Read this article by Angela Sinickas, ABC, IABC Fellow. She is CEO of Sinickas Communications Inc with 40 years of experience in organizational communication.
You know you should be measuring communication, but you have no budget, no time—and no permission to pester your audience with questions. Stop looking at those as barriers and learn to see them as opportunities to find creative ways to gather data on effectiveness.
Many useful numbers have already been captured by your organization and simply need to be collected and collated meaningfully by you. Other numbers can be gathered through careful observation. All of these can provide free “snapshots” of communication’s effectiveness.
Creating potentially effective content
Balanced Scorecards include two types of measures—lagging measures that show what happened in the past, like surveys, and leading measures that can be tracked in real time to predict those lagging measures. So, instead of measuring how well your messages got through to your audience, you might first identify if you were even sending out the right messages and if they had the potential of being understood—both of which are leading metrics.
Start by identifying the ideal content of your communications for a particular audience if they were perfectly aligned with your organization’s needs, such as:
- Mission, vision, values.
- Organizational goals.
- Brand attributes.
- Appropriate balance of coverage among business units, locations, product lines, etc.
Then, conduct a content analysis of publications, news pages on your websites, or live or recorded presentations to measure how much content you delivered on each ideal topic. This is also a great tool for planning future content if you find you’re neglecting some key topics because other people keep hounding you to cover their information instead.
Before we ask our audiences if they understand the key concepts we’re communicating, we should first check if our writing was even remotely understandable.
Microsoft Word can tell you how many years of formal schooling it would take to understand a piece of writing by analyzing the number of words per sentence and the number of words with three or more syllables. Just look under the “Review” pull-down menu and click on the “Spelling and Grammar” check. At the end of the process, you will see the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level in Readability Statistics pop-up.
If the rating doesn’t appear automatically, click on “File,” and select “Options.” Under “Proofing”, be sure that there is a check mark next to “Show readability statistics.”
Tracking behaviors influenced by communication
Behavior change is the critical measure of effectiveness for our communications. It’s more important than increasing awareness or understanding, because those two outcomes are just precursors of your audience’s behavior change after being exposed to your communications.
Fortunately, other people in our organizations are already quantifying important audience behaviors. Marketing is capturing leads, sales and customer attrition. HR tracks retention, sick days, benefits enrollment decisions, and usage and abuse of benefits and perks. Operations tracks quality, safety, productivity and cycle time. Web usage statistics can measure many desirable online behaviors, such as the number of people completing forms online instead of walking into the HR department.
All we need to do is:
- Find and befriend the people who keep track of key behaviors so they share them with us.
- Compare the behaviors immediately before and after our communications, or…
- Identify the behaviors at different locations or among various audience subgroups where you conduct a pilot test. Then compare the difference in behaviors with the control groups where you didn’t communicate the key topics influencing the desired behavior change.
- If you have a little more time, you can talk to some of the people who made the behavior change to ask them how much impact your communication had on their actions. This step helps cement the cause-and-effect relationship between your communication and their behavior change.
You may also find you have a treasure trove of “accidental pilots” to mine for data—these are the situations in which your campaigns weren’t used as intended among all your stakeholder segments. Just average the resulting positive behavior changes in the locations where your communications were used as intended. Then compare that against the average behavior change in the locations that didn’t use the communication as intended. The IRS used this approach to demonstrate that a change in the way technical information was provided to call center representatives could increase the accuracy of the information provided to taxpayers (as measured regularly by their own quality department) by 62 percent. However, the increase was only 10–42 percent in locations where managers didn’t use the full set of new tools with at least half the audience.
Mining existing surveys
An easy way to build a case for the impact of communication on business is to look at results about communication in previous surveys and compare communication inputs against desirable business outcomes.
For example, when we presented demographic break-outs by store regions for a retail organization, the client noticed that the region that was best informed about company topics, by far, was also the most profitable, by far. The two least profitable regions were at the very bottom on the same chart. Coincidence? The company’s management didn’t think so.
If you have a good in-house statistics resource, you could even ask them to run a factor analysis on existing data to find the levels of correlation between various communication inputs and desirable business outcomes measured by the same surveys, such as engagement factors.
So, really, who needs an audience to conduct new research? Surveys can clearly provide valuable baselines and progress reports, but it’s far better to capture at least observable measures of communication’s impact than to just sit back and wait until you have a budget, the time and management’s permission to talk to your stakeholders.
This article was originally posted on the Communication World Magazine