“How much time should our team spend measuring communication?” A perfectly good question, but not one for which I had an immediate answer. How long is a piece of string? I thought, but that was just ducking the issue.
The question of “how much time” is symptomatic of a wider challenge: The need for communication practitioners to define what they need and expect from measurement—in the specific context of their organization. The tangible benefits to the communication team, to employees and to the business. Making the best use of available data. The need to provide leaders with insights that are really important to them. Demonstrating the value communication adds to business performance. Only then is it reasonable to put a figure on how much time and whether the end justifies the means.
What measurement can do for your organization
Defining expectations requires clarity on why we should measure communication in the first place. And that means going beyond simply logging which articles are most viewed and how many people attended the presentation. It means focusing instead on outcomes and insights, and aligning measures so they fully inform and support communication objectives. It’s a fundamental shift—one that takes measurement from a tactical, after-the-event activity, to a source of strategic value.
Of course, much has been written about this topic already, and I’m sure few would argue with the change in sentiment or emphasis. But what does it mean in reality? An informal survey of the practitioners and teams who do this well provides a snapshot of the upside and the benefits of getting it right: Measurement allows us to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of our internal communication. Using data and insight, we know where to prioritize our efforts. We see more clearly where there are gaps and know the areas that are likely to give us the best return on our limited resources. Regular feedback means we stay in tune with the views and sentiment of people—understanding their needs, characteristics and motivations. All of which allows us to better plan and deliver our campaigns and quantify to leaders the contribution communication is making to business performance.
Start with the basics
That summary might be compelling, but too ideal for some. It’s a description, nevertheless, that has merit in setting an ambition and gives a sense of what “good” looks like. For those who are maybe just getting started or making more modest progress, there are still things you can do to get smart about measurement:
- Be rigorous and limit what you measure to a few, high-value communication priorities. Don’t just go after intranet statistics, for example, when it’s much more important to look at the way understanding and confidence is changing toward an organizational change that’s critical to delivery of the business strategy.
- Make sure that what you set out to measure is clearly defined, can be measured, and most important, aligns with your communication objectives. Monitor specific increases in awareness or changes in attitude. For example, track against against a percentage target agreed to at the outset of your campaign.
- Balance output measures with outcome measures. Despite what is often said, you need both. Output measures allow you to monitor and adjust your communication activities through the course of a campaign to gauge the extent to which content, messages, channels and audience reach are working and whether you are meeting your objectives.
- Make insights a priority over data. It’s not the numbers that count. It’s what the numbers are telling you that’s important. That 57 percent of people attended a team listening meeting has marginal value. But being able to say that over the past six months, we have seen a 20 percent increase in participation at leadership listening sessions, with the most significant uplift seen across our European operations—provides the basis for a far more valuable conversation.
The ability to articulate why we should measure is for many just a stepping stone to the more challenging issue of how to do it. Suddenly, we have to make decisions about where to invest time and resources. Digital tools, instant feedback and real-time data open up many new opportunities, but can also muddy the water. Making informed choices about what and where to invest suddenly becomes more complex.
Benchmark your measurement capabilities
This challenge was one of the areas I addressed in a recent research report. Taking a fresh look at how to measure the impact and influence of internal communication, the report identified five measurement capabilities, against which organizations can benchmark their current levels of maturity and set future aspirations.
While everyone starts from a different place and has a unique set of business circumstances and communication requirements, the presence of these five capabilities largely determines the effectiveness of measurement activities. Most of the focus was found to be on the second, third and, to some extent, fourth capability. The first and fifth on the other hand, were weaker and less mature.
- The ability and rigor with which we set measurement objectives aligned to communication priorities. In short, how effectively we identify and quantify what we should be measuring.
A “foundation” level of capability would include: Measurement objectives agreed to and prioritized for most campaigns and segmented by audience. Basic metrics quantify communication performance and provide understanding of employee views. When asking survey questions, these are aligned to objectives to provide reliable data and some insights.
An “advanced” level of capability would look somewhat different: Measures are fully aligned to business outcomes and to communication objectives. Metrics are an integral part of all communication plans and campaigns. Detailed insights into employee attitudes, understanding and behavior creates a well-informed “baseline” and provides a sound basis for decision making, activity evaluation and prioritization.
2. The ability to access and use tools and techniques that can gather timely, accurate and relevant data. Enabling short and snappy feedback alongside more comprehensive data.
3. The ability to make sense of and analyze the information we gather. Uncovering the most valuable communication themes, trends and patterns while developing a deeper understanding and profile of our audiences.
4. The ability to present engaging and relevant insights that inform and shape communication campaigns, reported at the most relevant points in the business cycle
5. The ability to bring communication evaluation and insights to the leadership table, informing and influencing business strategies and decisions and making a valued contribution to performance.
So, reflecting on the question asked at the very start about how much time should teams be putting into measuring communication, it’s important to recognize the extent of measurement proficiency you want and need to build: where you start from and the benefits you aim to realize from your investment.
As we have seen, putting a number on things is not easy. But not wanting to duck the question again, I’m going to say that we should spend 10 percent of our time on measurement. That’s way too much, some of you may be thinking. Basically, that’s half a day a week. But maybe it’s time to take another look. To get serious and make that commitment. It could be the best return on investment you make.