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Internal Influence: Why ONA makes sense in times like these

by Mike Klein and Dr. Anita Zbieg, PhD

Following nine months of all-remote working across their business, Head of Comms Owen Newell Anderson met with Chief H.R. Officer Hayley Rodriguez to discuss one of his major agenda items – his desire to conduct an Organizational Network Analysis of the entire enterprise to better understand the way internal influence works in a time of major change.. 

Let’s listen in.

ONA: Thank you for inviting me today.

HR: You’re very welcome, Owen. Believe it or not, I’ve always thought Organizational Network Analysis was interesting. Under these circumstances, where cost-reduction and remote working have obviously changed a lot of our internal dynamics, I think it is now worth a serious look.

ONA: I’m glad we’re on the same page. Working outside of our physical structures, new social structures have undoubtedly formed, and it would be very interesting to know more about them, and about who is driving them.

HR: Agreed. As you can imagine, even though we have social distancing until the vaccine comes out, we will be taking some steps to get us ready to grow again.

ONA: New hires? Perhaps an acquisition?

HR: Both in the realm of possibility

ONA: Well, the most valuable things ONA can do in those cases is give us a better sense not only of the assets we still have on board and where they fit together, but how we can accelerate the effectiveness of new hires and how to best start the integration process for a new acquisition.

HR: Remote onboarding is tough, and the toughest part I’ve seen is that it’s very difficult to connect new remote hires socially with the right people who have the right knowledge about how things actually work. I see ONA as a potential precision tool for getting the understanding we need.

ONA: The main thing that ONA does, as you say, is map out all of the relationships in the enterprise. Knowing about how people actually work and actually communicate won’t just help us with onboarding, but can help us take out a lot of the noise in the organization.  

HR: Communication has improved since the crisis began in the sense that employees are happier about it, but the quantity seems to have ballooned. I’d be interested in seeing how ONA could help.

ONA: ONA exercises tend to be seen and presented, rightly, as exercises to improve communication, and that’s something most employees tend to want. 

HR: There may be some resistance, but there also seems the opportunity for a potential payoff.

ONA: I think it has the potential to be transformative, both from a communication perspective and from having genuinely deep organizational knowledge. The main thing is that we will know who really drives communication in the business: not me and not the theory of a line manager cascade, but the actual 3% of the people who drive 90% of the conversations.

HR: That’s the “three percent rule” you’ve told me about a few times

ONA: Precisely, Hayley.. But it’s more than just the knowledge, it’s what that knowledge would allow us to do. It would help us reduce the noise and irrelevance that hits people in this business. It would get rid of the constant pressure to dumb things down so that people who have nothing fo with content won’t be bewildered by it. We will be able to target better. We’ll also be able to listen better.

HR: Better listening? Tell me more.

ONA: We’ll have a better idea of whom to listen to. The influencers for sure, but also the people who are less connected, particularly if they are new arrivals. We need to know what moves them, and why certain things don’t move them. The insights about individual intensity of connection will add immeasurably to the way we collect feedback and listen.

ONA: But it’s not only that. ONA can make our organization more resilient. 

HR: How is that possible? 

ONA: Resilience demands “distributed control with centralized coordination,” not “centralized control with distributed execution” and that’s exactly how a real-time Organizational Network Analysis can have you covered. Knowing how the work is done will help your company become more resilient by providing employees with high quality real-time collaboration data & visualizations. 

HR: Does it mean that ONA can help guide me through the continuous process of change? 

ONA: Yes, by showing real-time how people and teams work in your company. Day-to-day company-wide change may bring chaos. Every single team and employee is having to learn how to get work done in a new way. What if they knew how actual collaboration looks like? Know the actual and proven work practices? 

HR: Tell me more about ONA’s ability to enable company-wide change.

ONA: With ONA, it becomes possible to:

– learn quickly about where to act and who should be involved,  

– know which people are driving value in your company, 

– set up new processes, roles, and practices based on actual work practices and relationships,

– support your managers by knowing what’s going on – and using that knowledge to make them more confident and effective

– develop insights into key individual relationships

HR: You told me that collaboration can be measured real-time. How is that possible? 

ONA: Along with surveys, ONA tools can bring data about digital traces of interactions from tools your company uses (e.g. MS Office, G-suite, GitHub, Asana). 

HR: Insights about “key individual relationships”? Are you sure we wouldn’t be too intrusive?

ONA: This isn’t a “search and destroy” mission. It’s more of an x-ray to get a picture of our organizational reality and be able to work within it consciously, for the first time. I sense a question about “what do we do with negative influencers.” You have to remember that we only give privileged information to managers, and everyone else is either informed by their managers or gets a common set of corporate internal messages. So, what that means is that there are a lot of influential people getting very limited information. These people either put one and one together and share their conclusions, or they outright make up rumors and fake news.

HR: Rumors and fake news?

ONA: Yes, And many don’t realize that’s what they are doing. Employees go to them to close the gaps in what we provide them, and they close the gaps with the limited information and insight they can add.

HR: So, by identifying influencers, we can make sure they are better informed?

ONA: Absolutely, Even the biggest rumor monger can’t overcome a set of actual facts. Having well informed influencers will by definition reduce the scope for rumor and misinformation.

HR: I think it’s time to do this. We’re at an important juncture, and we owe it to ourselves to learn as much as we can about where we are now, to set the stage for our next bout of growth.

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms and has been a longtime advocate for the use of Organizational Network Analysis as a key communication strategy tool.To order his guide to Internal Influence, email him at mike.klein@changingtheterms.com

Anita is co-founder of Network Perspective, software that brings collaboration to the company org chart, to improve organizational culture. She holds a PhD from Uniwersytet Ekonomiczny we Wrocławiu and her latest article on ONA can he be found here.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/4-tips-when-organizing-company-around-teams-anita-zbieg-phd-/?trackingId=L9%2B6F%2BU7lgXmkQYUKjttiA%3D%3D

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What will be the COVID-19 game-changer for Internal Communication? Social Distancing

Most of the time, it’s difficult to predict the future, especially when you are in the middle of a crisis of epic and unprecedented proportions.

But one differentiator sticks out in the case of the COVID-19 coronavirus situation: the social distancing required to minimize infection rates..

Social distancing will likely stay around in some form until a vaccine is found and takes hold. And that will have massive impact on the workplace as well as on the lives and lifestyles of citizens throughout the world – impact that could last well beyond the vaccine’s arrival.

I write on this in greater detail for Smarp. 

I also will discuss this with leading IC personalities Steve Crescenzo and Jennifer Sproul on Smarp’s latest Webinar on Thursday 2 April.

To be sure, the economic and emotional toll of COVID-19 is increasingly wrenching, and that’s what most people are rightly focusing on today. However, we’ve had wars and economic crashes, and they didn’t change the fundamental nature of work and business. 

Social distancing, however, changes everything.

It changes much more than how we situate ourselves. It changes how we interact. How we transact. How we speak with each other, listen to each other, and how we make and implement decisions.

It moves organizational stories from physical space to the connections that exist between organization members in virtual space. 

It reconfigures the economics of whole industries and communities.

And it radically alters the way relationships form and continue within organizations – and between organizations and customers.

If you are interested in the implications of social distancing on your organization or practice, let’s talk.  Book a free half hour conversation here. https://calendly.com/changingtheterms/30min

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Changing The Terms….with Smarp

Technology is changing the face of internal communication (IC), particularly so in times like these. As technology has progressed in IC, it’s also been obvious that many fundamentals remain the same – the demands for credibility, relevance and interactivity.  Technology alone can’t meet those needs – doing so requires strategy.

In that vein, I am delighted to announce my new association with Smarp to develop strategic services for its customers, and particularly, to work with its customers on the most effective ways to drive impact through its platform.

For me, this is really where IC technology is headed.

There are a lot of great platforms and vendors out there.  There are platforms who have been investing in moving the IC profession forward.  But technology functionalities are converging. What I like most about Smarp is that they see creativity and strategy in how their tool is used as being similarly important to what functionalities a tool can deliver.  And I’m thrilled that they’ve picked me to help drive them forward.

I am also excited about working with the Smarp Team.  Those of us in IABC talk a lot about “Finding Our Tribe.”  Well, in the world of IC technology, and after spending some hours in Helsinki and Stockholm speaking with members at all levels of Smarp’s team, I emerged with a sense that I’ve truly found my tribe.

My normal practice with Changing The Terms continues, and I see my work with Smarp as expanding the diversity of what I do while scaling its impact upward.  

If you want to navigate and find opportunities where communication technology and strategy connect, let’s talk. 

https://calendly.com/changingtheterms/30min

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Convergence in Iceland – and why it’s interesting to internal and external communicators

Iceland has been getting a lot of attention lately – partly because of its increasing popularity as a travel destination and also because of recent tumultuous economic, political and geological events (remember the eruption that grounded European air travel for a week?).

But is there anything else going on beneath the surface that can give insights to internal and external communication pros?

I travel here frequently because of my wife’s Icelandic family and her travel business, Iceland Unwrapped. But this trip, I was particularly interested in seeing what Iceland can offer in terms of insights into IC.

Why?

Iceland is something of an insular country, in a similar way as many big companies with entrenched cultures and long-serving staff can also be insular. More to the point, it’s an island with a hard border but no physical neighbours. It also has a unique language that it invests considerable effort to protect from outside influence, while, at the same time, its school system produces a level of English fluency and literacy higher than some parts of the US or UK.

Iceland is a highly and tightly networked society. Family ties and school ties are close and interconnecting. Nearly two thirds of the population lives in the sophisticated but tiny capital of Reykjavik (metro area 200,000). Some sectors of the economy are monopolistic; others have two or three competitors. Top roles are filled through a merry-go-round of senior appointments with very few top roles filled by foreigners.

The similarity of this dynamic to what is seen in a lot of large organizations yields some specific insights:

· The power of the boundary – as a national border defines the territory where one is “in” or “out”, the organizational firewall  serves the same function. Inside the boundary context becomes sharper, internal content more relevant, and emotion more intense. Shorthand and jargon allow messages to flow more leanly and rapidly.

A great Icelandic example was an off-color conversation at a Reykjavik bar called the Klaustur, where a number of politicians left work early for a drinking session that ended up being recorded and shared by another bar customer. It was not simply that the conversation was seen as outrageous by many Icelanders – it was the speed at which it spread through society. More pertinently, it’s because the single term “the Klaustur” has become shorthand for the conversation and its aftermath. Outside the boundary, “Klaustur” means nothing to billions.  Inside, “Klaustur” means a deep, divisive controversy at the heart of an intense and close-knit society.

· De facto bilingualism – in organizations, there are generally at least two languages. One is spoken to  the outside world, and one to insiders. The internal language is necessary to retain cohesion and drive specificity, the external to allow interaction and flow with the uninitiated.

Just as Iceland mandates English fluency while keeping English words out of Icelandic, organizations use jargon to drive cohesion and specificity while keeping its use largely within the firewall. It’s no accident, therefore, that internal audiences rarely respond well to the simple redistribution of external messages internally. It’s also why Icelandic remains the main internal business language despite the country’s small size, though local multinationals are making increasing use of English internally.

• Synergy between internal and external: far more than a “convergence” or “blurring of lines” between internal and external communication, Iceland sees active use of external channels to drive internal messaging and confidence, and internal channels to spread messages to external audiences.

It’s important to bear in mind that a large enterprise by local standards has about 1000 employees, which would amount to about 1% of the working population of greater Reykjavik. It is also worth noting that Iceland, despite its size, boasts state and private TV networks, along with four national newspapers on a constant lookout for content and for coveted “scoops” at the expense of visible business and political targets.

This means that traditional external media and internal channels live in much closer proximity to each other than they do in larger countries. Reporters and C-suiters are often contemporaries, occasionally friends. Transparency is not always the goal, but the lack of it is difficult to defend and sustain. In an environment where word travels fast, protocol becomes critical. When employees don’t hear something first, they know they come second very quickly. Gaps in official stories face instant exposure and speculation.

One Icelandic business decided the best defense was a good offense. Domestic comms received the bulk of the budget even though most customers were abroad. Internal letters from leaders replaced press releases, with leaks anticipated. And much communication inside and outside the firewall was delivered by employees engaging informally with their families and communities.

Lessons learned

Is Iceland an internal comms case study in and of itself? No. It’s a democratic society with a largely independent press, which is a clear distinction from comparably sized companies which own their formal communication channels.

But with its size, and insularity, Iceland surfaces lessons about how the changes moving through the world of IC are taking place with heightened speed and intensity, while at the same time, the boundary between internal and external sharpens as it becomes more frequently crossed

A version of this piece was previously published in Communication Director Online.

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Five steps for avoiding the “Internal Communication measurement trap”

Measurement.  For many years, measurement has been a source of frustration when it comes to internal communication and organizational alignment. Now, internal communication platforms and email tools offer a variety of embedded analytics and the ability to measure certain predetermined activities: clicks, open rates and adoption being the most obvious.

While embedded analytics can be helpful in adding numbers to the internal communication story, they also represent a potential trap for internal communication pros. It’s a trap that can actually limit the power and impact of internal communication measurement activity by emphasizing what’s easier to measure over what’s meaningful to measure. 

To avoid this trap, here are five measurement tips that will help your objectives and ambitions drive the process, rather than have it be driven by what’s easier to measure.

  • Drive the measurement agenda – choose what gets measured.

    By far, the most important step is to choose what you and your business want to measure.  If you have priorities, ambitions, KPIs, measure the progress being made towards achieving those.  Measure actual performance, and if that’s difficult, measure what employees say is important – and then assess the gaps between what they say are priorities and what is topping the organization’s agenda.
  • Don’t benchmark, baseline.

    There’s another trap that a lot of organizations fall into – the desire to benchmark performance and attitudes relative to “similar” companies – sector competitors, other large companies based in the same country being popular targets. A real pitfall of benchmarking is the need to use common questions (or, even acommon research vendor) rather than to ask questions that are specific to an organization’s own reality and context.

    Baselining is far more important – asking a given question before the organization or its communicators starts take action to address the issue being examined.  Good baselining and tracking allows the ability to measure the impact of your involvement over time – and also the impact of specific one-off interventions.
  • Use different types of questions and measures

    There are a lot of different data sources available to an enterprising communicator.  Aside from embedded analytics, one can use surveys to address different types of questions: open-ended questions (where participants are given limited guidance about answers), open-ended lists (where participants are asked to supply several different answers), closed-ended questions where participants select the “right” answer, and ranked lists which test alignment in direct way. 

    In some cases, it’s also possible to analyze enterprise search (or intranet search) terms and track what issues are of most concern to the organization at any given time. A mix of questions and measure types aligned to your measurement agenda can provide clear, sharp, and specific insights.
  • One approach not to use: don’t ask people what they think they know

    Earlier in my career, when I was working on organizational change programs with certain (nameless) large consultancies, I was stunned by the surveys they used.  They would ask questions like “Have you heard about the change?” and my personal favorite: “Do you understand the change?:

    Aside from being non-specific about what “change” they were asking about, these questions asked participants to out themselves as ignorant, stupid or both. Don’t do this. Better to ask another type of question and see how close people are to the official explanation of what they are being asked about.
  • Make words and numbers work together.

    It’s not true that only words make up stories. Numbers can be key to powerful stories as well. But words add power to numbers, and vice versa. 

    Numbers illustrate spread and bring trends to life. Words give that spread and those impacts context and flavor, and can bring some punch to a boardroom conversation. When numbers indicate broad agreement, words can highlight the intensity of that support, or of any lingering disagreement.  A mix of measures that bring words and numbers together can maximize the value of your measurement efforts.

Measurement is an activity that has tremendous potential to support internal communicators in delivering more effectively, and help them prove their value more convincingly to senior leadership and management. 

But to do that successfully, communication pros need to avoid the “measurement trap” that easily accessed data with limited relevance can set.   By following these five steps, IC pros can raise their game – and have the words and numbers at hand that demonstrate their impact.

If you want to navigate and find opportunities in the worlds of measurement, strategy, content or messaging in internal communication, let’s talk.  Schedule a conversation with Mike Klein.

Uncategorized

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 doing organizational network analysis  (ONA) 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.  Schedule a conversation with Mike Klein.

Internal Communication Strategy, Tools and services

Insights and Updates

The latest from Changing The Terms:

COMPLETING “THE PRESENT AND FUTURE OF INTERNAL COMMUNICATION” 

My latest research project, The Present and Future of Internal Communication, finished earlier this month with the publication of its 12 key conclusions and my summary article on IC Kollectif

But naturally, when one is working on matters of the future, conclusions are not an end, but a beginning.

The conclusions point in exciting directions:

●     IC is moving away from a focus on engagement and towards a focus on alignment as leaders seek sharper prioritization and higher agility 

●     Employees are increasingly recognized as communicators and contributors, instead of being mere recipients of communications. 

●     One-way and two-way approaches are giving way to multidirectional communications, based on a growing appreciation of today’s whole systems landscape and the role of internal influence within it.

●     Measurement and value assessment are becoming more tangible and, therefore, much more powerful.

●     In a world where products and services are converging and commoditizing rapidly, Internal Communication is increasingly seen both as a source and driver of strategic differentiation.

I say more about the report and its conclusions in my piece for sponsor Happeo on IC Kollectif.

CONSULTANCY

To put this research into practice, I’m looking for communicators and leaders interested in taking this thinking into their organizations – to drive sharper alignment, more actionable measurement, and ultimately, clearer differentiation.  

If you’d like a research-based approach to internal communication that can reduce noise while increasing impact, let’s talk.  

Send me an email at mike.klein@changingtheterms.com and we’ll put a conversation in the schedule. Or, if you prefer, book a consultation here.

LIVE EVENTS AND WEBINARS

I’ll be on the road quite a bit in the coming weeks, speaking in Oslo, London, and Toronto, and appearing on webinars hosted by sponsors Smarp and Bananatag

It will be great if you can join me at any of these live or online events.

Live Events

OSLO: Will be joint keynote for “What’s the next Big Thing in Internal Communication”, co-sponsored by the European Association of Communication Directors and the Norwegian Communication Association on 15 October.

LONDON: Will be delivering a set of two workshops for CIPRInside on Measurement and Noise Reduction/Internal Influence on 29 October. Please email me at mike.klein@changingtheterms.com so I can provide you with a 20%-off discount code.

TORONTO: My Measurement and Noise Reduction/Internal Influence workshops are also part of the offering for the Inner Strength Strategic Internal Communication Conference in Canada’s largest city on 27 November.

Webinars

SMARP’s “Great Debate”: IC people are rarely disagreeable, but we often disagree. And sponsor Smarp is seeking to stimulate some spirited conversation between myself, Canada’s Priya Bates and America’s Jason Anthoine. I think a bit of my “heresy” around “employee engagement” is likely to come through during our conversation on 22 October.

BANANATAG: International communication will be on the menu as I join Jenni Field, Chuck Gose, and Sony’s Tracy Chambers in a webinar that will touch on subjects like the appropriate use of jargon and the impact of multidirectional communication on employee-line manager relationships on 30 October.

FINALLY

Changing The Terms now has guides available on differentiation, internal influence and employee activism. Order your copies here.

Thank you for your continued interest and support – and for your help in “changing the game.”

Insights, Internal Communication Strategy

Employee Activism: New Guide from Changing The Terms

There’s a lot of talk about employee activism these days. Are you vulnerable?

This summer, I prepared a “Guide to Employee Activism” which looks at potential causes of internal unrest – particularly inconsistencies between stated values and principles and the actual values, principles and practices that guide an organization’s operational and commercial behavior.

The guide also addresses potential crises and minefields that can arise when organizations choose to engage in corporate activism – especially when their own house isn’t in order.

To find out whether you are vulnerable – and learn more about what you can do about it, order your FREE copy at https://changingtheterms.com/internal-communication-guides/ .

Insights, Internal Communication Strategy, The Profession

Six things IC professionals can do to raise our game


It’s hard to be ambitious when you are trying to survive. That’s not only true of individuals. It’s also true of fields and professions when they face the pressure of micromanagement and penny-pinching.  

That’s our historical baggage as internal communicators. 

But it doesn’t have to be our current reality, much less our future.

Indeed, the C-Suite decision-makers and Chief Communicators I spoke with for Happeo’s research into The Present and Future of Internal Communication want IC to be more confident and proactive

The question is how quickly we can raise our game, and what moving in that direction actually looks like.

From my perspective, there are two main issues: how do we as IC professionals engage with leaders, and how do we change the way we do things, so we can operate more effectively and credibly.

How can we get our house in order? Three tasks

  • We need to seize control of the measurement agenda – particularly in terms of measuring impact.  Click rates, views and the such like isn’t enough. We need to measure changes in the words people use, the actions people take and the attitudes they incubate. Most importantly, we need to be able to measure and demonstrate the lack of impact of activities that cost unnecessary time and money so we can free up resources.
  • We need to make a documented case for investment in the right tools. Employees are used to consumer-grade tools and have limited tolerance for improvised and cumbersome substitutes.
  • We need to bring the “3-90 rule” to life: to demonstrate that 3% of employees drive 90% of conversations, so we can get support for Organizational Network Analysis and shift significant communication burdens away from the hierarchy.

How can we get leaders on board in a meaningful way? Three opportunities:

  • Ask leaders what a communication intervention is worth to them in real financial terms. Use those money figures to drive prioritization.
  • Involve leaders in communication planning and in sharing ownership of processes and outcomes
  • Don’t seek an invitation. If you bring a chair and bring the data to justify your place, you can elbow your way to a spot at “the table.”

The IC of the future is not a simple continuation of today’s tactics, priorities and practices. New skills, mindsets and confidence will be required as we go forward.

Recognize that the right help is available – don’t be afraid to look beyond your organizational bubble for help.  Consultants and vendors have a lot of experience and insights, and can save you from spending a lot of time and money on heartache and reinvention.

Most importantly, recognize that the future of IC is in your hands.

Managers and leaders have changing demands, but only we can reshape their expectations by clearly defining the benefits of a strategic, tech-savvy and incisive approach.  

We can do this.

ABOUT CHANGING THE TERMS

Changing The Terms is a communication consulting practice focused on helping organizations improve alignment, differentiation and performance.

Insights

Listening: A business burden, or a potential spark and catalyst?

One of the most prevalent themes in my conversations with professionals about internal communication these days is about “listening.” 

Indeed, every conversation I have about organizational listening involves some sort of complaint – that “we don’t listen enough”, “we don’t listen well”, or “we don’t follow up on the feedback we get and people are sick of it,”  

A recent conversation I had with Dr. Kevin Ruck, who demurred when I referred to him as “The King of Employee Voice,” had a somewhat different tone.  Kevin has been following listening and feedback issues for years. And we stumbled onto a topic that’s gotten little focus  – how to surface high quality feedback that adds value both to organizations and employees when it is acted upon.

“It’s all about employees believing the processes are authentic, and that leaders will act when appropriate,” Kevin says.

That’s easy when it’s face-to-face, Kevin adds.  “They can see it in the mannerisms and in the tone of voice when it’s in a conversation, but it can be much more difficult in an online process.”

In many cases, the process of surfacing, collecting, harvesting, evaluating and acting on feedback has tended to be a  slow process that generates huge amounts of “terrestrial” input.

“The process generates a lot of low-level issues and concerns.  Partially because a lot of that stuff is what’s nagging – showers that don’t work, crap food in the canteen, for instance.  But it’s also part of a trust-building process.In some cultures, people aren’t likely to open up about the real issues until they start to see good will and action on the basics.  People want to start small and appear non-threatening,” continues Kevin.

If organizations want better feedback and input, it’s not enough simply to ask for it.  It’s also not enough to act on it. It requires an approach where processes are clear and credible. Expectations are also decisive – if companies expect employees to aim higher with their contributions, they need to respond with speed, seriousness and an appropriate level of sensitivity.

“The maturity of the process drives the value of the input,” explains Kevin. “Smart organizations won’t just be mature and adult and forthcoming about responding to feedback, they will also be shrewd and strategic about how they analyze it. They will look for trends – assess demographics, and look for the impact of how resolving problems in certain ways affect the trends.”

“People need to realize that listening isn’t about casework. It’s about understanding the fundamentals of what is going on in the business. By being smart about collecting, acting on, and addressing feedback, listening can go from a seeming burden to a spark and catalyst.” 

Kevin will be exploring this further with Howard Krais and Michael Pounsford – with a full report and suggestions for good listening practice coming out later in 2019.

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms and an experienced internal communication strategist, writer and advocate. To schedule a free consultation, please click here.

Insights, Internal Communication Strategy

The “Comms Factor” – turning the tables to share the responsibility of defining internal communication value

Having been an internal communicator for the last twenty years, one of the eternal questions our tribe has faced has been to define a relationship between IC activity and business performance.  

For the most part, the effort to find this relationship has been largely forensic, namely attempting to define correlations between communication activities and business changes after the fact.

While some business numbers clearly show correlations with increases in related internal communication activities, such as, improved employee behaviors around cybersecurity in office settings or use of sanitary facilities in health care settings, no standard figure has emerged as a way of demonstrating IC impact on a larger scale.

To their credit, the internal communicators with whom I’ve been speaking have been working hard to identify the numbers – and the words – to bring the story of their impact to life in the various organizations where and with whom they work.  But indeed, it was the mention of “assigning the appropriate amount of credit” to internal communication activities that prompted me to look at measurement from another angle – to propose calculating a “communication factor” that would assign an amount of credit to communication before specific performance, or specific changes in behavior, actually get measured.

Using an example cited by a participant, a hospital starts making alcohol wipes available to its employees, and then communicates their availability.  A percentage of the change in the amount of alcohol wipe consumption could be attributed to the communication activity, and that percentage of change could then be applied to other business outcomes that require some degree of active employee participation.  

Whether based on an easy-to-measure case, or by agreement between communicators and other business stakeholders on a value to assign to communication based on less tangible or more intuitive elements, the comms factor would essentially be an estimate or an extrapolation – and as communicators often have confidence issues with business numbers, the idea makes some hesitant.

But commercial and finance people are not hesitant about assigning value to their extrapolations or estimates – indeed, these are the figures that make business forecasting an important part of business life.  

Having attended business school with classmates who went on to become CEOs and CFOs of multi-billion dollar companies, our numbers are not intrinsically worse or less grounded than many of the other extrapolations or estimates flying around the business. We simply either resist sharing them because we are afraid they aren’t perfect, or because we don’t feel we know how to apply the situational discipline and rigor to present them in terms the business understands.

Quantification and valuation of “soft” numbers and metrics is not unknown in the business world. Whether it is directly valuing them in financial terms so they can be considered in investment calculations, or allocating their contribution to “balanced scorecards” that address financial and non-financial measures of business health, these become hard measures that drive real decisions.

For years, internal communicators have complained that we don’t get proper credit for the impact we have on business outcomes.  We need to consider that by not coming up with a way for getting that credit built in to the analysis before the outcomes occur, we’ve made ourselves bystanders to our own devaluation. In looking at injecting a “comms factor” to be assessed as part of outcome performance, we may finally be able to change the terms of the measurement game.

Click here to download Report 3 – How to Measure What Matters – of the Happeo series on The Present and Future of Internal Communication

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms, a Netherlands-based internal communication consultancy focused on research, messaging and measurement. He is an MBA graduate of London Business School and the regional chair of IABC for Europe – Middle East – North Africa.

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Why is it so damn hard to get companies to spend money on internal communication?

Having worked for twenty-plus years in internal communication (IC), there’s a big factor of life that never computed for me, that never made sense.

Why do internal communicators have such a hard time getting even the most basic initiatives funded?

Is it simply because it’s hard to demonstrate a concrete return on investment (ROI) case for many expenditures? Or is it because IC expenditures are held to an entirely different standard, assessed in an entirely different way?

I’ve been interviewing business communicators and leaders for the last six months on behalf of digital workplace vendor Happeo, with budgets and measurements a key focus. And what I found is that IC investments are far more likely to be measured against “CWE” than they are against ROI.

What is “CWE”?

It means “communicating well enough” or, alternatively and more brutally, “communicating without expenditure.” 

Indeed, when internal communicators propose expenditures, whether on campaigns, technology, new staff or consultancy, they are frequently pushed back with the questions: “How much of this can we do on our own?” “How can we make better use of our existing resources to cover part of this?” Or, more bluntly, “Isn’t this supposed to be YOUR job?”

This pursuit of false economy is not unknown in other corners of the corporate world. But it’s prevalent in internal comms because there’s an intrinsic focus on using internal resources to reach internal people, and because employee populations are relatively small compared to customer bases in B2C or citizen numbers in a government context, for instance. Those relatively small numbers lead to pressure to keep cost-per-employee figures apparently reasonable.

Said one corporate communicator:

“IC is the cheapest comms function to run, we can operate creatively and effectively without much (running) cost, like running a global webcast for EUR 500 for 20,000 employees.”

CWE isn’t a problem everywhere, particularly since most IC expenditures are peanuts in the scheme of things for billion-dollar enterprises.

One participant in my latest research for Happeo, in a very large company, actually said: “Spend is not a major issue. Cost has never been a showstopper.”

But such flexibility can be deeply dependent on the sense of urgency pervading a given business. Another large-company participant in the Happeo research injected:

“In a crisis, no one questions the need for investment in tools. Outside of a crisis everyone asks for the ROI.”

An insight into this paradox can be found in the continuing reliance of some companies on email as a primary Internal Communication channel.

“Companies rely on email because they don’t invest in the toolset.”

So, what should one do when confronted with comparing a preferred option with a CWE request:

  • Assess the business urgency – both from the stakeholders involved and the extent to which an initiative can be seen to help the company strategy (or mitigate risks)
  • Look at the overall context of team capacity and priorities. Some initiatives can be executed “for free” – but with the hidden cost of deprioritizing other initiatives or adding pressure to a “maxed-out” team. Revealing those hidden costs may make your preferred initiative look more attractive.
  • Re-baseline expectations of current infrastructure – if you are trying to secure investment in new tools or infrastructure, an inventory of current infrastructure weaknesses, liabilities and vulnerabilities (as in “we can try doing this through our current intranet but only .5% of our employees will see it) could strengthen the case for action
  • Highlight the hidden cost of one-size-fits-all – if you want to undertake an effort to identify internal influencers and engage them better as a filter for corporate noise, come up with a calculation for the amount of time you ask employees to spend consuming unneeded or irrelevant corporate communication.

CWE is all about false economy – combined with a persistent belief that internal comms should essentially be “free” as a matter of principle. But it can be overcome when false economies are exposed as real risks, liabilities and costs. And in identifying “CWE” openly as an actual financial benchmark for internal comms, I sense it will be far easier to challenge it and push for better initiatives and solutions.

To register for a download of the latest research into the Present and Future of Internal Communication from Happeo, click here

MIKE KLEIN is Principal of Changing The Terms, a communication consultancy based in the Netherlands. Mike’s international practice includes work with Fortune 500, start-up and specialist clients across borders and sectors in Europe, the UK and the US. Mike holds an MBA from London Business School and is the 2018-2019 EMENA Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). To schedule a free consultation, please click here.