The essential question for internal communicators: Why?

For harried comms pros, the path of least resistance often leads into a swamp. It’s wiser to work with execs and other colleagues to identify specific objectives. Then the real magic can happen.

How to prove comms worth

As long as internal communicators execute requests without asking “why,” as long as we focus on activities instead of outcomes, we are unlikely to succeed.

Yet communicators are frequently swamped or feel they lack resources—so we choose the path of least resistance.

How often do our stakeholders ask us for tactics or activities or campaigns—but without a clearly defined business outcome or business need? How often do we just do it?

We must become true business partners, educate our stakeholders and show the value we add.

Communication creates understanding and engagement (as an outcome: commitment, motivation, advocacy, participation, involvement) to help deliver business or other organizational results.

Campaigns, activities, tools, channels and collateral are the means by which we communicate, but without a clearly defined purpose and outcome they are just “stuff.” To be effective, internal communication requires a simple, outcomes-focused process.

Follow these steps:

1. Be proactive.

Don’t wait to be asked. If we know a project or change initiative or workstream is being developed, or a function needs support—let’s invite ourselves to ensure communications are developed and examined properly.

2. Have the right conversations—by listening and asking the right questions.

We can help stakeholders focus on their objectives and then define the desired outcomes and narratives together. That enables us to align with a properly planned approach. By our asking the right questions, stakeholders may also realize that what they asked for is not what they need.

The conversation must start with business needs: Why would we do this? How will this contribute to our priorities, organizational strategy? What do we want people to know/feel/do? The conversation must specify what success would look like. How would communication help achieve this need, and what would communication success look like?

Only after these questions are answered can we move on to content, tools, channels, timelines.

3. Measure like it’s your job (because it is).

Measurement starts with setting smart objectives, so we have clearly defined metrics.

Where there is employee research, there is data; it’s the motherlode for internal communication. Using employee survey or pulse survey data can help us define links or correlations between that data and communications. That, in turn, can help us quantify how we contributed to a given key performance indicator or outcome. Work with whoever has the data and means to analyze it—be it marketing or HR staff—to set and track the right metrics. These should focus on continuous improvement or even be predictive.

  • Outcomes examples: Return on investment (ROI)—based on a project or workstream (start small); efficiency/effectiveness improvements as a result of behavior change; financial results such as sales, cost savings or safety performance; predicting what must be done to drive a business outcome or priority and then defining communications accordingly.
  • Perceptions and understanding: The know and feel. For example: organizational strategy, or a change initiative: Do people know about it? Do they understand it, can they explain it in their own words, and do they know how they contribute individually?
  • Actions: The do. Have people done what we wanted them to do—individual actions? For example, do leaders and line managers communicate and provide individual context, and how they are supposed to do so? Have people adopted a new/different way of working?

We should also measure and analyze tools and channels so we emphasize those that are valuable and eliminate those that are underused.

4. Train and enable others.

Leaders and people managers are essential communicators, instrumental to successful communication; they can create individual lines of sight and context. But do they know how? Just sending an email and slide deck won’t cut it. They need to be trained so they understand what people want from communications, as well as how to translate the big picture to individual context.

A version of this post first appeared on the Simply Communicate blog.

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