Internal Communication Strategy

Building a “value portfolio” for internal communication?

One of the biggest challenges facing internal communicators involves demonstrating the value that we create through our activities and expenditures. This isn’t merely a problem when it comes to justifying budgets, it makes the process of prioritizing activities and resourcing them operationally – and politically – challenging.

Compounding the problem is the diversity of tasks that stakeholders ask of an internal communication team, ranging from the management of technical platforms and communication channels to event planning to the preparation and delivery of written and video content and often also including the analysis of surveys and other metrics.

An additional complication is the lack of consistent methodologies or measures that allow for an apples-to-apples demonstration of how a dollar, euro or Bitcoin spent on one activity delivers more punch than the same dollar or Bitcoin spent on something else.

Even though like-for-like comparisons of value add are difficult, I am proposing an initial step, a classification of communication activity against the most popular desired outcomes I’ve seen in my 15+ years as an internal communication pro:

Financial impact: does this communication activity directly target financial performance, and to what extent does it succeed in adding more cash to the bottom line, minus costs involved?

Organizational alignment: does this communication activity help the organization focus on common objectives and desired outcomes, and increase its speed in doing so

Visibility: does this communication activity measurably raise the profile of intended beneficiaries (and ideally, does that higher profile help deliver tangible benefits beyond the visibility itself)

Positivity: does this communication activity increase employee confidence in the organization and enthusiasm for participating in its direction of travel

Infrastructure development: does this communication activity increase the resilience, utility, or the return on investment of communication infrastructure?

Network effectiveness: does the activity make the informal communication network stronger, faster, better informed or more consistent?

In proposing these classifications, I’m not as much focused on quantifying the value add each delivers at the moment, but instead on being able to identify specific activities and demonstrate whether the organization’s “value portfolio” is appropriately balanced.

Once activities are organized and classified, the process of developing viable metrics within a company, and perhaps comparing activities in one category across companies could also become possible.

I also think using this approach to build a self-evaluation or team evaluation tool could be useful – I tend to focus on organizational alignment and network effectiveness, and sometimes my own approach can skew away from things like visibility and positivity.

This type of tool could also help integrate missing elements consciously while avoiding sudden shifts in tone or messaging.

This is a work in progress – do you think this approach makes sense, and how would you improve and quantify it?

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The State of the Sector: are internal communicators missing something big?

Not long ago, London-based internal communication consultancy Gatehouse published its eighth annual “State of the Sector” survey looking at how internal comms practitioners are experiencing their roles and how they use their time, money and energy.

Having spent the last four years in an in-house comms role, none of the conclusions particularly surprised me. Practitioners these days are focused on “digital,” channel management and event management, in pursuit of informing people about corporate strategy and, to a lesser extent, supporting the ongoing push for “employee engagement,” whatever that might exactly be.

They are worried about their budget levels and dabbling with a range of measurement tools in order to have some facts that can justify sustaining at least part of those budgets. But what the Gatehouse survey does not touch is any effort to sharpen the impact of internal communication by identifying and focusing on high-value and high-impact individuals and audiences within their organizations.

Whether this is a simple omission in the Gatehouse methodology or a major gap in current practice is a question I will leave open for now. But when at 28% of survey respondents anticipate taking a budget hit this year, the question of whether one can drive more impact with fewer dollars, euros or pounds is one that ought to be on most communicators’ radar screens.

Now, to answer that question, a few other questions are worth asking:

  • Does the 80-20 rule have an equivalent in internal communication?

According to Innovisor, a Copenhagen-based niche consultancy specializing in identifying and mapping the relationships between formal and informal leaders in organizations, the internal comms equivalent actually reflects a 3%-90% rule, where three percent of a company’s population has the ability to drive and influence conversations reaching 90% of employees.

These three percent are not merely senior leaders at the top of the pyramid, but the internal experts, role models and social networkers who combine high connectivity with high credibility to move and validate messages, official and otherwise.

  • Isn’t it more difficult or expensive to find the right people than to just focus on everyone?

The process of identifying an organization’s most influential employees and, if desired, mapping out their connections and their spheres of influence, is a task that requires actual work, either through a survey where employees identify their key personal and professional contacts in the workplace, or, less precisely, through a combination of interviews, desk research and management input.

Once found, the list of influencers and their maps of connections and influence have to be updated in a manner reflecting the level of change, turnover and organizational momentum. But even factoring the degree of work involved in developing definitive lists and maps, the opportunity for saving money, reducing noise and increasing impact is immense.

  • Isn’t this a function of management and not internal communication?

A sharpened focus on high impact employees and audiences isn’t the same thing as a focus on high-status employees. Top-down communication may remain the gold standard for delivering authoritative pronouncements, but employees look to select peers and experts to define, sanity check and contextualize those messages. This is an approach that combines management with management in a powerful, integrated way.

  • Has anyone actually done this successfully?

Selective engagement, which focuses on identifying, connecting and mobilizing key individuals, whether through Innovisor’s approach to social mapping, or Leandro Herrero’s Viral Change approach, is an increasingly popular and efficient way of making things happen in organizations and communities.

In doing such an excellent job of identifying what internal comms leaders and practitioners are doing and focusing on, Gatehouse does a massive service to the IC community.

And in highlighting such a gap in the arena of audience focus, Gatehouse, perhaps inadvertently, has created an opportunity for internal comms pros – and those who employ us – to look at how they can engage more selectively, and in so doing, increase their impact while making better use of money and organizational bandwidth.