The fine art of communication measurement
I recently had the opportunity to facilitate and led a VMA Enhance training workshop around measurement for a leading global healthcare company. Here are some of my thoughts and observations that you might find relative to your day to day business communications.
Speaking to many global organisations, one realises that strategic communication is increasingly higher on the business agenda. Much higher than it used to be. In fact, business executives are putting more and more pressure on communication to report in financial terms of the benefits they are able to bring to the organisation. Many still say quantifying communication outcomes is difficult, but many organisations are seeking to translate their output to outcomes, and further to financial returns.
Is it easy? Of course not! And it requires more rigorous research and correlation to other business objectives that are not only communication key performance indicators. The word research is key – without it, we have no empirical evidence as to the quality of communication outcomes.
The measurement challenge is a global one. It is faced by communicators everywhere. In a recent workshop in Thailand, working with a global healthcare company, the question of linking financial metrics to communication took centre stage. In reality, the only way to ensure communication reports in business metrics is to (a) think like a business person and what they want to see, and (b) know the business well enough to know where communication can derive a business outcome.
In principle, it’s not as challenging as the daunting tasks that it sounds like. But it does require taking a fresh look at the way communication integrates into other business functions. Metrics like the number of press clippings, how many people open a newsletter, etc, are no longer enough for communication to demonstrate value. The question is, ‘what did that do’. Put different, what did the outcome achieve for the organisation?
Firstly, communication needs to stop being seen (and thinking of itself) as an order taker, and shift to the perception of being a strategic advisor. That won’t happen until communication shows the outcome to executives. This requires a thorough analysis of the competency framework within which communication operates, including a detailed skills audit and a review of how internal clients see the function. Then, communication need to take credit, scientifically, for the improvement in business metrics as a direct impact of communication.
Some of the business metrics communication can be linked it are the impact on strategic and/or financial targets (Value Chain); impact on tangible and/or intangible assets (Capital Accumulation); and factors such as sales, cost reduction and optimisation, reputation capital, brand value, and employee performance.
If we take the latter, which is in part the outcome of strategic internal communication, reporting has to shift from output measurements (which are very easy to get and most people use), to an outcome of how the impact of the content has generated a behavioural change that in turn achieved better productivity and a better cost utilisation per head.
When running a change management initiative, how much of the ability to deliver on time was due to the role communication played? With so many challenges around change management, and many organisations running over on their change programmes, what role could communication play that would reduce the change cycle, thereby achieving cost savings, personnel optimisation, and better reputation with external stakeholders who do not see the gaps caused by the change.
I recall an example of a bank implementing a new ticketing system. Despite the best of intentions, the long queues, which the system was designed to reduce, are worse than ever. Customers complain to the frontline staff, but when employees turn around and say, “we know the problem, but head office doesn’t want to listen”, you realise where communication has failed. It failed to get people on board to the new system; but more importantly, it fails to ensure multidirectional communication to hear first-hand what staff experience on the ground.
All of this is measurable and can demonstrate the success, or lack thereof, of communication. Most importantly, when done consistently, it is able to achieve great financial risk management, by identifying the gaps early in a campaign and mitigate the long term effect.
In the example of external communication, how did communication activities translate into feet through the door; cost usage per square meter, etc. While many of these figures are measured by other functions within the organisation, communication often fails to obtain these metrics and link them – at least in part – to the hard work done through communication. How did thought leadership make people feel your brand was more trustworthy, and as a result increase sales over a particular period? The correlations are endless and very unique per organisation.
An excellent strategic insight is the development of a group-wide communication dashboard that enables the function to report, in a single birds’ eye view, on the effectiveness of its programmes and campaigns. But this cannot rely solely on the famous annual engagement survey or reputation report. Organisations need a real time tool to help understand what is going on and how to take action instantly.
Exciting times to be in the communication space!
If you are interested in developing your career in communications, or would like help finding the best talent to hire into your communications team, please all us today: Lucy Cairncross for permanent external communications, Sara Tehrani for permanent internal communications, and Matthew Gibbs for interim communications.