The Future of Internal Communications Measurement

An image representing internal communications measurement.

This article lists societal changes now impacting internal communications, discusses new industry standards, and provides seven specific recommendations for how to adapt internal communications measurement to this new environment. This article is part of our special Future of Measurement issue. Visit this page for a list of our articles on how to measure internal communications.

When I first started measuring internal communications, most organizations communicated with their employees via bulletin boards. The really important information was exchanged around the water cooler. Measurement consisted of asking employees how much they liked the newsletter.

Internal comms still struggles to get respect. Recent research hile much attention has been focused on integrating external communication efforts, internal communication can sometimes be a lower priority, which can impact employee engagement. “…functional silos still appear to be a barrier to effective implementation of integrated marketing communication.”

Things Have Changed

Nevertheless, after decades of trying to get organizations to think of measurement in terms of what goals their communications were supposed to achieve, internal comms managers are finally seeing the light. This is thanks to some fundamental changes in society, specifically:

  • There’s a shortage of trained talent almost everywhere, so “talent acquisition” plays a much larger role in both goal setting and decision making. Not surprisingly, an organization’s reputation is a key factor in talent acquisition, requiring much closer integration between CSR, HR, internal communications, corporate communications, and diversity and inclusion.
  • Social media has replaced the water cooler, and information (whether true or false) spreads far more rapidly. A reputational crisis involving your employees is only a tweet away. (Can you say Domino’s? Uber? United?)
  • Diversity in all its forms has moved from a legal requirement or a “nice to have” to a business necessity.
  • Similarly, CSR is no longer just a nod to the environmentalists. Now investors, customers, and potential employees are taking a hard look at how your company stands on a host of issues before committing to doing business with you.
  • Research has proven that alignment between senior management and employees is required for an organization to achieve its financial goals.
  • The growing dominance of the millennials, who are now the largest share of the workforce. This cohort is much more likely to see through corporate BS.

That last bullet may be the most important of all. According to Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management and Director of the Leadership Center at Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College.

“Any firm with the temerity to lie to millennials, whether directly or indirectly, runs the risk of falling foul of its customer base and compromising its corporate image. The only thing that millennials care about more than mission is transparency, integrity and accountability. If you tell millennials that you will do something, they expect you to do it, as opposed to earlier generations who may have understood that saying something and doing something are not always the same… millennials are much more literal. You better back up the talk with the walk.”

New Standards for Measurement of Internal Communications: Outcomes and Impact

Tomorrow’s internal communication teams will require an entirely new way of looking at measurement of their work. To a large extent, that shift was mapped out during the development of the new internal communications measurement standards. The input for that document included dozens of interviews with seasoned leaders who rejected many of the most commonly used metrics.

Instead, they placed their emphasis on outcomes and impact. and measuring them will become the norm in the coming years. We’ve already seen some of this in the more forward-looking—and, not surprisingly, more successful—companies. For a quick review of exactly what the standards are and how they were developed, read “The Best New Thing In the World: Internal Communications Measurement Standards.”

7 Ways Your Internal Communications Measurement Must Adapt

Here are seven things you will have to change about how you measure internal communications:

  1. Stop measuring “attitude” and start measuring beliefs. Traditionally organizations have conducted employee surveys to judge how they “feel” about an organization. But that research overlooks a fundamental truth which is those “feelings” are based on what they believe to be true about an organization. If an employee is skeptical about what their leadership is doing, chances are good that their manager lacks credibility and they don’t believe what management tells them.
  2. Throw out the annual or bi-annual employee satisfaction study. Years-old data is useless in a time when societal norms and employee populations are constantly changing. Replace it with a twice a year Leader Say-Do study that measures the extent to which employees hear and see their leaders acting to support the company priorities and goals. This kind of survey tests the essential credibility of management and gives great insight into weak links that might prevent you from achieving your goals. Just remember, the greater the gap between what leaders say and what they do, the lower their credibility.
  3. Use metrics to drive consistency around employee communications. Frequently, collaboration is key in communications, but these days it’s not enough to just include HR and corporate communications in your discussions. Given the intertwined nature of communications these days, invite representatives from Investor Relations, CSR, Diversity, Training as well as members of the local community or any other community based or national associations that influence your employees. Think of it as an “internal crisis communications” team because you will always be one post away from a potential crisis. How quickly, effectively and authentically you deal with it will determine whether it remains an isolated event or totally explodes. Meet at least monthly to share messaging, positioning, actions and most importantly the metrics by which you judge success. Having a single set of agreed upon metrics ensures consistency. This is critical, since lack of consistency will set off BS detectors in most employees today.
  4. Stop counting email opens. Who cares if someone opens an email if they don’t read it, believe it, or act on it? Instead, use outcome metrics:
    • Did they show up at the meeting?
    • Did they go to the website to sign up?
    • Did they participate or do whatever the email was exhorting them to do?
  5. Analyze internal blogs and social media platform content monthly to spot trends. Do not rely on computerized analysis to report “positives” vs. “negatives.” That’s like using Google Earth to find a needle in a haystack. What you’re listening for can’t be generalized into two simplistic variables. What you really need to know is what issues have built up sufficient momentum to make it to a semi-public space. Chances are good that if employees are surfacing concerns in your internal forums, then they don’t feel like they’re being heard by leadership.
  6. Incorporate diversity. When you survey employees, make sure you are asking questions that will tell you how your diversity efforts are working:
    • Is retention better?
    • Is recruitment easier?
    • Are the new, more diverse teams working better?
    • How well are new and old employees working together?
    • Are perception in line with your goals?
  7. Survey smart. When you conduct surveys, don’t just segment your data by gender or location within the organization. Make sure you ask how long they’ve been with the company and how they self-identify from a gender and cultural perspective.

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.

1 Comment

  1. sdwilliams

    Katie, my two cents are that, 1) measurement in IC should be diagnostic; that is, if teams aren’t functioning well, if there are disgruntled employees, if we’re not hitting our targets, let’s audit what people know and feel and see how it aligns with their “do.” 2) it’s not that feelings aren’t relevant, it’s that traditionally we haven’t connected the dots with actions. This is why, in our standards work, we look past surveys and try to get to observed behaviors. A/B testing can shed quite a lot of light!