How to take a data-driven approach to internal communication

Are you thinking about your internal communication measurement approach? Perhaps you want to find new ways to measure your internal communications?

Today on the All Things IC blog, we welcome Sia Papageorgiou, managing partner at the Centre for Strategic Communication Excellence (CSCE) and co-founder of The Alignment People and Gifted Professionals & Communicators Community, based in Melbourne, Australia.

We know from our conversation with clients and attendees of our Measurement Masterclasses that understanding the effectiveness of your internal communication is an area of key importance. To help, Sia has shared her insights on how to use data in your internal communication measurement.

At the end of this article, we’ve included information on the support available from All Things IC to help you with your internal communication measurement.

Over to you Sia.

Sia Papageorgiou

“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” So said statistician and business consultant Dr W. Edwards Deming.

Without insight into that data, internal communication professionals make decisions based on instinct, speculation, or prevalent opinion.

One of the traps internal communication professionals continue to fall into, is having a fixed mindset when it comes to data and numbers. How many times have you uttered to yourself or heard another internal communication professional say, “I’m not good with numbers,” “numbers aren’t really my thing,” “numbers scare me,” or some other variation of the same sentiment?  It’s one of the problems, traps, and opportunities I discuss in a free ebook I developed with my friend Daven Rosener.

I get it. We’re internal communication professionals who think creatively. We connect with audiences on an emotional level. We prioritise qualitative insights and storytelling over quantitative data.

The bottom line is however, if you want to be a strategic internal communication professional, you need to act like one. That means enhancing your numerical literacy and incorporating data-driven insights into your work. Why? Because businesspeople make decisions based on the return on investment (ROI), so it’s important to ensure you back up your ideas with solid evidence.

And when you do this, amazing things happen. People outside the internal communication function start to respect what you do. They stop seeing you as a supplier of communication and start to see you as a business partner focused on helping the organisation succeed. They stop telling you how to do your job, and you get to use the insights you gather to make a case for budget and resources.

If measurement hasn’t featured much in your approach, it can feel overwhelming. Here are three steps to measure your internal communication and demonstrate your value.

The first step is to determine what you are measuring.

Resist the temptation to concentrate solely on what you do (i.e., communication activity). Instead, try focusing on why you do it (e.g., to increase knowledge, change attitudes and behaviours) and who you do it for (e.g., leaders, employees etc.).

Don’t just focus on metrics such as intranet page views and email open rates (aka outputs). Include measures that demonstrate the impact on organisational outcomes (i.e., those that measure people’s knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours).

Your measurement plan should include initial, progress and final measures because measurement must be monitored along the lifecycle of your communication – it is never a “set and forget” exercise.

Flow chart showing a measurement plan process

© Centre for Strategic Communication Excellence

Setting SMART outcome-based objectives is a critical first step to planning your measures.

Good objectives are strategically aligned with the business need but should be framed from a communication perspective. That way you’ll stick to what’s in your range of influence and won’t blur the lines between what the business is responsible for (business outcomes) and what communication is responsible for (communication outcomes).

For example, if your organisation wants to improve the employee experience (business outcome), align your communication objectives with that business need and look at how communication contributes to your organisation’s employee experience (communication outcome). Your objectives might include percentage increases in the perception of leaders as effective communicators, or how well communication functions at the team, department, and organisational levels.

The second step is to determine how you will measure.

There are three ways you can measure your internal communication: quantitatively (e.g., counting through a survey), qualitatively (e.g., exploring through a focus group), and observationally (e.g., observing what you have asked people to do as a result of your communication).

Ultimately, how you measure your internal communication depends on how much time you have, your budget, and the tools you have to measure. But here’s the thing: internal communication measurement doesn’t have to be a pain. Once you’ve defined what you’re aiming for (i.e., your objectives), plan how you will measure your success.

You can use our Internal Communication Measurement Matrix™ to help you decide which measurement approach to take and what measures drive your communication outcomes.

CSCE Internal Comms Measurement Matrix overview chart

© Centre for Strategic Communication Excellence

The final step is to calculate your return on investment in cold hard numbers.

It’s one thing to measure your success, but if you’re not using the insights to demonstrate your value, what’s the point? Calculating and communicating your ROI is the key to winning the support of your executive team.

Let me explain.

So, you’ve already analysed the gap between your current and desired states, determining what you are trying to improve and how it can be measured, in the first two steps above.

Now ask yourself: If you succeed, what impact does that have on the organisation’s bottom line?

Here you are dealing with everything that is not about your communication. This is where you look for the bottom-line benefit to the organisation (i.e., the monetary value of decreased re-work, increased productivity etc.). To calculate your ROI, you need to know the number of people in your audience (i.e., are you calculating ROI for communication across the entire organisation or one segment?) You also need to note the associated time and material costs of your communication, remembering the time you spend developing and implementing the solution costs money too.

Here’s a very simple example:

Say you’ve determined your communication solution will save every employee in your organisation of 1,000 people (the number in your audience) 10 minutes per day.

Using an hourly rate of $100 to calculate the efficiency savings (ask your finance colleagues to provide this figure), this equals a saving of $16.66 per person, per day: 100 (the hourly rate) ÷ 60 (minutes in an hour) x 10 (minutes saved) = 16.66

That may not seem like a huge saving but remember, there are 1,000 employees in your organisation, so $16.66 x 1000 employees = $16,660 saved per day.

ROI is an annual figure, so you must multiply the saving by the total number of working days in a year. Let’s say that’s 260 across the year – your annual saving is $16,660 x 260 = $4,331,600. Not bad is it? That’s the potential bottom-line saving for the organisation.

But our communication solution costs money too, so we need to deduct the cost of our communication from our annual savings to get our total savings. In a real-life example, you’d also need to potentially attribute benefits to other departments (e.g., if your solution included IT).

Let’s say our communication solution cost $145,000 in material and time costs, and there were no other benefits to be attributed to other departments. In this case, you would deduct the cost of communication from $4,331,600 for a total saving of $4,186,600

To calculate your ROI, use the following formula:

Return on investment formula

So, in this case, your ROI would be: 2,887%

You may wish to present the total dollar savings only, along with the changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours, instead of a percentage, and that’s okay too.

So go on, start with simple examples of your own. Over time, you can demonstrate ROI on more complex communication activities. Our Calculating Communication ROI toolkit can help you speak the language of your executive team and convince them that the communication function is not only worth the investment, but it also drives business results.

Remember, measurement is a valuable tool for understanding the impact of your internal communication work and making data-informed decisions. While it may feel overwhelming at first, with time, practice, and a growth mindset, you can develop the skills and confidence to incorporate internal communication measurement effectively into your approach.

Thank you Sia for sharing your measurement insights with us.

Learn about Internal Communication Measurement with All Things IC

If you’d like support with your internal communication measurement or perhaps you and your team need help getting started with your measurement, then we have several ways to help.

Our in-person Measurement Masterclass is currently hosted at the All Things IC Hub in London. It’s a day of theory and practical learning with other in-house communicators and you’ll leave with tools to use in your workplace. We have spaces available for our next in-person Masterclass on Wednesday 4 October 2023.


Our Online Masterclass ‘How to measure internal communication’ is delivered online, giving you 12 months’ access to study at your own pace using a range of videos, workbooks and downloads to help you.

We can also run team days focused on measurement with an All Things IC Communication Consultant. These are designed and delivered to your specific measurement needs, helping you create ways to effective measure what’s important to you and your organisation. We have several spaces left for team days before the end of September 2023. You can send us a message or email and we’ll be in touch to see how we can help.

We also have a range of free resources about how to measurement your internal communication on our website including:

Post author: Dan Holden

First published on the All Things IC blog 26 June 2023

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