To remain relevant, internal communicators must wrangle data

Other departments use hard evidence to prove they meet business goals. It’s time for communication pros to do the same.

In recent years, there has been a significant shift toward PR campaigns based on insights derived from data.

That’s a good thing. Unfortunately, many communicators have been late arrivals to the data party—even with performance measures increasingly expected to include key performance indicators, cost savings and benchmarks. Communicators still have miles to go toward tracking substantive metrics and using data in meaningful ways.

Even though engagement and internal communications have become a key concern for CEOs, research published in May by VMA Group found that as many as 31 percent of internal communications teams “do not have a strategy.” This figure is staggering—and perhaps an indication of why employee engagement scores are stagnant.

Data-driven strategies can (and should) be closely aligned to wider business objectives, whether it’s recruitment, retention, sales or service levels. We can demonstrate the positive impact that internal communication initiatives have on business performance and corporate reputation, and our work can harness the power of employees as brand ambassadors.

Niall Ryan-Jones, head of employee experience at Harrods, believes that using data is crucial to the company’s success:

I have heard internal communicators say that their focus is on measurement, but they struggle to find measures. We work closely with HR and business insight to draw on data to help us clearly identify how effective our communications have been. We can clearly demonstrate our worth by mapping sales and service data to the engagement and performance levels of individual employees and teams.

Royal Bank of Scotland achieved something similar during its rollout of Workplace by Facebook to streamline internal communication. Sharing ideas on the platform helped employees identify clever IT storage solutions, resulting in significant cost savings.

In the throes of organizational life, obtaining and analyzing data—and pulling meaningful insights from it—can be a challenge. Here are five tips for wrangling data at work:

1. Start with the end in mind.

Before you brush up on your Excel skills, focus on your objective. Ask what problem you’re trying to solve, and then think about what data you need to do it.

A practical example of a problem you’re trying to solve might be attrition. Are your attrition rates high? Analyze how much it costs when you lose an employee and must find a replacement. The internal communications team can be involved in this process.

2. Source the right data.

Closely collaborating with other teams and functions can help you identify data that will help you meet your objectives.

You can gather data from many sources, including staff surveys, focus groups, software systems such as SAP and Oracle, and audits, as well as business performance figures. If you have an in-house finance team, seek their help in developing a model that can help you link your strategy to commercial benefits. Talk to the folks in marketing.

Get creative. Data isn’t just about numbers. Gather testimonials, anecdotes and information from external sources such as stakeholders and social media.

You might also conduct your own research—such as focus groups or pulse surveys—to plug gaps.

3. Break down the silos.

Once you have sourced and identified the data you need, that’s when the fun starts. Use the data to tell a story and demonstrate your worth.

There are systems that can integrate and visualize business data, but they are often expensive. Approach the right people in the office for qualified insights. It’s possible that another department is already collecting data or tracking metrics that you can piggyback.

4. Don’t be afraid.

Financial data can seem daunting. Work with a colleague who understands it, and dig into what you can use. Then, make sure you use it regularly.

If you draw on data just once a year, you’ll be looking backward rather than ahead.

Don’t let numbers overwhelm or intimidate you. Home in on a limited amount of metrics that pertain most closely to your communication efforts.

5. Always use data to communicate with senior leaders.

Executives will be far more receptive to your efforts if they can see the impact of internal communications on other business priorities. Whenever possible, present hard evidence of the worth of your work. It’s high time communicators make data-driven initiatives a priority.

Lisa Pantelli is the founder of Become Communications. A version of this post first appeared on Influence Magazine.

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