Want to make #InternalComms a business priority? Find leaders whose KPIs you can actually help deliver.


In all of the talk about measurement and alignment in business communication, the idea that communication should help deliver business objectives is often implied

But one reason why communication activities fail to get sufficient support from management is that their direct benefits to the manager or leader with authority over them are rarely made clear.  

And when internal communication activities don’t mesh well with its leader’s own key performance indicators (KPIs), it becomes difficult to make a case for additional resources and spend, and sometimes, to even keep the current resources in place.

A huge problem

A huge problem for internal communicators is that the two functions that #internalcomms reports most frequently to – human resources (HR) and corporate communication (CorpComms) – rarely have KPIs that encourage treating internal comms as a real business priority.

Being owned by HR brings with it some highly incompatible KPIs, even if IC is seen as a “people” activity

HR tends to be  measured against factors like attrition rates and employee engagement scores.  IC can actually impact other areas of business performance directly and measurably, but its impact on attrition and employee engagement is less direct.

As attrition is said to reflect the view that “employees quit bosses and not companies”, one can appreciate that the role of #IC in nurturing manager-employee relationships is limited. This means its role in minimizing attrition is limited as well. 

In a world where employee engagement scores are measured on the basis of responses to questions like “do you have a best friend at work,” “does someone pay attention to your development” and “are your colleagues committed to doing quality work,” it also becomes clear that IC has limited impact on employee engagement as it’s currently measured.

This misalignment between Internal Communication and core HR measures creates an additional problem for Internal Comms. 

Given that HR is treated by most companies as a “support function,” HR is seen as a “cost centre” in most companies. This means that HR leaders have smaller budgets to work with than their CFO, CMO and CTO colleagues.

Because its impacts on HR KPIs are mostly indirect, HR generally sees internal communication as a “cost-centre-within-a-cost-centre.” That means HR is incentivized to underfund and under-resource it.  

If you are an HR leader who’s having to cut a position, would you cut a position that will make it difficult to deliver what the business directly asks of you, or a position that you are incentivized to see as a “nice-to-have” at best?

Being owned by CorpComm also potentially brings incompatible KPIs to the table, even though IC is seen as a “communication” activity.  

In many companies, there’s a desire to have all of their communication people at a common table, but their performance metrics in my experience have been heavily skewed towards accomplishments on the external side of the ledger – focusing on commercial targets and media coverage much more than on operational improvements or internal cost savings.

Also, like HR, CorpComms tends to be seen as a “cost centre” and suffers from similarly small and stretched budgets. This tends to deprioritize #internalcomms even further when it comes to allocating scarce resources  

Why it’s better to report elsewhere

In contrast, reporting to an ambitious business leader who is tasked with delivering measurable results can add rocket fuel to their own impact and to the value internal comms is seen to provide.

The main reason – it is easy to track changes in behaviors and operational improvements against the communication efforts that are employed to push them.  

If you are looking to increase sales, reduce wastage, streamline processes, or improve compliance and you are driving communication efforts to drive any of these types of performance, you can see the extent to which such performance changes in response to those communication efforts.  

You can then add a dollar value to those performance changes, and, boom, you have an easily calculated ROI that you and your leader can present to the organization – and make the case for continued permission and investment.

Getting resource when you are reporting to a CFO, COO or even a CTO can also be easier given that they tend to have larger budgets and more discretion than an HR or CorpComms leader.  

What are some exceptions?

Having conducted extensive interviews with a dozen communication leaders around the world last year on the relative importance of strategy and culture as drivers of their activities, the one main area of exception was where companies were focusing on culture and people management as their main differentiators.  

This was a common practice in the technology companies I talked with in particular – which made sense in that their key employees had in-demand skills and there was much less differentiation in their day-to-day work than there was in the cultures in which they worked. 

Another exception involved an industrial company that took on employee wellbeing and related metrics as genuine business KPIs.  

But these are exceptions that prove the rule – that internal comms is most effective when it is focused on KPIs that have genuine business importance AND that IC can directly and measurably influence.  

When IC is reporting to a strong leader who sees a clear and tangible relationship between its activities and their own success, that leader can help negotiate tensions with HR and other functions accordingly – and enabling IC to work with HR as a peer-level function rather than as a subordinate dependent on HR for its survival.

What can we do about this?

In-house internal communicators have limited influence on their reporting lines. But that shouldn’t be a barrier to raising this as an issue more broadly, and to empowering #IC pros to make the most of their current situations. 

As an industry, we can arm our in-house colleagues with the data and case stories that show real value when #internalcomms is focused on improving progress towards tangible business outcomes, and help them make the case to the leaders who need the most help.

As colleagues, we can support comms leaders in developing the skills and confidence to build better relationships and stronger coalitions that expand their support and influence beyond their own direct reporting lines.

As individuals, we can continually seek opportunities to better understand what the people we do work for are measured on so we can make a clearer case for why they need us on their side – and not be afraid to offer our services to additional leaders who can gain from our efforts.

And for those of us who have strong relations with leaders of core business functions like finance, operations, sales and R&D, we can encourage our happy customers to introduce us to their peers and coileagues to help move this conversation out of our own echo chamber and into the business mainstream.=

The more we can demonstrate a link between what we do and how a company measurably performs, the more free we will be to deliver the impact we are capable of.  Finding “customers” who see how our support will bring their KPIs within closer reach is absolutely key to doing just that.

To talk with me about how I can support you in improving your networking and positioning within your organization, book a free initial conversation with me at http://changingtheterms.youcanbookme.com

Mike Klein

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms, a consultancy focused on internal, change and social communication. Mike has worked with organizations in the US and Europe for more than 20 years on pressing strategic communication challenges, and is a prolific writer and commentator on communication strategy topics. Mike is also the Founder of #WeLeadComms, an initiative to drive open recognition and in the communication profession. He holds an MBA from London Business School, and is a former US political consultant.




2 Responses

  1. Good to talk about this Mike. Coordination between different areas of the business that have internal comm pros is essential to it working well to make sure there is a consistent narrative across the organisation plus in depth expertise in a specific area of the business. I am a fan of a good hub and spoke. At the end, it is whatever works.

  2. A savvy and thought-provoking piece Mike, on a vitally important topic. Like so many things, great IC starts with clarity of purpose – why do we exist and how can we move the dial to deliver strategic value for the organisation? Objectives – more specifically outcomes – are at the heart of this. IC can impact a multitude of areas, but that doesn’t mean it should – there is a strong case for a laser focus on the areas that really matter. Aligning yourself to the right internal stakeholder is key. I used to say it doesn’t matter where you sit, but you’ve made a compelling case for why it does – access to resources and ability to demonstrate impact and commercial value.

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