Can we measure? Yes we can.
When I moved into the world of Internal Communications, one of the first frames of reference that I used to help me understand Internal Communication still resonates today. It’s the idea of the Internal Communication function in a large organization being akin to the White House communications department, headed by the White House Press Secretary. Really what I was doing was looking at Internal Communication through the prism of an Internal Communication function being headed by the character of C.J. from the West Wing, supporting the CEO (or President Bartlet) of the organization!
The White House Press Secretary acts as the administration’s mouthpiece, taking the internal thoughts of the administration, massaging them into a digestible format, ensuring they consistently align with the administration’s stated positions or goals and communicating them to the intended audience. At least that’s the idea…..(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idA5R9KWhAg)
In a similar fashion, the Internal Communication function within an organization has the same responsibility.
One of internal communication’s main tasks is to effectively communicate the organization’s strategic vision – and the steps being taken to realize that vision – to the employees. Increasingly the internal communicator’s role involves facilitating a back and forth conversation between employees and senior management via a corporate enterprise social network (Yammer/Chatter/Jive), comments on the intranet or ‘Ask the CEO’ initiatives. Similarly to the way the White House press secretary takes questions at the West Wing press conferences or the President might attend a townhall meeting to hear directly from the people affected by the administration’s decisions.
Geographically the White House Press Secretary has an office that is closer to the Oval office than the National Security Advisor, the Vice President and the White House Chief of Staff (http://www.whitehousemuseum.org/ww1.htm).
When visiting Internal Communication functions, it is noticeable that in the majority of cases, the Head of Internal Communication can be found in situ next door to the CEO. This physical proximity means that these Internal Communication functions are uniquely privy to the decision making process, strategic formulation and crisis responses within an organization.
From a business point of view, Internal Communication requires access to the CEO and strategic decision makers from the beginning of the strategic conversations so that it can plan, create content, schedule, publish, and leveraging accurate measurement, take action to improve their efforts while providing feedback to senior management.
But it seems that this physical proximity and access to the c-level that internal communication has, doesn’t appear to have helped Internal Communication professionals make that leap from being right next to the action, to being in the thick of the action. IC still struggles in taking that next step which would see internal communication move from being informed about strategic discussions so as to shape communications around them, to actually contributing and having input into both the strategic discussions and decisions being made at the c-level.
Can I join you at this table?
The transition from being the communicator for the c-level to having a seat at the decision making table and actively contributing to the strategic process requires a change in organizational thinking.
Internal communication has to be perceived as more than a mouthpiece for senior stakeholders.
Internal communication has to be identified as a valued strategic partner within the organization and accepted as an integral and vital strategic function, on a par with other functions like marketing.
That perceptional change isn’t just going to happen because the Internal Communication function wills it to happen, nothing in life worth having comes that easy (Life lesson from Dr. Bob ). To get the coveted seat at the top table the Internal Communication function has to prove its worth to the organization, earn its stripes, before being invited to take that seat.
So the question is: how can the Internal Communication function make that jump from White House Press Secretary to seat at the cabinet table?
In my view, internal communication is not currently utilizing one of its most potent weapons in trying to achieve this goal.
Measurement revolutionized marketing and HR, its role and perception as a strategic function within organisations. Once marketing could tell their story (how many people they were hitting with their message, how many leads were being generated, how many website visitors were being converted to paying customers etc) and show how they were contributing to the financial and strategic success of the organisation, they became a strategic pillar within organisations. Can Internal Communication learn from what marketing did and follow the same path to the top table?
Can I give you my opinion?
More highly engaged organizations perform better. Gone are the days when measuring employee engagement was a euphemism for the annual employee satisfaction survey. Accurate internal communication measurement across an organization’s channels, complimentary to the annual survey, should already be raising the profile and credibility of the Internal Communication function. Through this measurement Internal Communication supports and enhances the organization’s employee engagement strategy . By using meaningful, accurate and contextualised data on content performance and employee engagement metrics, the Internal Communication function improves its performance, its effectiveness, its value, and ultimately the organisation’s performance over time.
Measurement allows Internal Communications to demonstrate to its stakeholders that it isn’t just sending content out into a vacuum with no idea where or how it is landing with employees. Measurement can unlock the ability for the Internal Communication function to demonstrate that the work it does can change employee understanding or behavior in line with an organization’s overall strategic goals. And once Internal Communication begins contributing effectively in the strategic sphere, and communicates the results of their efforts clearly and effectively to senior stakeholders (and you’d hope that this communication would be the easy part!), credibility for the function rises and the seat at the top table moves closer.
And once there, with its unique view of the organization and multi-channeled relationship with the employee base, Internal Communication can leverage its potentially unrivaled view of employee behavior across the organization and become an indispensable strategic voice at the boardroom table.