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The following article appeared in
Internal Communication Focus, October 1997

informa.com,
London. tel.: 44 (0) 171 553 1000

 

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Linking Internal Communication Measurement to Business Goals

By Angela D. Sinickas, ABC

 

 Not all business goals are created equal. The challenge is to focus our
communication plans and measurements on the most communication-sensitive goals
and employee behaviors, and to communicate attitudes as well as knowledge through
the most effective channels.  Angela Sinickas explains how communication research
can aid companies, both in setting measurable objectives and in assessing the extent
to which their goals are being achieved.

 

All too often, when we talk about communication supporting a company's goals, we focus on telling people what the goals are. While that is an important step, communication can go much further in encouraging employee behaviors that take us measurably closer to reaching our goals. Communicating for goal achievement rather than only about goal achievement requires a different approach to both communications planning and measurement.

Plan communications that support goal-directed behaviors

1. Identify the company and business unit goals that fulfill both of the following criteria:

  • The greatest bottom-line value to the company if they are reached.
  • The greatest potential for being reached through effective communication approaches. (See Chart 1.)

The goals can be most affected by communication will be those where a relatively large number of employees can contribute to reaching the goal and where an improvement in knowledge or a change in attitudes is likely to influence their behavior. For example, very few employees will be involved in a goal like the develop new product line, so developing a mass communication strategy will probably not make a big difference until the new product is developed and ready to go to market. For this type of company goal, just continue to communicate about the goal and the progress made in reaching it.

In contrast, a goal like controlling business expenses or improving customer service can be met through a change in behavior by many employees, and communication can both improve knowledge and influence attitudes leading to those changed behaviors. Work through the following steps for the goals where communication can make a large impact in reaching the goals.

2. Identify the different employee stakeholder subgroups that may have the greatest impact on achieving each goal. (See Chart 2.)

For example, managers may play a different role from nonmanagers. Employees in a particular business unit may have more impact on helping reach one goal than those in other business units. Employees in certain jobs, such as sales, may have significant control over a revenue goal. Also consider some external groups. For example, if achievement of a goal means extending the hours you are open for business, you will need family members' support in addition to employees' understanding of the issues involved.

 

3. Identify the measurable actions each employee stakeholder subgroup needs to you identified needs to take to fulfill the selected goals

This is the step most communicators often miss. We jump from a company goal and audience segmentation to a media plan.

Communicating for goal achievement rather than
just about goal achievement requires a different
approach to communication planning and measurement.

 Take each specific business goal and identify the behaviors or actions that your stakeholder subgroups need to start doing, do more of, do less of, or stop doing if the goals are to be met. This is a great opportunity for brainstorming with other managers. Take care  to ensure  the behaviors you identify are "win-win" for both your employees and the company. If you set out to manipulate behavior that is not in your employees' best interests (i.e. behavior leading to pay increases, potential promotion, or simply job retention) your communications will fail and your credibility a may be compromised.

For example, let's say your organization's chief executive wants to change the corporate culture or communicate a new vision and values. You should discuss first, before developing a communication plan, what observable and measurable behaviors will be different if people respect each other more or have more integrity.  Once you can define the behaviors that exemplify each cultural value, you can measure the levels of those behaviors before and after you execute your communication plan. You also will have more concrete content to communicate.

4. For each desired action, identify what your target audience needs to know and what it needs to believe before audience members are likely to take those actions.  ( See Chart 3.)

In other words, why are employees not doing the right things now? Do they not know facts about what they should be doing? Or do they know what they should do but don't believe it is in their own best interest to do so? Communication often focuses too much on the facts we want to present to our audiences (education), and not nearly enough on the beliefs we should be encouraging (motivation). Motivation is rarely as simple as making people feel positive about an issue; we need to mobilize them into action.

5. Identify the best methods of providing the knowledge and changing the beliefs for various sub groups

Communication too often uses methods that are convenient for the sender to make use of, rather than the methods that are most likely to change the behavior of our audiences. For example, changing beliefs usually requires face-to-face interaction, or at least an  electronic simulation of that interaction, such as "testimonials" from credible peers and leaders on the personal value of changing a cherished behavior for a new one.

6. Use the information from the previous steps in developing the content of your company's print, electronic and interpersonal communications throughout the year, with frequent reinforcement.

Very often, following the process described here significantly changes the original communication plan. It also casts communication professionals in a more business-oriented role in the eyes of operational management.

7. Track changes in behavior/actions against various communication approaches. Track changes in knowledge and beliefs. Track the effectiveness and efficiency of the media you use to communicate the messages.

This means that you have set measurable objectives for each element you want to track and that you conduct measurements regularly for each objective.

 

Measure behavioral outcomes as well as communications

In setting objectives and identifying measurement approaches, you need to identify standards of comparison for desired behaviors, knowledge levels and attitudes. Three useful models, with examples are:

1. Before and after.

First conduct some baseline measurements to identify the current levels before you begin communicating. Next, establish your target levels and track objective reality over time.

Example:  A privately held client wanted to increase its profitability. They established a profit sharing plan that would reward employees as profits rose. We conducted a random telephone survey of 100 employees asking two questions:

  • What percentage of profit do you believe the company is making (knowledge)?
  • What percentage should it make (attitude)?

 

While the company wanted to improve profitability from 6 percent to 12 percent over two years, most employees thought it was currently at about 15 per cent and thought it should be 15 percent for a comforting sense of company stability and job security. These questions were inserted into a regular employee survey to track knowledge and attitude levels over time. In addition, at the quarterly employee meetings to review financial progress, the two questions were asked before the meeting started and as it ended.

The 'before' measurement helped quantify one of our objectives:  the percentage of employees who should know the current levels of profit. The upfront research also changed the communication plan significantly, ultimately making it more effective with our target audiences.

2. Here and there. 

Establish baselines by geographic location or business unit. Identify pairs that are substantially similar to each other. Conduct a pilot test of your communication campaign in half the pairs and not at the others. Track outcomes to identify any differences among the groups with different communication approaches.

Communication too often uses methods that
are convenient for the sender to make use of
rather than the methods that are most likely to
change the behavior of our audiences.

Example:  We developed a multi-media communication campaign for a client who wanted to establish a tax-sheltered employee savings plan. While all of the production plants distributed the brochures, only about half allowed employees to come to meeting in which a benefits representative made a presentation and answered questions. When we looked at enrollment figures after the campaign, employees at sites that allowed meetings had about 20 percent more employees enrolled in the plan, and the average contribution made to the plan was six percent of pay instead of four percent. This demonstrated the impact of face-to-face communication in affecting behaviors.

3. Ideal versus actual. 

Ask employees ideally what they would like to know about a subject and how they would like to receive that information. Ask executives what they believe employees ideally should know. Track what is actually communicated and how.

Examples:  From executive interviews and employee focus groups, we identified for one client a list of ideal communication content. Then we conducted a content analysis of the main employee publications to determine how much space was actually devoted to each topic.  We found that many of the topics were hardly covered. This analysis led to a more proactive way of setting measurable content goals for the publication.

For other clients, we used the ideal content list as the starting point for a communication questionnaire. For each topic, we identify:

  • Level of interest in the topic (ideal)
  • Level of understanding (actual)
  • Current main sources of information (actual)
  • Preferred sources (ideal)

Over time, the communicators are working to close the information gaps between level of interest and understanding, as well as to use employees' preferred media so that they become the 'current' media by the time of the next communication survey.

An example of communication for goal-directed behaviors

Chart 3 shows an example of planning communications that support goal-directed behaviors for a US$ 2 billion global company that reengineered its sales and marketing functions. Their sales people were very good at selling specialized products to their customers.  The company determined they also needed a new type of salesperson to be responsible, not for a product line, but for understanding a group of customers; understanding their needs, their industry, their strengths, their weaknesses.  So when a sales opportunity comes up now, they're not just selling products, they're solving problems.

1. Company goal: 

Increase revenues.

2. Key stakeholders: 

All sales and marketing employees could help improve revenue through their actions, but we identified a particular group that needed special attention:  the successful product sales people who were selected to become customer sales people.

3. Measurable actions: 

Using the new resources available from the Marketing Department to learn more about target companies and industries (instead of learning more from Research and Development about new products). Scheduling and conducting a new type of customer meetings.

4. Knowledge and attitudes needed:

They needed to know what information is available from the newly reengineered Marketing Department and how to access it.  They needed to know how to initiate a visit at the client site to identify their needs and develop solutions.

However, we realized that simply providing that knowledge will not be enough to automatically change the behavior. These individuals had been very successful at selling products, for which they've been rewarded with promotions and bonuses.  Because they want to keep getting their bonuses, they're likely to keep doing what they've been doing.  That was an attitudinal barrier we needed to overcome. So we articulated the attitudinal beliefs the customer sales staff will need to have in order for the new behaviors to take root.  One was that the new behaviors could lead to more sales, with an even bigger bonus.

5 & 6. Identify communication methods and implement: 

We determined that the knowledge messages would be best communicated in training sessions, with supporting manuals, checklists and discussion guides available electronically and in print.  For the attitudinal messages, we decided to use a scheduled worldwide sales meeting. We identified a number of sales and marketing staff who, in pilot sites, had already succeeded with this new type of selling. We had them provide testimonials about how it worked for them:  what was difficult, what was easy, and the effect on sales.  We also brought in customers to talk about how the new structure made it easier for them to work with the company.

7. Track changes:

Before the reengineering plan was finalized, the client conducted interviews, focus groups and surveys with customers and employees. These provided baseline measures.

During the roll-out:

  • Short questionnaires on knowledge and attitudes were completed by employees before and after key communication events.
  • A comprehensive list of employee and customer questions was maintained and analyzed to track areas of knowledge confusion.
  • Sales meetings and revenue were tracked in different parts of the company as the reengineered structure was implemented in phases.
Conclusion

 Communication research can help you set measurable objectives by establishing the baselines before you begin.  Then your objectives can state by how much reality needs change.  Further measurements let you know to what extent your goals are being reached.

Communication research on the right issues also improves the quality of communications you conduct because you often find yourself surprised about some of the assumptions you make about your audiences that are based on random day-to-day interactions with them.


© 1997Angela D. Sinickas, All rights reserved

Angela Sinickas, ABC, is president of Sinickas Communications, Inc., a communication consultancy specializing in helping corporations achieve business results through targeted diagnostics and practical solutions. You can visit her new website, CommToolbox.com, to see the automated planning, measurement, and benchmarking tools she has developed based on her manual, How to Measure Your Communication Programs.

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