The profession of internal communication (IC) got the attention of researchers and practitioners at the 20th International Public Relations Research Conference (IPRRC), last week-end, in Orlando. The Institute of Public Relations (IPR) recognized the brilliant work of one of the top communication thought leaders, Sean Williams and his colleagues Julie O’Neil, Michele Ewing, and Stacey Smith with the Institute for Public Relations W. Ward White Awards for Top Two Papers of Practical Significance, for their Delphi Study to identify standards for internal communication.
"Julie, Michele, Stacey and I are delighted, of course, that our colleagues appreciate our research. We look forward to continuing our work on this vitally important subject," commented Sean Williams.
The four authors of the study: Sean Williams, Communication AMMO, Michele Ewing, Kent State University, Stacey Smith, Jackson, Jackson & Wagner and Julie O’Neil, Texas Christian University, and the President and CEO of the Institute for PR, Tina McCorkindale. (Photo Credit: Institute for PR)
Measurement, the Achilles heel of IC
It's no secret that a great number of communication practitioners don't measure and evaluate internal communication and that this task is not an easy one. "Though high-effective organizations have been shown to practice IC and measurement more than low-effective organizations, only 50 percent of practitioners indicated having a formal approach to measuring and evaluating their internal communication initiatives," indicates the study. "While a variety of barriers to effective IC have been cited, including scarce funds and staff, the lack of a standardized approach to measuring it has compounded these difficulties," express the authors.
This is why the IPR and the Commission on Research, Measurement, and Evaluation (IPRMC) created a 11-member international task force comprised of academics and practitioners to develop internal communication standards.The members reviewed academic and practice literature and met multiple times in 2015 to identify initial concepts to include as possible standards. In 2016, four members of the task force (authors of the study) conducted a Delphi study with a purposive sample of IC thought leaders to determine whether a wider audience of practitioners agreed with the task force's recommended standards and definitions. More than 150 communication practitioners and academics were consulted on the potential standards. Participants for the Delphi study were required to have a minimum of ten years of experience in the communication industry, including responsibility for IC for at least five years.
Sean Williams and Julie O'Neil discussing the study. (Photo Credit: Institute for PR)
What is a standard?
The authors define standards "as an idea or thing used as a measure, norm or model in comparative evaluations, which is advantageous for public relations activities in that they allow for reliable and efficiently measured comparaisons between and within campaigns."
Proposed IC standards and definitions
The authors created a list of 22 proposed IC standards and definitions. Participants of the study were asked a series of questions about their use of the standards in the workplaces. It is interesting to note that a total of 68% of participants said that “engagement” is embedded in other concepts and should not be added as a stand-alone standard.
The standards were grouped in three categories::
Outtakes - Whether employees received, paid attention to, comprehended or retained particular messages
Outcomes - Evidence of changes to or reinforcement of opinions, attitudes, or behaviors
Organizational Impact - If and how IC has influenced organizational performance
Measuring IC consistently, in a comparable manner
According to the authors, "the standardization process has added clarity to understanding which items should be measured. Much of the outtake and outcome standards can be measured through typical social science means, including surveys, focus groups and interviews. The business impact measures are not commonly measured at this time. There remains an urgent need for appropriate tools to help practitioners perform these measures. Nonetheless, practitioners should be able to examine current IC measurement activities and vet them against the list of standards and make appropriate changes."
The authors plan "to provide suggestions for how to measure against the standards, and test the suggestions with select organizations for validity and reliability. Ultimately we plan to provide a tested and effective guidebook and set of measurement instructions that will simplify and codify IC measurement."
Updated: The preliminary document can be downloaded here.
Members of the international task force
Mark-Steffen Buchele, Ph.D., Germany
Kerry Christopher, General Motors, US
Michele Ewing, APR, Fellow, PRSA, Kent State University
Julie O’Neil, Ph.D., Texas Christian University, US
Kevin Ruck, PR Academy, UK
Sharon McIntosh, M.A., AndThen Communications, US
Rita Men, Ph.D., University of Florida, US
Stacey Smith, APR, Fellow, PRSA, Jackson, Jackson & Wagner, US
Sean Trainor, Uber Engagement, UK
Sean Williams, M.A., Communication Ammo, Inc., US
Koichi Yamamura, Ph.D., Waseda University
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