One of my favourite IC quotes in recent years comes courtesy of Comms Consultant Liam FitzPatrick: Come with data and leave with respect.

In fact I mentioned it at my Strategic Internal Communication Masterclass on Tuesday as it resonates with me.

Today Liam has written for the All Things IC blog to share news of his latest book with us and why that quote is an important one for Comms pros. The book was written alongside Sue Dewhurst and is called Successful Employee Communications: A Practitioner’s Guide to Tools, Models and Best Practice for Internal Communication and has just been published by Kogan Page.

Liam is experienced in change management, PR and internal communications. He has worked both in-house and for major consultancies the last three decades running change campaigns, developing communications teams and advising on metrics and evaluation. He lectures on developing teams, research and planning, and has served as an external examiner at UK universities.

Sue Dewhurst spent 15 years working as a senior internal communicator in-house and in consultancy. For the past decade, she has focused on learning and development, serving as internal communications trainer and coach for thousands of leaders and professional communicators. Her models and frameworks are used in organisations worldwide.

Their book is hot off the press and All Things IC blog readers can save 20% by using my discount code. You’ll find it at the end of this article. I particularly like the focus on different types of data for communication and the language we need to use.

Here’s Liam…

How to make Internal Communications add up

For years, we’ve been saying ‘Come with data and leave with respect’, because modern organisations run on facts. But it’s not just raw data, but rather a focus on business results and guiding leaders to take better communications decisions, which makes the difference in our profession.

Sue Dewhurst and I have been having a conversation for nearly two decades. It started when we worked as practitioners in similar companies facing identical issues and has continued as we worked together and individually as trainers, researchers and now as co-authors.

It’s a conversation that celebrates a simple, shared experience: great communicators think like leaders. And leaders are focused on results, not just processes.

It’s all too tempting in our profession to get excited by a beautiful piece of copy, a well-executed event or a neat channel. After all that’s how many of us got into comms in the first place; creating things, finding fresh ways to explain complex issues or just bringing excitement to people.

Yet, deep down we know it’s about outcomes, not outputs. Does it matter that your web design is lovely if your organisation goes broke? Who cares if you finally got people to use Yammer if your customers are deserting you, your costs are soaring, your cashflow is shrinking and your safety stats are heading south?

Time and again, we meet comms people who are focused on the processes of communications and producing content.

They are frustrated by the never-ending procession of people who turn up demanding apps, newsletters, emails or dancing elephants without a thought to whether these fancy channels actually do anything apart from play to a local director’s vanity.

The real tragedy is that you can easily give up the fight. After years of being asked to deliver comms with as much thought as a bunch of petrol station flowers, we can develop a pavlovian response and jump straight to the deliverables without remembering to ask ‘why?’

But it doesn’t always have to be like that. Data can be your friend if you have the patience and determination to work with it.

Over time we have listened to successful practitioners who managed to shoehorn facts and evidence into conversations even when their internal customers were not interested. We have learned, either directly or through the professionals we teach or consult with, that very few managers can resist being told how their communications are having an impact and how a certain approach is likely to yield more results than another.

Naturally, there are challenges; not least the difficultly in providing a linear connection between specific communications and business results. It’s hard to show how an individual campaign improved gross margin but a focus on business priorities will get you quite close to useful measure of communications effectiveness.

We can’t claim credit for the idea, but we have found it helpful to talk about different types of data for communication.

These are:

  • Input – Are we using our resources effectively?
  • Output – Did we do what we actually planned to do and, if not, do we know why?
  • Satisfaction – Did our audiences like what we gave them? Did they turn up in droves on our Sharepoint page or did they talk about it on Yammer?
  • Outtakes – Did our audiences hear our core messages and did they make sense? Were they engaged by what they heard?
  • Outcomes – Are people doing what the organisation needs them to do?

These last two are both the most useful and yet the hardest to capture. However, we have seen successful approaches to surveying people about their intention to act or asking them to report on observed changes in behaviour. It may be tough to gather definitive evidence connecting comms to business outcomes, but looking at whether people understood, felt connected and committed, or were witnessing change, is a good first step.

Of course, it’s a mistake to use data to justify your existence or hope it will unlock the inner vaults of the finance department.

If you are trying to big up your efforts you’ll quickly find that no one is listening. And if you push the point, you’re find yourself on thin ice as the graduate trainee in the finance department starts unpicking your methodology.

It is far better, we have found, to use data to engage internal customers in a conversation about what is working and what results they would like to see.

Starting out by exploring whether feedback is reflecting our desired messages or asking if we are seeing changes in important behaviours quickly focuses minds on outcomes. If you want to move the conversation away from the need for another video it may be time to discuss whether people understood the last one or it led to any changes in behaviour.

Some years ago, I was inspired by Klavs Valskov to rethink my approach to reporting. His advice was to stop showing leaders dashboards that talked in general terms but, rather to get people thinking about the link between comms and business goals. He advocated walking leaders backwards through a discussion of the results that were being generated and the comms activities that were being delivered. Ask colleagues whether the feedback and awareness were satisfactory, he said, and then challenge them to consider whether the right communications tactics were being used.

Importantly, collecting evidence about the change you are affecting in an organisation causes you to question whether you are doing the right things.

Looking for data or information that shows how you are impacting the core objectives is the perfect antidote to the pressure to generate content for its own sake. It’s the route to more credible conversations with leaders.

Bringing data to bear is not just about earning respect from your peers in leadership; it’s also about protecting and projecting your own self-respect. Evidence that you are making a difference is a spur to better work and an aide for your colleagues who need help to get more from their comms.

Post author: Liam Fitzpatrick.

Successful Employee Communications, the new book by Liam FitzPatrick and Sue Dewhurst is now available. All Things IC readers can save 20% with code ALLTHINGSIC20 at www.koganpage.com/employee-comms.

Thank you for guiding us through it Liam.

Have you read anything good lately?

If you’re looking for Comms books to read, I’ve published various lists over the years including:

Internal Communication:

Books I’ve contributed chapters to:

Public Relations (PR) and social media:

How organisations (and people) work:

Personal branding and development:

I have so many books on my shelves and regularly recommend books to my Masterclass attendees.

CIPR Inside host a book club for IC pros via Twitter #ICBookClub. See their website for more information and to take part. You don’t need to be a CIPR member to join the conversation.

I just searched to see which book they’re reading at the moment. Guess what turned up… I didn’t know until I just looked it up, it was clearly meant to be!

Learn more about measuring Internal Communication

Do you need help measuring IC? Measurement is a hot topic as my monthly Masterclasses and it’s something I certainly observe practitioners struggling with, particularly when I’m judging award entries.

If you need a helping hand, check out this brand new paper from CIPR Inside: Measurement and ROI (return on investment) for Internal Communication.

Thank you for stopping by,

Rachel.

First published on the All Things IC blog 14 June 2019.

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