Internal Comms – Under-Evaluated or Not Fully Understood?

Just a word of warning – this post is not wholly about the evaluation of internal comms, whether it is possible and whether those that advocate defined metrics and methodology are not, in fact, missing the point, and in so doing, possibly damaging the very activity they’re attempting to report on.

No, as an added bonus you’re getting the input of one of the multitudinous host of hapless charlatans who, having done a bit of communicating here and there, choose a niche for themselves and then, with staggering, and misplaced, arrogance, start dispensing counsel to anyone who’ll listen. The rise of the internet, the growth of social media and the advent of web 3.0 have – amongst the pile of other sins that can be laid at their doors – given these mountebanks free rein. Without any form of regulation, they can set up anywhere and anytime, claim anything and everything and (potentially) cause untold damage through the advice they give.

I will admit to quite enjoying the sensation of pleasurable horror that comes from reading their stuff, I definitely get a kick out of pointing it out and passing it on and I can also claim something of a public service. If but one person takes a learning from it, maybe passes it on to a Communications Paduan Learner – then my job is done. 

Anyhoo, without further ado, here’s a question that I read recently and to which, because I thought it threw up a whole bunch of issues, I was motivated to post a response:

With matrix structures and overlapping target audience (employees) for many functions what would be the metrics to measure effective internal communications?

I saw this as a very difficult question. The problem lies in the whole debate over measurement of communications, full stop. For years (and years) the Communications industry has struggled with a method of effectively measuring ROI for external and internal comms, in order that the two disciplines could be stacked up against, for example, advertising and direct marketing and thus compete for share of budget.

Internal comms is the thorniest of  issues. For example, what is it you want your internal comms to achieve? Increased productivity per employee? A reduction in staff turnover? First place in the Sunday Times Top 100 Places to Work? A greater employee understanding of corporate vision and values, objectives and strategy? Employee buy-in to merger, acquisition, re-structure or redundancy?

Each case would require a different measurement and a different set of metrics. Personally, I’ve always found that, in terms of internal comms, you cannot do better than – firstly – send out ‘ambassadors’ into your workforce to talk to their peers and report back on the groundswell of employee opinion. That way you know whether your internal comms actually having any sort of effect at all.

If, as a result of those report-backs, you are having an effect – then’s the time to try and decide how you’re going to measure it.

And that was pretty much my answer. OK, I know it’s roundabout and I know I didn’t give any examples (I will, if you like) and I didn’t go in to any sort of discussion around ROI for IC (eg whether your ROI should be measured in financial terms). (The answer’s ‘no’, by the way.) Anyway, what I wasn’t expecting, was a response to my answer which I reproduce here:

“While I agree with the examples Mr. Probert sites, I must completely disagree with his closing remark: *If you are having an effect – then’s the time to try and decide how you’re going to measure it.*

IMHO, it is unprofessional to move the bull’s-eye once the arrow has flown. It is standard procedure to work with the client (beit client or department) and jointly set the measures of success. Otherwise, how do you objectively measure effect?

Since every client (communications) situation is different by objective and circumstance, do not be surprised that the measures vary but the effect of communication will report back to a financial goal. The debate of whether or not accurate measurement can be achieved in communications is a little self-serving bumfuzzle, IMHO. The metrics of success are clear cut for each individual client intervention: are the client objectives being met by communications strategy and by the fulfillment of that strategy? “

This came from a bloke called Whipple. Richard Whipple. Based in Poland, he styles himself as some sort of metrics guru. He quite obviously, however, does not have a clue about internal communications and his general grasp of communication itself (especially written) seems to be somewhat lacking. I thought, therefore, with your indulgence (dear readers) that I’d address him (and his ‘points’ such as they are) directly.

Mr Whipple – if you’re having no effect, why would you expend time, effort and resource on evaluation? My comment was specifically made about internal communications, where gauging whether you are having a effect or not is as simple as having a few one-to-ones with your employees.

I am scared senseless by the implication that communications measurement will always “report back to a financial goal.” If we are talking internal communications, and bearing in mind the examples I have cited, then we are dealing with people – who are soft and cuddly and easily damaged. This is why the bean counters, and to a lesser extent, HR, should NEVER be involved in internal comms – if you attempt to put a hard financial value on your internal comms, then you run the risk of undermining its very essence and raison d’etre.

And Mr Whipple, Mr Whipple – self-serving bumfuzzle? Your choice of words makes you sound all tweedy and pre-historic, but if you WERE that old, you’d know quite well that the debate over how to measure communications in a meaningful sense has been raging for at least 20 years (which is how long I’ve been a practising communicator).

Oh – and I notice that your last sentence contains a lot of words, but no recommendations for, or concrete examples of, metrics or evaluation techniques. ‘Bumfuzzle’ indeed.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the Whipplester who isn’t seeing the nuances here – and by that I mean that evaluation, especially in the Communications Field, is not always about financial measurements and direct ROI. Well-planned and well-executed comms strategies achieve results on all sorts of different levels and it this is exactly why the effects are so difficult to measure in a way that makes sense to the other marketing disciplines and the budget controllers, who are perhaps more Whipplesque in their views. This is why the only real way to evaluate or measure comms strategies, either external or internal, is via attitudinal research. Which – of course – is expensive. Which – of course – is why people aren’t doing it.

So, in brief – internal comms – under-evaluated or not fully understood? Both, I’m afraid.

But at least the world of The Wordmonger is safe from the Whipple threat – as, indeed and by association, are you, dear reader.

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