Views: Why measurement matters

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I am lucky to have lots of conversations with communications professionals in my role as a communications consultant. Regardless of how those discussions come about, I find most have a route back to measurement and evaluation, writes Rachel Miller

Phrases I regularly hear include “people don’t understand what I do” or “my to do list is just getting longer and I’m feeling overwhelmed.” Such comments immediately activate my measurement radar. 

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If brand building, reputation management and inspiring trust and confidence in stakeholders is at the heart of what we do as professional communicators, then it’s our business to know our business. And it’s in our interests as practitioners to understand how effective our actions and decisions are. 

It’s that last point that sits at the heart of measurement and evaluation. If you want to know that your effort was worth it, that your message hit the spot or you need evidence to make decisions, you must take the time to develop your approach to measurement and evaluation.

In this article, I’ll share my top tips to help you develop an approach that’s practical and sustainable. I’ll also dispel some myths.

I’ll start with the pandemic effect. Multichannel communication in stable times was tough enough. Multichannel communication in a global pandemic and beyond added another level of complexity. 

We have supported many teams in the past twelve months to unravel what they do and start afresh. Why? Because it’s not realistic to sustain a pandemic level service. When our number one priority was keeping people safe and saving lives, it was what we had to do. But in a new world that’s still forming in front of our eyes, it’s hard to know which piece of the jigsaw you can take out. Let measurement and evaluation be the beacons that guide the way. 

It’s not difficult to make the case for measurement, but there are common barriers that get in the way. Not knowing where to start, not having enough time, and not having the right information at your fingertips are three reasons practitioners regularly cite for not measuring consistently or at all.

For the people who don’t know where to start I tell them to measure what they treasure. It’s such a simple concept and so flexible. That’s why I love it. There are many brilliant measurement frameworks you can refer to for ideas but what matters most will always be individual to you, your team and your business. Your measurement and evaluation approach needs to reflect this.

Start with the bigger picture first. What matters to your organization? What does your CEO treasure? What do customers and colleagues hold dear to their hearts? Spend time thinking about this before shining a light closer to home. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. 

Next, consider what matters to you as an individual? Not what you think your colleague or line manager would expect you to say, but what matters to you personally. If you have been working hard to make content as inclusive and accessible as possible, you will naturally want to see whether your approach is working. Your colleagues are likely to have different priorities and that’s ok. 

Once you have your own list, take a step back to consider and discuss the views of your team and department. Work together to review and prioritize all the ideas until you have a single, manageable list of things that matter to you all. 

I know this sounds easier than it is but consider this. If you try to measure anything and everything, you might as well measure nothing at all. If you measure nothing, then how do you make robust decisions? How do you plan and prioritize what you do? 

Time is a precious commodity. This quote from William Penn sums it up well – “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” If your workload is bulging and you don’t know which tasks to tackle next, being able to craft meaningful stories from data is your secret weapon. Threading insights into everything you do, helps you explain what you do, why you do it and how you do it with confidence and credibility. What a great foundation. 

If you’re struggling to identify what matters to you most, look at things from a time perspective instead. How do you feel about a task that took ten hours instead of the four you had planned? Unless you evaluate impact, you won’t know whether that extra effort was worth it. 

Having the ‘right’ information at your fingertips is one of the reasons people say they can’t consistently measure or evaluate what they do. It’s a point I challenge back on because there is no such thing as the right information. If your Intranet doesn’t produce detailed analytics, it doesn’t stop you from measuring whether it’s effective in another way. 

If you see that almost everybody available attended a town hall meeting, you can’t assume it was a successful event. What if none of those people understood the information shared? Or didn’t feel able to ask a question? If your business treasures employee voice, then an event where people are not comfortable enough to make a point isn’t a great success. 

As well as understanding the treasure trove, you need to distinguish between outputs and outcomes. Outputs are what keep you busy. Outcomes are the ‘so what happened as a result’ moments. These are what matter. It’s worth pausing to look at the language your business uses when it comes to performance and measurement at a strategic level. Where possible, make sure you’re aligned to this.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” This quote by Ralph G. Nichols supports my belief that listening is the magic ingredient that turns outputs such as clicks, likes and shares, into insights. Something you can draw from to make decisions and continually improve what you do. 

Listening doesn’t have to be formal, although a blend of planned, formal listening supplemented with comments, questions and feedback is ideal. Find out whether anyone else in your business has been listening to stakeholders. Consider how digital tools could be used to gather in the moment feedback. I highly recommend asking other communications professionals how they approach listening. Chances are what they tell you will fire up your imagination.

Rachel Miller is an internationally recognized authority on internal communication. Through her business, All Things IC, Miller and her team advise professional communicators via consultancy, training and mentoring. She is a chartered PR professional and fellow of both the Institute of Internal Communication and Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Miller is a regular keynote speaker whose thoughts have been featured in a number of best-selling PR books and via her popular Candid Comms podcast.