Linking internal communication to business results
By Lise Michaud
Industry surveys repeatedly report that measuring communication effectiveness and the link between internal communication initiatives and business results is a real challenge to the internal communication practice. IC Kollectif’s recent report, The Next Level: The Business Value of Good Internal Communication investigates how leading in-house communication professionals demonstrate the impact of their work on business goals. The findings are reflected in the research brief Measurement: Linking Internal Communication to Business Results, which also includes recommended research-based resources to measure internal communication.
Gap between belief and action
Results published by the Institute for Public Relations in What Good Looks Like displayed a clear and wide gap between what internal communication professionals knew to be important and what they were doing in their organization. While 74 percent of respondents believed measurement was important, only 31 percent were actually putting it into practice.
“To badly paraphrase Dan Ariely, data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it,” commented Paul Orgood, Global Head of Internal Communications at Clifford Chance LLP. “Excellent internal communications data needs a great deal of energy, persistence, and patience. It's a classic voyage of discovery for the internal communications professional and, in my opinion, a journey that not enough practitioners seem willing to make.”
According to research conducted in 10 European countries, only a little more than one third of companies regularly monitor or assess internal communication efforts, mainly focusing on quantitative measurements rather than qualitative measurements. Regarding the items that are monitored or measured always or very often by organizations to assess IC effectiveness, respondents mentioned particularly intranet usage (60 percent) and employee satisfaction/engagement (57 percent). Some 69 percent said they rarely or never monitor or measure employee attitude and behavior change, followed by employee understanding of key messages (65 percent), the impact on strategic and/or financial objectives, as well as the financial/personnel costs for projects (56 percent in both cases), the channels effectiveness (46 percent) and the internal communication process quality (45 percent).
The latest State of the Sector revealed that many practitioners are still measuring very little and often not measuring what matters. The global report indicated that 73 percent of practitioners use the employee engagement survey to measure internal communication, followed by online analytics (71 percent) and feedback from face-to-face events (51 percent). Fewer than 25 percent of respondents admitted they will be focusing on improving measurement and evaluation over the next 12 months.
Value and credibility
Measurement is rated among the top 10 most important competencies for internal communication professionals, and among the top 10 competencies that candidates are lacking. Communication professionals seldom measure how communication contributes to the overall strategic goals of the organization and frequently rely on gut feeling or experience to manage communication. This leads to diverging perceptions of leadership teams on the value of communication. Some companies expect communication professionals to use “better data and data analysis, not just for measurement, but in order to provide better insight to senior leaders and to underpin their recommendations with greater rigour.”
Measuring the results of internal communication necessitates a clear understanding of what the communication efforts try to achieve. The measurement process starts at the strategic planning stage which includes a thorough analysis of the situation and setting SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) aligned with organizational objectives.
This requires a strategic mindset, business acumen, financial literacy, a firm understanding of the business and knowledge of how the organization works, as well as its strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. Practitioners must be able to understand and speak the language of leadership management, and converse about their business with their CEO and executives, or any other corporate officer. This ensures a better understanding of the organization’s objectives.
Measuring what matters
As reported in the brief, practitioners must know what and when to measure, analyze the data, and show how they’re using those insights to drive continuous improvement. This is what leadership cares about and how it assigns a value for the function. One contributor commented, “It is crucial to ask the right questions before the project starts: What do we want to achieve? Do we want to somehow change employee behaviour? In the end, we should be able to answer the questions: Have we changed behaviour or not? Is there an impact on the company and its business goals?”
Outputs and engagement discarded
While outputs and engagement are largely used as key measures in many organizations, researchers of the award-winning Internal Communication Standards, developed under the auspices of the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission,  explained why those two elements were not included among the 22 measurement standards. On outputs, they wrote: “Such basic public relations activity like the number of click-throughs, number of employees in attendance, and so forth, were considered to be indicators of activity around a particular tactic, but not a result.”
For its part, engagement “is considered as a function of several other standards, including knowledge, understanding, discretionary effort, trust, and satisfaction. By measuring engagement components, organizations would be able to pinpoint issues that influence engagement. What specific factors influence change in employees’ perceptions and behaviours? If communicators can better understand these influencers by independently measuring them, they can then more effectively address the root cause of the engagement problem.”
Methods to measure and report
From business measures such as KPIs, EBIT, Free Cash Flow, Market Share, to scorecards, dashboards, focus groups and many more means, the brief presents various measurement methods used by communication professionals representing 33 companies from 20 industries, and based in 25 countries across all continents. Companies represented include Allianz Slovenska, Alshaya Retail, Arla Food, BRP, Clifford Chance LLP, DuPont, DSM, Enel Perú, ERGO Insurance, GE, General Motors, Greater Toronto Airports Authority, GSK, Henkel, HSBC, IKEA Group, Lafarge Poland, Megapolis, Microsoft, Nationwide, Nestlé Oceana, Novo Nordisk, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, SAP, Tata Consultancy Services, Telia Luthuania, Tesco Bengaluru, TEVA, Tim Group, thyssenkrupp Elevator, Webcor and Yıldız Holding.
Download Measurement: Linking Internal Communication to Business Results to discover how in-house communication professionals measure the impact of their work on organizational goals, and to learn about research-based resources that can help practitioners lift their game.
The research brief series is based on the findings of the global report The Next Level: The Business Value of Good Internal Communication. The report is supported by IABC, The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management and The Conference Board, and is available on the IC Kollectif website.
 The IC Standards were developed under the auspices of the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission. Full article in The Next Level: The Business Value of Good Internal Communication and key insights in Measurement: Linking Internal Communication to Business Results.