The Paine of Measurement May 2021
Years ago, I was greatly honored to receive an Athena Award. At the time, I didn’t know much about the organization that was giving me the award, but on the statue itself was a quote from Plato that seared itself into my brain:
“What is honored in a culture will be cultivated there.”
Given the events that have taken place in the last couple of years, society seems to be demanding that we cultivate authenticity and integrity and diversity. If the recent Grammys and other award shows are any indication, we are also finally starting to honor those characteristics as well.
(If you’d like to go right to a list of what is in the May 2021 issue of The Measurement Advisor, jump ahead down to the bottom of the page.)
In business, what is being honored, at least with higher compensation, stock prices, and support, seems to be starting to fall in line:
- Investors and advisors are increasingly using ESG scores to decide which stocks to buy or recommend.
- More and more enlightened CEOs are increasingly focused on their “Triple Bottom Line”, i.e., looking not just at profitability and financial performance, but also their performance relative to their people and the planet.
- Watching recent hearings on Capitol Hill it is also clear that our political leadership will no longer tolerate (never mind honor) profit or growth as single infallible measure of success.
- Organizations are coming to grips with the fact that the young talent they want to hire won’t work for them if they aren’t seen as diverse and inclusive. Worse, it is clear that the cost of a toxic workplace culture is very steep.
As we begin to see a future beyond COVID, all kinds of businesses are “re-imagining” their work forces, their office spaces, and their ways of doing business. All of which will change what they measure, reward, and honor.
The more I thought about this phenomenon, the more I realized the truth of employee communications guru Mary Miller’s catch phrase: “Every business problem in existence can be traced to a communication breakdown.” And in fact, while communications can’t solve everything, it certainly plays an enormous role in the changes that engulf our business lives.
Think about it. Internal communicators were on the front lines of getting the word out to countless employees as to whether they needed to stay home, come to work, work from home, or never come to work again. And, they also had to ensure that those who were working knew how to do so safely.
Corporate communicators may not have their names attached to grand statements in support of voting rights—or democracy or Black Lives Matter or Mother Nature—but we know who wrote the words and got them out there.
And then of course there are all the communications professionals on the front lines of Lysol, Clorox, and whoever else was unfortunate enough to unexpectedly wind up trending on Twitter. (If you haven’t seen Rachel Maddow’s epic bit on the PR team at Lysol, it’s well worth watching: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a TV host’s eyes get that wide.)
No matter what the issue or cause, communications is at the heart of a strategy’s success or failure. Which is why it’s time to also re-imagine and rethink what we as a profession honor, cultivate, and reward. And of course, measure.
And it’s not just me that thinks that measurement is at the core of these changes. Bill Gates appears to agree: “I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improve the human condition.”
So, if we want to improve both the human condition as well as our organizational conditions, we need to change what we measure. No amount of column inches, impressions—or, god forbid, AVEs—is going to help you maintain your culture, your credibility, or your trust.
Think about it, if you are measured by placements or AVEs, then you don’t care about the perceptions that you are creating. You just need to make more noise and get more attention. But if you’re measured by perceptions or preference, you’ll need to do things that improve perceptions and generate preference.
So, what should we measure? Consider these metrics:
- % of your stakeholders that find you trustworthy
Let’s start with trust—we’ve known how to measure it for a decade or more—and never has trust been more important to an organization. Whether it is getting people to trust you enough to heed your safety warnings, get vaccinated, come into your store or restaurant, or forgive you for your mistakes, you need to know if you have sufficient amounts of trust so that people will pay attention to what you say.
- % who find what you say credible
Credibility is trust’s younger sister. People may not know you enough to trust you but could still find you credible. Just ask a hundred startup life science companies that have no track record but have enough credibility to raise millions in venture capital.
- % who perceive your actions to be authentic
For a consumer-facing brand today, authenticity is key to acceptance. A generation raised on paid influencers have little patience for big brands that come across as green- or woke-washing.
I doubt if there are many readers out there who would argue that that increasing these metrics would not be worthy of honoring. And it’s in the honoring that change must come.
What are we rewarded for? If communicators are rewarded for generating leads or inquiries or random social engagements, then they’ll spend their days getting attention. Rather than the credibility or trust that the organization may need to turn those inquiries into sales.
If communicators are rewarded for generating placements, then they’ll invest their time sending out press releases to anyone whose email they have. They’ll count as a victory a placement in a media outlet that has nothing to do with their organizational strategy. Do they care whether the “placement’ is seen by the target audience, or whether that target audience is persuaded to consider doing business with the organization? Of course not; they get paid either way.
If communicators are rewarded for people opening their emails, they’re going to send more emails. Rather than getting employees or potential customers to actually understand what is in the email and being willing to act on the contents of these emails.
Re-imagine what we honor
And, speaking of honoring, how backward is it that our profession (are you listening PRSA and IABC?) still doles out prizes for programs that generate impressions, hits, and AVES? If that’s what wins awards, then that’s what our profession will cultivate.
Just imagine if they gave out prizes for achieving actual change in behaviors or beliefs? We might then be rewarded for the role that we can and should and must play—if we ever are to become what we truly wish to be honored for. Without effectively-measured corporate communications, that won’t happen.
In this issue…
In this May 2021 issue of The Measurement Advisor:
— If we’re going to re-imagine what we are honored and rewarded for, we should also rethink the tools to show our results. Here’s how: 11 (Mostly) New Measurement Tools to Prove Your Value in this Brave New World
— A special treat for you this month, a handy chart that will help you clean out your junk drawer of measurement metrics: Love It vs. Leave It : Measurement Metrics You Need to Dump Today, and How to Replace Them
— We love good data visualizations: Feeding America Is the Measurement Maven of the Month
— We don’t love people who use limited data to jump to conclusions: Political Pundits Who Make Premature Predictions Are the Measurement Menaces of the Month
— Read and learn: Your May 2021 Communications Measurement Reading List
— And, as long as we are learning something, Daphne Gray-Grant’s Rapid Writing: 3 Good Lessons to Learn from Bad Writing