Quantitative or Qualitative: How surveys and focus groups help measure internal communications effectiveness

After making the sometimes arduous decisions of which internal communications channels and programs are the best for your organization, the question of “Is it working?” lingers for comms professionals.

There are two viable measurement methods for answering that question.

First there isthe quantitative data, which comes in the form of metrics and analytics gathered from your organization’s use of email, intranet pages, mobile pages and other communication tools. Qualitative data will tell you how many employees are reading an email message or regularly utilizing your intranet site. What that doesn’t tell you is why, and that’s is where qualitative data comes in.

Qualitative data is the internal communications feedback you get direct from employees by conducting surveys and focus groups. Qualitative data, using properly formed questions, can tell you why employees participate or now, and how they feel about the channel, program or campaign.

While surveys and focus groups are equally worthwhile methods of gathering qualitative information, each one achieves different things. Quantum Workplace points out the difference:

Often the employee survey itself simply uncovers weaknesses and strengths, but it doesn’t always point to action steps for improvements. This is the next part of the conversation and where employee focus groups can provide insight on how to improve employee engagement.

A broad survey of hundreds or thousands of people can often serve as a starting point for digging deeper using focus groups of 10 to 12 employees, Quantum Workplace’s article suggests.

The Society for Human Resource Management has provided a detailed, six-step outline communicators can use to set up an employee focus group, starting with choosing a purpose statement, through developing questions, to selecting a facilitator, inviting participants, holding the actual meeting, and then analyzing the findings.

SHRM’s guide suggests that “a productive focus group is much more than a chat session,” and requires care and planning to make sure the results are useful.

Surveys, likewise, require careful planning. The way a question is worded will impact not only the answer, but how participates feel. In many ways, communicators must consider the tone of a survey just like they do other communications. According to Custom Insight, “communicating and establishing trust will also increase the survey response rate as well as the candor of the responses.”

Like SHRM’s focus group guide, Custom Insight provides a planning guide for surveys, with tips for alerting employees that the survey is coming, then combing the results for information that can improve internal communications.

In a post on his blog, internal communications expert Shel Holtz notes that it’s important for communicators to not just ask employees about tools and features they currently use; they should describe possibilities that could come in the form of new tools:

If the responses come back pointing toward a mobile app or mobile version of an internal social network, you’ll know all you need to: You’ll know that employees don’t yet know what delivery mechanism they want. It is up to internal communicators to make that mechanism available.

Surveys and focus groups go hand-in-hand. According to Quantum Workplace, employees who receive follow-ups after a survey (possibly in the form of a focus group) are 12 times more engaged than those who have no follow-up.

To learn more about how communicators are measuring their communications efforts, download PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey Results.

How to engage a multi-generational workforce

By 2020—not too far off—five different generations will be represented in the workforce, and they’ll all have different communication styles.

Traditionalists who were born before 1946, will be sharing office space with Gen 2020, people born after 1997. And of course, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials will be in the mix, too. The first generation to embrace television will be shoulder-to-shoulder with generations for whom a world without smartphones feels like ancient history.

That presents a challenge for communicators who need to effectively message all those employees so they’re all working toward a common goal. How do you get everyone engaged, with shared purpose?

It’ll likely take a multi-pronged approach. According to Staff Management, it’s not just about technological differences. Members of different generations have different values, with some expecting a more hands-off approach, while others want regular feedback and recognition. Staff management advocates for trying lots of approaches:

In a multigenerational environment, it is wise to mix and match strategies like the team-building events favored by younger workers and the opinion-sharing practices promoted by their older counterparts. Younger generations might feel more comfortable communicating their thoughts when they feel like they know their coworkers, while older generations might need a structured forum in order to weigh in on key decisions.

Staff Management also recommends face-to-face interactions, as does Dana Brownlee, founder of training and management consulting firm Professionalism Matters, in an article in Business News Daily: “Bringing staff members of different generations together for face-to-face team-building exercises and ice breakers can help break down some of the barriers that can occur with digital communications.”

That same Business News Daily article warns that communicators and business leaders shouldn’t get bogged down in stereotypes. While workers of different ages will certainly have different methods and ideas, it isn’t fair to underestimate them or assume they’ll have certain flaws.

In another article at Forbes, corporate trainer Dana Brownlee notes, “It becomes very frustrating when you communicate with someone in a mode that they don’t like.” She advises that “workers across all age groups to individualize their approach by learning their coworkers’ preferences and attempting to meet in the middle.”

Once again, that likely means using numerous channels to communicate with employees, since face-to-face communication isn’t often the most feasible way to stay connected. It also means delivering messages through different platforms.

For example, consider sending emails that can be read across different devices. While some older employees may prefer to read email on a desktop computer, sending mobile-optmized emails means employees who prefer to view messages on their smartphones will get what they want, too.

Learn more about how communicators are measuring which internal communications work best by downloading PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey Results.

7 tips to justify internal comms measurement to business leaders

Most people who have worked in internal communications for a good amount of time are likely aware that top executives aren’t totally sold on the idea of making the effort to measure it.

In PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey, 25 percent of the communicators surveyed said the biggest challenge to measuring internal communications was that leadership didn’t see the value in it or doesn’t view it as a priority.

Yet 54 percent also said that measurement is valuable because it makes it easier to persuade C-suite executives to make good communication decisions.

Measurement justifies further measurement. That means communicators must be smart with the resources they have to prove why top business leaders should make measurement a cornerstone part of their corporate communications.

Here are seven tips that help make the case:

1. Go beyond “awareness.”

In an article for the Institute for Public Relations, Ethan McCarty, Global Head of Employee and Innovation Communications for Bloomberg, argues that “awareness is just one arrow in our quiver.” Communicators must show executives the business outcomes that arise from that awareness, not just prove that employees know more.

2. Demonstrate how information moves.

To build on McCarty’s point, internal communications are the most effective when messages don’t just move from the top down, but flow between employees and out into the world in a positive way. If you can show that employees are engaged and being activated to speak up, executives can instantly see the value. It can also change the culture. “The combination of openness and the easy flow of communication to everyone combine to make people feel like part of a coherent whole,” states the University of Kansas’ Community Tool Box section on internal communication.

3. Prove that the internal audience is unique.

The notion that internal communications are not PR may seem obvious, but it isn’t always immediately apparent to top-level leaders. You have to show them. “The models employed by strategy-focused internal communicators are…vastly different from the earned-media models that occupy most of the time of most PR practitioners,” communications expert Shel Holtz writes at his blog. With surveys and other tools, you can show that.

4. Show what you’re learning.

Measurement doesn’t mean much if the numbers aren’t being put to use. The people in the C-suite need to know communicators are changing up their strategies based on the metrics. In a LinkedIn post, Stuart Z. Goldstein, former managing director of corporate communications and public affairs at Depository Trust & Clearing, puts it this way: “Research won’t win the budget battles by itself, but it does provide a valuable lobbying tool, and it signals to management that corporate communications is learning from best practices.”

5. Drop what isn’t working.

Trying new things is really important, but executives aren’t going to stand for adding one thing on top of the other. If commuicators can show that measuring results has led to them dropping some less-than-effective channels to make room for the new stuff, it can prove that resources are being used more wisely.

6. Give examples of how it helped solve problems.

The KU Community Toolbox bluntly states, “Problems can be resolved, but only if they’re identified and acknowledged.” How do you identify them? Measurement. Show executives where you’ve pinpointed problems—perhaps email messages weren’t formatted in the most appealing way—and fixed them through employee feedback.

7. Participate in “strategic marketing.”

Goldstein says most communications reporting is viewed as “drudgery.” Don’t make yours a slog to get through. Serve up a road map that directly ties the metrics you’re presenting to business goals. “This approach addresses management’s question about ROI quite directly and is a powerful way to sell the value of corporate communications,” he writes.

Can your organization reach employee smartphones without investing in a mobile app?

From flyers on bulletin boards to digital signage in the lunch room to posters inside bathroom stalls, internal communicators have placed messages in all kinds of different places to try to get employees’ attention and keep them informed.

Within the last decade, employees have equipped themselves with convenient, versatile devices that are the perfect venue for direct communications. They’re small computers with a large screens that they carry around nearly all the time, and most people often glance at those screens throughout the workday.

The ubiquitous smartphone. And they’re easier to reach than many communicators think.

Yet many organizations haven’t tapped into their potential. According to PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey, only 5 percent of communications professionals think of their own organizations’ mobile solutions as effective. Only 30 percent have intranets that are accessible via mobile devices, and just a little more than half send mobile responsive email messages.

Only about a third (35 percent) think of mobile as the best way to reach employees and deserving of research, even though 84 percent of respondents themselves check their work emails using their mobile devices.

According to research from Informate Mobile Intelligence conducted in 2015—so the numbers are likely even higher now—Americans spent 4.7 hours on their phones each day. That’s about a third of their waking time. It would seem that the mobile audience is a captive audience.

So why aren’t more organizations moving toward using mobile apps or other mobile communication tools? It could be budgetary. In the PoliteMail survey, a whopping 70 percent of communicators said they don’t expect their budgets to increase or barely have any budget for new technology at all.

Also, more than half (54 percent) of respondents said their communications departments are understaffed and can’t get everything done, let alone add a new channel.

Or it could also be a matter of training. A little more than a third of respondents said they simply don’t know how to implement a mobile strategy.

But you don’t necessarily need an app or a mobile-optimized intranet to communicate internally via mobile devices. Every mobile device comes with an email client built right in. All an organization needs is an effective email strategy.

Mobile hurdles, may not seem easy to clear, but Inc. spells out the need for mobile internal communication in this post by Jeremy Goldman, founder and CEO of brand engagement consultancy Firebrand Group.

“Mobile is not only the current medium of the choice, it’s the future,” Goldman writes. “Leaders should be proactive in establishing a mobile-friendly workplace by ensuring all assets are compatible with mobile.”

According to new research by PoliteMail, employees with company email addresses will check email on their smartphones 38 percent of the time.

Instead of yet another app, it would seem the easiest way to reach employees where they are, is just to make sure they all have a company email address.

consolidate internal comms channels

Should You Consolidate Your Internal Comms Channels?

Executives don’t always know what they want or need when it comes to internal communications.

In a PR Week column, Philips ASEAN Pacific’s head of communications, Elaine Ng, calls internal communicaitons “highly underrated” among executives, and made the argument that it’s widely misunderstood. That’s why the first reaction execs often have is to scale back, simplify and consolidate internal communications channels.

That’s not always the wrong decision, but it’s not always the right one, either.

In a sweeping 2015 post on his blog, Holtz Communication + Technology’s Shel Holtz makes the case that internal communications should always be a separate discipline from PR and other external communications. He also pushed back against the idea that internal communications is just about sending mass emails to employees.

“One distribution tactic…does not comprise the employee communications discipline as practiced by the best communicators and organizations,” Holtz writes.

If anything, Holtz seems to be arguing that expanding the number of channels—not consolidating—is the path to healthy, effective internal comms. This blog itself has laid out the benefits of a strategic communications approach targeting different audiences with different communication techniques.

Yet there’s a reality executives and communicators can’t deny: Sometimes, communications methodologies become outdated or simply don’t work to begin with. It’s a waste of time and resources to keep investing in that particular channel.

The problem is that communicators and executives often don’t know if communications channels are working or not, because they don’t have any mechanism by which to measure their effectiveness. They’re simply making decisions in darkness, by gut feeling or as a reaction to a handful of employee comments.

The answer to the question of whether you should consolidate your internal comms channels isn’t a blanket yes or no. It all depends on what’s working and what isn’t. If your analytics show that a channel is waning in effectiveness or never was effective, drop it or fold it into something else. But it’s also valuable to try new approaches and evaluate new channels to see if they catch on.

Either way, measurement is imperative. It’s the only way to know for sure that you’re making the right choices and connecting strongly with employees.

To learn more about how communicators are measuring their communications efforts—if they are at all– download PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey Results.

How Strategic Communications Can Generate Maximum Business Impact

Strategic messaging is a communication method many marketers, advertisers and other external communicators will sing the praises of the second you give them the chance. And there are good reasons why.

Here’s an excerpt from The Routledge Handbook of Strategic Communication, a textbook communications graduate students often use, that gets to the heart of it:

An effective communication manager must engage with multiple interactants (i.e. consumers, publics, audiences) and should, therefore, understand how different interactants require different strategic messaging approaches. This is the unique domain of strategic communications.

To put it in less academic terms, not every audience is going to engage with every type of message, so messages must be tailored to target audiences. They can’t be one-size-fits-all. Strategic messaging is all about getting the right message in front of the right people at just the time they need to receive it.

That doesn’t just go for external communicators. Numerous different audiences reside within an organization, and a human resources manager may find a particular type of message compelling, while an IT architect may respond to a totally different method of communication.

Just like the goal of external communications is to generate awareness and positive feelings about a company or product, the goal of internal communications is often to create shared goals and a community culture within an organization. But you can’t tell everyone the same story the same way.

In a post on his consulting firm’s blog, communications expert David Grossman lays out seven keys to a strategic messaging methodology:

  1. Define and prioritize audiences
  2. Identify where those audiences are coming from
  3. Develop compelling messages
  4. Outline what you want from your audiences
  5. Make connections with your audiences
  6. Deliver messages with confidence
  7. Identify gaps in your plan

Grossman goes on to lay out a long list communications tools that could be used to implement such a plan including email, voicemail, speeches, brochures, social media posts, website copy, and so on. Communications managers should keep all these tools at the ready so they’ll have them on-hand when they recognize an audience for whom one tool might be preferable to another.

Many organizations take a scattershot approach to communication, and as such, much of the effort is wasted. Taking a little more time to strategically target messages to the people who are most receptive to them will undoubtedly pay off in the long run.

To find out more about how internal communicators are messaging to employees, download PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey Results.

When Practical Communications Trump the Bleeding Edge

By Michael DesRochers, Managing Director at PoliteMail

I spend a lot of time talking with communicators in large organizations. They are usually time and resource strapped and have large, nebulous objectives to meet, such as “increase employee engagement,” while at the same time running numerous communicators programs. They are writing executive messaging, producing stories and content for company news, and delivering HR and benefits information to vast numbers of employees.

Recently, I was interviewed by HR Examiner’s lead analyst, John Sumser, and walked him through the capabilities of PoliteMail. John led off by saying, “Email is dead to me.” That wasn’t surprising. As a reporter who writes about the bleeding edge of technology, he doesn’t work in a large corporate office and spends most of his time communicating with and writing about the dreamers pushing the next shiny new thing.

Fortunately, John is a smart, polite gentleman who is willing to check his rear-view mirror while driving forward. Chances are, John still checks his inbox and sends email like the rest of us. 

What corporate communicators want is to write something once, publish it everywhere and reach everyone in their target audience. Yes, they need to communicate where the audience is.  We all know multi-tasking millennials dis email and flit from Facebook to Instagram and, as independents or small work groups, are Slackers.  These new communications tools may or may not last, but they certainly do not have the breadth of employee reach most corporate executives demand.

If you want to reach all your employees with an important strategic message from the CEO, what is the fastest, easiest and most effective way to do so? What communication tools do all employees already use, and which require no training or much in the way of technical skills?

The answer is email, and for the majority of corporations, Microsoft Outlook in particular. There is a reason that Facebook and LinkedIn use email to communicate with their own users, and loop them back onto the platform. There is a reason for the growing push-back against Slack as creating a multitude of inboxes instead of just one. 

Corporations today struggle even with reaching non-desk employees on their mobile devices. Hundreds of start-ups are publishing new mobile apps, which communicators and employees will have to learn and adopt, and which often cost more than simply giving non-desk workers their own company email address. There is a reason the most popular iPhone app is email: we all get and check email on our mobile devices. We might text subsets of people, and regularly check our LinkedIn messaging, but we all have email and use it every day.

Anyone working inside the enterprise will realize email is far from dead, and with Office365, is actually evolving at a rapid pace. Certainly more and more people access email via mobile, and Outlook and Office are already there. Office is the corporate communications platform, Outlook is the hub, and SharePoint is the newsroom and archive. New, email integrated social, video and workflow tools are arriving daily inside Office365.

John, and others who have their eyes on the next shiny thing, can rest assured knowing Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Predictive Analytics will be coming to email sooner than they might realize.  Anyone else notice how very effective the Outlook Clutter folder is at reducing unwanted email?

 

 

9 Best Practices for Executive and Leadership Communication

For some executives, communication is an afterthought, or even a “necessary evil.” A Harvard Business Review/Harris poll found that a staggering 91 percent of U.S. workers see communication issues as a major hindrance for business leaders.

Thriving organizations have open lines of communication at all levels, including at the top. According to research conducted by the Project Management Institute, leaders who are effective communicators are five times more likely to be high performers than those who are minimally effective. Likewise, better communication means fewer company dollars are put at risk.

What can leaders and top corporate communicators do to ensure that executives are communicating effectively? Here are nine best practices, as laid out by communication experts, researchers and successful executives themselves:

1. Foster a culture of communication.

In a post on the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School’s website, communications expert Walter G. Montgomery writes, “It’s important for everyone to know that the CEO takes communications very seriously.” When everyone within an organization understands that communication is a key value—not just an afterthought—everyone will be more willing to listen and engage.

2. Don’t be afraid of training.

Montgomery adds that top executives should “insist on training initiatives to ensure people have the ability to carry out their communications duties effectively.” Those training mandates should apply to executives themselves.

3. Be crystal clear.

Employees are busy, which means they don’t have time to do detective work to figure out what an executive speech or email means. Dispense with meaningless platitudes and jargon. Say what you mean and let employees know in clear language what you want them to do.

4. Don’t just be a cheerleader.

The Institute for Public Relations suggests that employees today are looking for ways to demonstrate their “ethic of contribution” to go above and beyond normal job performance, so challenge them to achieve; don’t just point to what they’ve done.

5. Have a common goal in mind.

Everyone within and organization should be working toward the same thing, and it’s up to executives to make that goal apparent. The American Management Association’s David Hassell puts it this way: “When employees operate at cross purposes, communication is critical in setting things straight.”

6. Speak in your own voice.

Employees want to hear from a person. They don’t want canned, committee-written edicts. “The lower your pedestal, the more they’ll rally behind you,” Alexandra Levit of Inspiration at Work told Inc.

7. Engage in a dialogue.

Communication doesn’t end when you send your email or give your speech. Hassell writes, “Meet the enthusiastic sharing of ideas, insights, and concerns with positive reinforcement, never reproach, no matter how critical.”

8. Take a multi-pronged approach.

Different employees want different things when it comes to communication. Some may prefer face-to-face interaction with a manager, others may prefer to read messages in newsletters or other company-wide emails. Still others may look to the company intranet. Craft versions of your key messages to cater to all the audiences within your organization to ensure everyone is on the same page.

9. Measure your results.

The Institute for PR insists that “best in class companies relentlessly track strategies, tactics and channels.”

Want to know more about what works and what doesn’t in the world of internal communications? Download PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey Results.

Data and Analytics Help Build Better Collaboration and Culture

Engagement isn’t just a buzzword. Research has found that companies with a culture of engaged employees who work together for a common purpose simply do better.

According to Gallup, companies with high employee engagement are more 21 percent more productive and 22 percent more profitable than those that aren’t.

Knowing that is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how best to improve your company’s culture and spur collaboration so employees are as engaged as they can possibly be.

 

Communication and Engagement

Companies have tried lots of ways to keep employees engrossed in their overall goals, some of them at great expense: free food, company cars, in-office gyms, reward programs, flextime, bonuses, and so on.

But one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to keep employees engaged is through effective internal communication. Harris Poll found that employees who feel that their companies communicate effectively are far more likely to also rate their employers’ reputations as good and say their best days are ahead. Those sorts of optimistic sentiments are clear signs of a strong company culture.

 

How Data and Analytics Drive Collaboration

Even the best company leaders and communicators have a hard time effectively connecting with employees if they’re in the dark, trying whatever they can to get employees’ attention. That’s why gathering data and analytics about internal communications is so vital.

In PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 survey of 526 communications professionals in companies large and small, 76 percent said measuring communications efforts helps them engage employees better.

More engaged employees are more likely to collaborate and listen to executives and communicators’ messages in emails, videos, newsletters and other types of outreach. As writer Francois Pienaar describes in on CMS Wire, it’s a “virtuous cycle.” More engagement means more collaboration and better communication, which leads to even more engagement.

 

Fixing What’s Broken

Even with all that evidence, companies aren’t all necessarily committed to measurement. Most respondents in the PoliteMail survey said that their internal communications measurement budgets won’t increase in 2017 or that they don’t have a budget at all. As such, more than half of communicators are unsatisfied with their methods of measurement.

To start that “virtuous cycle,” organizations will have to take the leap of investing resources into measuring their communications with employees. The benefits are crystal clear: a thriving, collaborative culture.

Learn more about how communicators are measuring internal communications by downloading PoliteMail’s 2016-2017 Internal Communications Survey Results.

The Benefits of Measuring Internal Communications

Over 500 internal comms professionals participated in PoliteMail’s 2016 Internal Communications Measurement Survey, offering an inside look at how they define and measure the effectiveness of their efforts.

Among the survey’s most striking findings is that many internal comms professionals remain unsure of what and how to measure. Perhaps because of that, 20% of respondents measure very little of their efforts, and 15% don’t measure at all. More than half (60%), however, measure at least some of their work.

According to survey respondents, there are three main benefits to measuring internal comms:

Stronger Employee Engagement

76% of internal comms professionals surveyed said measurement strengthens employee engagement. One practical way to use measurement to encourage engagement is through the process of audience segmentation. Creating targeted, segmented messaging builds trust, delivers more appropriate messaging and shows that engagement is a priority.

Also, companies with high employee engagement enjoy 6% higher profit margins than those with lower engagement.

Proof of ROI—and Support of Senior Executives

Everyone in the business world has been told they “better have the numbers to back it up” at some point—and that’s exactly what internal comms measurement provides.

Having firm data in hand helps communicators prove their departments’ worth (44%) and supports increasing department budgets (22%).

Data-Informed Decision Making

Communicators need to know the outcomes for all of their efforts to help them create the best game plan for their next project. And they can find those results through measuring their communications.

83% of survey respondents say measuring internal comms efforts helps them make data-informed decisions. 79% of those cited the ability to create stronger campaigns based on that data as a major benefit.

Start Benefiting from Communications Measurements

Want to see how (and why) other teams are measuring their internal communications efforts? Download our 2016 Internal Communications Survey Results.