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How to prove the value of communication

Imagine a business without communication.

What would it look like? What would it feel like?

What would the impact be?

I can tell you from experience. I have audited many organisations over the past seven-and-a-half years. Two of them did not have a formal Comms function in place and I was hired by the HR or PR teams to help them understand how internal communication happens.

It’s important to note internal communication was happening in those organisations, but there wasn’t a dedicated function overseeing it or defined channels.

If you ask companies what their top three issues are, I’m certain communication, or lack of, will be in that list.

Providing clarity

Internal communication is the overarching way a company communicates and can include components like the conversations between a line manager and their team. It’s too important to be left to one team, department or person, everyone is responsible.

Internal communications are the tools, tactics, channels and methodology, which are typically owned or championed by someone in the business. This can be a Comms professional or team, or the HR/People department.

From working with numerous organisations around the globe since January 2013 as a Consultant, this is what I have experienced…

Organisations without a dedicated focus on internal communication have:

  • duplicated effort
  • high rate of rumours and disinformation. This is often caused by lack of a source of truth
  • a chaotic sense of purpose
  • employees interpreting what they think they should be aligning their efforts against
  • disenfranchised employees
  • a lot of noise
  • confused tone of voice, typically formal and jargon-filled
  • a focus on outputs (e.g. sending emails), rather than understanding outcomes and impact
  • copious one-way channels (think CEO broadcast style emails)
  • shadow Comms – unsanctioned tools and channels in use by employees e.g. WhatsApp and closed Facebook groups.

Organisations with a dedicated focus on internal communication have:

  • clarity of roles and responsibilities
  • source/s of truth where employees can access credible, accurate and reliable information
  • consistency of branding
  • a focus on tone of voice
  • employees who feel listened to
  • clarity around their channels and intended purpose of each
  • awareness of how they communicate with employees and externally
  • opportunities for two-way conversations
  • a focus on outcomes, or the so what of internal communication.
  • a cadence (rhythm) for information flow inside the organisation.

How does that feel?

Do you recognise the topics on this list? Where’s your organisation at?

What is meant?

If you’re being asked to prove the value of Comms, I encourage you to determine what exactly you’ve been asked to prove.

Does your stakeholder mean:

  • “Why do we need to spend money on the way we communicate as an organisation?” (Internal communication).
    or
  • “Why do we need to spend money on Comms channels?” (Internal communications).

Semantics aside, let’s get organised and work through this issue together.

Getting organised

Over the past few months I’ve been continuing to mentor Comms professionals and support you via Consultation calls.

The topic of “proving worth and demonstrating value” keeps cropping up and it’s a regular search term on my blog, which led me to write this article.

Reader, I’m tired of this argument.

Why do we need to keep doing this? Can you imagine Finance or Facilities being asked to sing for their supper and prove their value?

No.

So why does this keep happening in Comms?

Is it because the Comms team’s work isn’t aligned with the strategic priorities, the channels are seen to add noise, the team are not seen as trusted advisers (there’s that phrase we love) and it’s all viewed as a nice to have?

Or is the team aligned with strategic priorities, with effective channels in place, plus a robust and strategically-focused team who demonstrate the need for clear communication?

If it’s the latter, it makes this conversation even more frustrating.

If you are facing this, I hear you. If you are having to justify your budget, I hear you.

You need to make sure you’re focused on what’s important for your organisation.

Do you know what outcomes your Board/senior leaders are looking for?

If you’ve attended a Masterclass with me or heard me speak at a conference, it’s likely you’ve heard me talk about the importance of measuring.

Specifically: measure what you treasure.

That’s the key to unlock value.

Measure_what_you_treasure

What do you treasure?

You need to know what the organisation treasures.

What would the answer be for your company? What’s top of mind for your Execs? What do they treasure?

It could be all manner of things:

  • reputation – internally and/or externally
  • return on investment
  • customer service
  • employee wellbeing
  • productivity.

This could be an enormous list, you need to know what to put on it for your company.

Doing your homework
If you’re writing a proposal or helping leaders understand the value, I encourage you to do your homework first. You need to know what is of utmost importance to the company.

I’ve written and said this numerous times over the years… as professional communicators, it’s our business to know our business.

If you find yourself needing to prepare something like this, the fact you know your business from the inside out will pay off.

You need to have fantastic relationships across the organisation at all levels and know how to gather insight. Then you need to be able to craft meaningful stories from the data.

Buisness-to-know-our-business

Further reading via the All Things IC blog: These are the skills you need to be an internal communicator.

I’m going to share my observations with you.

If you were asked to prove the value of communication, what would you say?

If you’re a senior-level IC professional, this will be familiar to you.

We do this when budget time rolls around or our teams/channels are under review due to cost savings.

You need to gather insight and apply this to your conversation. For example, if you are required to write a paper for your Board, what would you say?

Thinking about the team
If you’re being asked to review your team, start with the business’ strategic priorities and map against them. Do you have the right team structure to deliver what needs to be done by the business?

Team structure
Once you’ve defined the structure, do you have the right people in those roles? Do they have the required skillset? If not, where are the gaps and how will you close them?

I encourage you to familiarise yourself with the profession map from the Institute of Internal Communication, you can see it below. This revised version was released at the start of 2020.

Further reading via the All Things IC blog: These are the skills you need to be an internal communicator.

Levels of service
When I’m being asked to restructure a team I sometimes do so using levels of service:

  • Gold = full investment in the team, their skills and channels.
  • Silver = less investment
  • Bronze = even less.

What’s the impact of these options?

I use what do you gain and what do you lose as a negotiating tool. If someone wants to reduce a team to bare bones (Bronze level), what is the impact on the business? What will have to start, stop or continue as a result?

Budget
If you need to cut your budget, align activities against the business priorities and strategy. What is a nice to have and what is a need to have?

Prioritise the need to have and negotiate the nice to have.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: How to plan your Internal Comms budget

Gather your evidence
I’m talking stats. Sentiment. Anecdotal feedback. Rumours. Employee survey data. Craft a meaningful picture from it all; what does it show you?

What’s working? What’s not working?

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: How to measure communication.

This year in review

Learn how to review and plan your internal comms

On Friday I released a brand new Online Masterclass to help you pause, reflect and analyse the year to date. What worked well? What didn’t? What do you need to think about for 2021?

I’m delighted to announce my How to review and plan your 2020 – 2021 internal comms Online Masterclass is now available.

It’s my free gift to the global Comms community, to support you. As a result of completing this Masterclass you’ll know how to review 2020 and how to plan the next 12 months and beyond.

If you’ve never reviewed internal comms before, or completed an Online Masterclass, this is the course for you. I’m with you every step of the way.

Thank you to everyone who has signed up, there are nearly 500 Comms professionals around the globe taking this Masterclass at the moment.

My PA has been battling with my inbox all day as the notifications have been coming through, thank you Louise!

All Things IC Online Masterclass

This Masterclass is for you if…

  • You need to access advice at a time which suits you.
  • You’d like to work through the training at your own pace.
  • You need to get up-to-speed quickly.
  • You like the idea of online learning, but are not sure what to expect.
  • You have a limited budget but are curious about my Online Masterclasses. This free one allows you to experience what they are like.

Sign up today to my How to review and plan your 2020 – 2021 internal comms Online Masterclass.

The course will expire on 31 December 2020, so you have three months to complete it if you sign up today.

It’s your course at your pace, so you may decide to study intensively, which will take you one-two days. Or you can choose to do a chapter a day/week, it’s entirely up to you.

CIPR members have been contacting me to say they’ve been logging their Masterclasses via their CPD system. So if you are a member, you can claim for points to earn while you learn.

Discover more All Things IC Online Masterclasses

I’ve designed all of my courses with you in mind. Comms professionals from the US, UK and Norway have already signed up and either completed their Masterclass or made a great start.

There are three options to choose from:

Plus the free How to review and plan your 2020 – 2021 internal comms Masterclass I’ve just shared with you.

VIP options are available, which is where you submit assignment/s to me for personalised feedback so you and I can work together during your course.

There isn’t a VIP option for this free one, but you could book a Power Hour call with me.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Do let me know below or find me on Twitter @AllThingsIC to share your thoughts.

Thank you for stopping by,

Rachel.

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 8 September 2020.

 

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