing in three varied but major organizations in a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods.  Perhaps our next round of Mojitos will be to celebrate the adoption of industry standards by all employee communication professionals!  Perhaps you’ll join us?

For more on the standards, listen to Poppulo’s webinar What to measure, why and how: An ongoing issue in internal communication, and/or for a copy of the paper and 22 Standards, please contact Sean Williams 00 1 888 456 0369 or here 


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