Why you must measure employee communication—and how to do it

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Your average internal communicator is lonesome.

As organizational budgets got slashed, she (usually a she) labors alone or in a very small team that’s gotten smaller lately. There’s a magazine and intranet to write for, multiple special projects, and internal social media. She’s busy. Really busy.

A lot of people simply don’t do it. I know the rationale: You’re not a numbers person, you got into this field to write, your boss doesn’t care about measurement, most execs understand your value, etc. The powers that be, however, increasingly are demanding to know why employee communication matters.

Unclench your teeth, my dear colleagues, or you’ll hurt yourself.

Measurement is absolutely essential. We’re the only department in our organization that has gotten by with saying, “Trust us.” It’s not working anymore.

Our friends in marketing have metrics—this many impressions equals this many prospects equals this much in sales. Our brothers and sisters in public relations can quote share of discussion, number of stories, referrals to website, inquiries, news media stories avoided and originated.

What can we cite?

Here are three ways you can measure starting right now, and you don’t have to be a “math person” to do it.

1. Measure what you are covering internally.

What is the subject matter in your channels? How does it relate to your organizational priorities?

At one company, we discovered that most of our content was U.S.-centric and headquarters driven. One of the company’s goals was to be seen as an international firm, not merely a U.S. firm with overseas holdings. We analyzed our internal content and changed our editorial plan to bring more international content to the fore.

Download this free white paper to discover smart ways to measure your internal communications and link your efforts to business goals.

2. Measure your intranet metrics.

As with your external website, you have to know how many unique visitors you have, how long they are on site, how many pages they view per visit, and whether they do anything besides view. Downloads, links clicked, “likes,” comments, shares-all these help paint a picture of how effective your tools are. Even your print publications or email newsletters can include intranet components.

Don’t neglect internal search in your metrics. People increasingly search first; knowing what they’re searching for can be very helpful.

At another firm, we discovered that just about everyone who had access to the intranet was using it for just one main task: filling out time sheets. We took advantage of that fact, though, changing the timing of the most essential content to match when people were already online, and we saw our average article traffic rise by nearly 50 percent.

3. Measure managerial behavior and its connection to other things.

People’s managers are the most important element in the communication mix. When they’re not effective, you are going to have a problem. More specifically, there are four manager communication items that explain 40 percent of the variance in employee comprehension. From the employee perspective, the disparity hinges on whether the manager:

  • Helps me understand how my performance contributes to organizational success
  • Is positive about the organization’s prospects for the future
  • Shares business information with me
  • Regularly discusses a plan for my professional development

One organization that researched its employee and manager communication noted that managers whose scores on these four elements were highest had the best-informed employees, and those staffers were also the most satisfied with the company’s communications overall. We changed our editorial elements to include manager-specific content including how to run effective staff meetings.

There is plenty more, of course, but you have to start somewhere.

You’ll note that the point is not to “trumpet your value” as a brilliant communicator. It’s to gather intelligence to make your communications more effective.

Take these three steps to assess your current activities. Use the information you glean to improve your communication planning.

The first time you answer your boss’s question about “how it’s going,” you’ll demonstrate that you are a substantive business person with a lot to offer. Ideally, you’ll start with No. 3—the research—but you don’t have to do so. Make things informal at first, just to get a feel for what’s really happening.

Then, once your plan is honed to a sharp edge, you’ll be ready to explain your impact on employee attitudes, beliefs and knowledge more concisely and directly.

Sean Williams is the owner of Communication Ammo, which helps organizations plan and execute communications effectively and measure the results. A version of this article first appeared on Shonali Burke’s Waxing Unlyrical.
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