Researchers Dr. Juan Meng of the University of Dayton (Ohio) and Dr. Bruce K. Berger of the University of Alabama cut to the chase in their research presentation at the Institute for PR International PR Research Conference. Their first finding? “Though communication effectiveness has been an important concern for organizational leaders, the assessment of communication effectiveness has not been widely applied by using business outcome metrics in organizations.” Sigh.
Meng and Berger used both the results from the 2007-2008 IABC Research Foundation/Watson Wyatt international survey of senior communicators, and a series of in-depth interviews with 13 IABC Gold Quill winners to look for process links between internal communication effectiveness and organizational financial performance.
For me, this represents a sort of Holy Grail: we internal comms experts know that our work is impactful, but have lacked the hard evidence of causality that we perceive the C-suite respects and demands. I was disappointed, yet again, though that first finding is by no means the only one. In brief, the other five are:
- Measuring internal comm effectiveness should be standard operating practice.
- There’s lots of measurement going on, evaluating awareness/understanding; engagement; job performance; employee behavior, and improvement in overall business performance.
- Everyone has good reasons why measurement isn’t as robust as it should be, and they’re the usual culprits — lack of time/money/staff and the pain of finding actual cause-and-effect toward business results.
- The measurement approaches used are employee surveys, employee participation in communication activities and manager surveys.
- Four valuable purposes for internal communication: Explaining/Promoting programs and policies; educating about culture and values; providing information about performance and financial objectives, and helping employees understand the business.
At Goodyear, we made great progress toward true outcome measurement for internal communications, but didn’t quite get there. We did establish a strong link between employee knowledge/comprehension, intranet use and managerial behavior, but never got the chance to take everything to the organizational performance level.
At National City Corporation (the regional bank), our focus from the first day I arrived was on external measurement, for a variety of reasons. But the internal side wasn’t ignored — we were a Gallup Q12 company, and despite the wretched economic conditions and horrific, calamitous financial performance of the company, we still topped 94% participation in the Q12. Right until the last moment, we were using Q12 results in our planning process, as well as beginning to use editorial content more strategically. But, again, we weren’t reaching the business outcomes level of measurement.
Here’s a quote from one of Meng & Berger’s in-depth interviews:
I think the biggest challenge in measurement continues to be convincing clients to spend, not so much the money, but to spend the time. As the industry develops, I don’t have a hard time in convincing them about the validity of measurement, but they are reluctant to actually take the time away from business to actually administer surveys or focus groups or some other measurement tools.
Looks like we have to continue making those tools easier to use and more valuable, even as we continue to scale the mountain tops for the Holy Grail.