Are you really getting through? Communicating strategy V

By 6th February 2014Blog, Making change happen
Questions

How to measure the impact of your internal communication in driving up engagement with corporate strategy.

So, you’ve identified your key messages to create a golden thread that aligns the actions of everyone in the business. You’ve captured that thinking in a manifesto for success. You’ve set up a sounding board to sense-check your messages and gauge the real concerns and needs of people across the organisation. And of course you’ve devised and delivered an engaging communication campaign that’s a STAR (Something They’ll Always Remember).

You’re happy, the board is happy, the world is happy. Time to let your hair down and celebrate, then? Sorry to be a party pooper but, nope…

…In truth, you can’t be sure you’ve really achieved anything yet. All you know is that some information left ‘A’. And that’s it! You don’t know what, if anything, arrived at ‘B’, let alone if those at ‘B’ understood it, what they made it mean and, critically, if they’re going to do anything about it.

Up ‘til now, all this effort in communicating your strategy has, perhaps, made not one iota of difference to the engagement of your people, the execution of the strategy and the performance of the organisation. It may have been the corporate comms equivalent of vanity publishing.

So how can you tell if your messages are really getting through to your people? Well, here’s something radical: Try asking them!

After all, as Winston Churchill once said: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

Give communication measurement the attention and budget it deserves

You know what you were trying to achieve through your strategy communication – that’s what’s in your manifesto. It’s a baby step more to reach out to your audience and ask them some incisive questions to determine if they ‘get it’ and know what they are supposed to be doing differently to execute your strategy.

Measurement of the understanding and adoption of your key messages simply must be built into your strategy communication programme. It’s not a bolt-on.

I recommend that you allocate 70% of your budget to getting your messages out there and 20% to measurement (leaving 10% in your back pocket in case some messages aren’t universally understood and you need to ‘course correct’ through additional comms).

More often than not, the measurement step is not taken. I think some people might be scared of the results. What happens if I ask them and they don’t ‘get it’ – they don’t understand the company strategy or what they’re supposed to be doing to contribute? Well, then a whole bunch of your people are drawing a salary without truly understanding how to target their time and effort to best effect – and that sounds more expensive than any measurement exercise.

So, resist the temptation to allocate your measurement budget to an even higher-profile ‘guest speaker’ at your kick-off event. Instead, use it to find out if you’re actually making an impact.

And you don’t have to spend the earth to find out. You can plug in to existing measurement activities for free, such as company-wide employee opinion surveys (although by their nature these surveys are very wide ranging). Or you could commission a specific, more focused piece of work using internal resources or an external provider.

I once asked a team of receptionists to make outbound calls during quiet periods on the front desk to survey a sample of employees. They loved the additional variety in their working day. I loved their telephone manner and the insights they gathered for me.

Equally, there is much to be said for harnessing the expertise and independence of a third- party research house.

And you’re not short of survey methodologies these days. Online, paper-based, telephone, face-to-face focus groups; quantitative or qualitative.

Ask the right questions

Whichever route you take, it pays to ask the right questions. Questions that are consistently understood by everyone who responds to them and produce reliable data. Meaningful questions that go to the core of what you’re trying to achieve as an organisation. Questions that elicit feedback you can actually act on. What you are looking for is evidence of whether people are executing your strategy through concrete actions.

And consider who you survey and when. At conferences, we’ve all used ‘happy sheets’, hurriedly completed as the bar beckons and participants are on a high anyway. Many times, the only concrete feedback you get from these is that the room was too cold and the sandwiches too hot! So make sure you do something meaningful with these quick questionnaires – as a minimum, ask people what key messages they are taking away and what they intend to do differently.

More radically, tell managers that you are going to measure the quality of their cascade communication, three months after the conference or other strategy launch activity, by surveying their direct reports to find out what’s been communicated, understood and acted on. And tell them that you’re going to publish the findings. Conference-goers sit up straight and lick the end of their pencils at the very thought of the idea!

Then of course make sure you do publish your results, by function or location. And track the results over time, as your strategy communication campaign gathers pace, using ‘pulse-check’ style research to inform a quarterly engagement index, a bit like the FTSE 100 index or the NASDAQ.

Most importantly, act on the results, either to target the next wave of your communication campaign, and the next, and the next. Or to call attention to examples of people making the changes that the organisation requires. Measurement doesn’t just have to point out gaps and shortfalls – it can also be a way to help you celebrate success.

The bottom line in measuring internal communication

And if you follow the steps I’ve shared through this series of five blogs on communicating strategy, the odds are that you will be celebrating success.

But let me end on a note of realism. In the world of internal communication, success has many fathers; there’s always another team or individual ready to step in and take the credit for a job well done. Failure, on the hand, is a bastard child.

Either way, if you measure properly, you’ll know for sure if you are really getting through to your people. So ask them. I dare you.

Other posts on communicating strategy: