Insights, Internal Communication Strategy

Making measurement your most effective internal communication tool right now: it’s easier than you think.

Insights, Internal Communication Strategy

Herd Virality – why focusing on internal influence beats “100% engagement”


Herd Virality?—?why focusing on internal influence beats “100% engagement”

Do we really need to shoot for “100% Engagement,” or do we need to focus on engaging the right people?

As someone who spends a good share of my time working in the world of internal communication, there’s an immense amount of talk about “engagement”: as a benchmark of organization-wide satisfaction, and, often concurrently, as a measure of the percentage of people reading or interacting with a piece of online content.

But one problem that unites these differing, but deeply flawed, worlds of content engagement and employee engagement is that they both treat “engagement” as a one-size-fits-all, one–person–one–vote concept. It’s on a linear scale of 0–100%, and all engagement counts equally and means the same thing.

As they said in the days before the “s-word” and “f-word” became routine, that’s “horse-pucky.”

Click rates, open rates and employee engagement scores tell you nothing about which employees are key to spreading your messages?—?or how those messages actually flow through your organization.

A story from an airline merger

About 20 years ago I learned the most important lesson of my career as a professional communicator.

I was managing the internal communication for easyJet’s acquisition of Go Airlines, its former British Airways-funded competitor at the time. My predecessor, the legendary Johnny Harben, insisted on having the change newsletter, Changing Times, published on paper, even though easyJet was an early and fairly religious convert to the gospel of the paperless office.

Every Thursday the newsletters were distributed at the combined airlines’ offices at London’s Luton and Stansted airports, hand-delivered to the office staff, and placed on aircraft to be distributed across the flight network.

Maybe 30% of the staff picked up a copy. But in the survey research I followed up with, more than 75% understood the key messages and recognized the official language used to express them.

Fast forward to 2021, when Covid-19 vaccination rates hit 50 percent, 70 percent in some countries.

Then, authorities started talking about “herd immunity”?—?a level of vaccination sufficient to substantially prevent the spread of infection in that society.

When someone was explaining herd immunity to me, it struck me that what I saw at easyJet-Go was the exact opposite phenomenon: “herd virality.”

Herd Virality

Herd virality? Essentially, that’s the extent to which a small-but-sufficient number of people can drive needed information and messaging through an organization, community, or market.

Herd virality is effectively a function of having a motivated minority of people in an organization, community, or focused market who are willing to consume information and share it so that sufficient people get the message, even those who don’t wish to read or otherwise directly engage.

At easyJet-Go, the process was illustrated by employees who didn’t read Changing Times noting those in their physical space who did. If you heard something or needed a question answered, someone who’d read Changing Times was the first person to ask.

From one-size-fits-all to internal influence

Herd virality challenges the notion that communication initiatives need to directly reach 100% of the population to have sufficient impact.

It also lays waste to the notion that communication needs to be presented, delivered, and packaged so that everyone finds it equally appetizing, and opens up more radical ways for organizations to streamline the ways they connect with their internal and external audiences

The most radical?—?and actionable?—?way to streamline internal communication is to conduct research to identify those influencers who drive “herd virality”?—?and shape the tone and flow of an organization’s own “word of mouth.”

Over the last few months, I’ve developed a course that will allow internal communication pros to understand the basics of internal influence, to conduct their own research, and develop their own influencer lists?—?my Internal Influence Masterclass.

How it works

The approach used in the masterclass is not new?—?it was described in some detail by McKinsey in 2014.

I’ve added the ability to take the theory and make it actionable?—?through a combination of a two hour course with a series of follow-up consultations.

The basic approach to snowball research is simple?—?to start by surveying a small number of individuals and ask them who they seek for news about the organization, or for support and advice.

The results of the survey then are analyzed and form the basis for future rounds until a usable influencer list emerges.

The game-changing advantages of getting an intentional understanding of your internal influence list include:

? Reducing the volume of irrelevant information sent to employees

? Identifying credible sources of feedback about organizational developments

? Harnessing the support of influencers who are positively disposed towards the organization’s ambitions

? Ensuring that more skeptical influencers are better informed?—?and thus less empowered to “make up their own facts” about what is happening in the organization.

The approach also provides a useful sense-check for the activities of “Champions Networks” and “Ambassadors”, which organizations use to try to impact word-of-mouth in support of specific initiatives, but which are often built without thought about who is actually seen as credible and respected.

Snowball vs. ONA

Yes, there is a more powerful approach available called Organizational Network Analysis that offers deeper insights into the nature and direction of relationships on an enterprise scale, and offers comprehensive maps showing how certain hubs and spokes emerge in organizational networks.

But the snowball approach still offers internal communicators a new ability to target the small group of knowledgeable and well-connected individuals who drive organizational word of mouth, without requiring the need for organization-wide surveys and the turbulence they can potentially cause.

Naturally, once a company starts with snowball research, it may develop an appetite for deeper knowledge that can be satisfied well by Organizational Network Analysis specialists like OrgMapper.

What you need to know

In a two hour session, along with the included follow-up consultations, the Internal Influence Masterclass discusses the power of internal influence, and goes through the specifics of collecting, distilling, and presenting the data.

The course does not require any background in statistical analysis?—?though it can benefit from some basic familiarity with Excel or other spreadsheets, and with the use of common survey tools like Survey Monkey.

Private sessions can be arranged at your convenience. For more information and to register, visit

A version of this article originally appeared in Strategic and Mister Editorial (paywall).

Insights, Internal Communication Strategy

Is it time to replace “magic numbers” with a “magic question” when it comes to alignment and engagement?

OVER the last twenty-plus years, organizations have been focused on finding a single “magic number” as the ultimate gauge of organizational health.

The two main candidates have been the “employee engagement (EE) score: or an “employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS).”

But faced with systemic downward trends in both of those measures?—?could it be that we are focusing on the wrong numbers?

There are two key problems with EE and eNPS scores. The first is that both are based on sentiments?—?how employees feel?—?rather than on their actual words, actions, or priorities. Secondly, both are aggregates, combining employee attitudes towards positives and problems rather than separating them out so they can be targeted and addressed.

Time for a Magic Question?

To address those problems, I propose something new: a “magic question”.

And that question is:

“What are the top three priorities facing your organization?”

This question is “magic” for a number of reasons.

The answers tell us whether employees, leaders, and managers give official priorities the same level of importance.

The answers identify hidden or “unofficial” priorities?—?which can either reflect gaps between leaders’ words and actions or highlight chronic or systemic issues that get in the way of aligning employee actions with organizational objectives. These are not things that tend to be asked about in engagement surveys or addressed directly by eNPS scores.

Even with stated or “official” priorities, conscious or subconscious messages may emerge as perceived priorities even if not expressed officially. “Cost cutting” is one that is particularly pervasive. Macroeconomic headwinds (inflation, supply chain, labor market tightness) also may emerge as being more critical than the organization’s stated agenda, and workplace hygiene factors (communication, leadership quality) often surface as urgent for employees even if not on the organization’s official list.

Turning those answers into numerical data can send clear messages to management about disconnects.

When communication leaders and business leaders have differences of opinion, the business leader’s opinion prevails. It’s a game of “rock-scissors-paper” where the power of the business leader trumps the subjective expertise of the communication leader. But bringing numerical data to the table, like saying that the business leaders’ top three priorities don’t even make the employees’ top-ten list, adds some “rock” to the opinion of the communicator that a business leader will be harder pressed to ignore.

The strongest quotes provided can be useful in confronting the assumptions held by leaders about key issues. Quotes like “everything is treated as a crisis here”, “overwhelm?—?too many projects and priorities”, or “attrition in critical service areas and locations” can focus attention in ways that more diplomatically worded interpretations and answers can’t. They illustrate the real word of mouth, which, if left unchecked, can quickly dominate the organization’s agenda.

Even if the answers are collected from a subset of employees, the answers reflect real comments which have likely been shared informally inside and outside the company. And, once quantified, answers to the “magic question” can form the basis for turning internal communication from a cost center to an ROI engine by allowing the financial impact of comms interventions to be tracked, correlated and valued appropriately.

The “magic question”?—?by creating space for open, unaided feedback that can be easily categorized, scored and ranked?—?can provide actionable and targeted insights. In doing so, it provides an opportunity to enable communication leaders to deliver real, measurable and monetizable impact.

“The Magic Question” forms the basis for Mike’s Measurement Masterclass, which is being offered next on 22 August.

This article appeared previously in Strategic Magazine and Medium.

Insights, Internal Communication Strategy

Two-way internal communication is dead


Two-way internal communication is dead. That may sound like a radical and provocative statement, and it is.

But it addresses a gap in the thinking that implies that interactivity and dialogue can somehow be confined to a closed loop, even in the face of always-on smartphones and social platforms.

It challenges the still-grudging recognition of the role of informal influence networks and word of mouth in organizations. And, above all, it reflects the generational recognition by millennial internal communicators that we no longer operate in a two-directional but a multi-directional world.

Two-way internal communication was born with the best of intent.

At a time when nearly all internal comms were top-down and one-way, the desire to make things “more two-way” represented a desire to humanize, to engage and to drive a degree of collaboration. The belief that such interaction and engagement could take place in a ‘sealed’ environment was often necessary to get management to cooperate.

Of course, it’s a myth that it’s ever been possible to fully “seal” an internal communication environment at all.

Even before online platforms, the offline platforms of “community” and “word-of-mouth” have always been rife with conversations about the inner workings of companies and their implications for individuals and their families.

But until online platforms made some of these conversations visible and accelerated their spread, it was easy not to see them, or at least to ignore them,

Many organizations are still slow to recognize multi-directionality as the nature of today’s organizational playing field.

Some still talk about becoming “more two-way.”

Others may recognize multi-directionality in principle, but actively resist investigating their internal influence networks, or looking consciously at the impact of internal communication on external audiences.

Still others seek more to focus on controlling and suppressing messages, instead of having IC provide a lighthouse to help employees navigate through messages and demands coming from multiple directions.

Organizations that choose to recognize multidirectionality will be able to differentiate themselves as more open, dynamic, and responsive relative to their competion.

They will also have greater ability to target messages more precisely and support faster and sharper alignment than more traditional organizations. Yet many of those traditional organizations will try to get by by being “more two-way,” at least until they are forced to give way.

If you want to navigate and find opportunities in the multidirectional communication world, let’s talk. Send me a note at