Comms' value rises when linked to business results

In talking with many PR pros about the struggle to define measurement and identify the right metrics, I'm always struck by the fear that comes hand in hand with measurement.

In talking with many PR pros about the struggle to define measurement and identify the right metrics, I'm always struck by the fear that comes hand in hand with measurement.

What if I don't measure the right thing? How will I tie my research back to the bottom line? What if our metrics show we've failed? How can I get measurement to drive actions and change behavior?

Good measurement practices are essential to drive corporate performance. In that context, if our mission as communications pros is to influence and enable change, how do we measure the results of our actions so they're not just counted, but that they deliver bottom-line value? How do we alter the perception that communications and change are not possible or difficult to measure? How do we move from measuring activities to delivering a strategic business result?

We've seen a common pattern in those who are relentless in their commitment to research, measurement, and enabling the subsequent change that delivers continuous improvement for business performance. Here are four ways you can drive communications for performance.

Remember the golden rule. Connect to business results. Communicators who create plans with successful measurement begin with a "number" as a target that management cares about and that links communications to a key business metric. For example, the goal may be a 10% profit increase. The strategy to achieve this may be $30 million in manufacturing quality improvements.

What if you haven't seen management's strategic plans and key metrics? Then it's vital to get out in the organization. Meet with finance to review financial objectives and forecasts. Work with the marketing and sales teams to understand customer needs and sales goals. Talk to the product development experts about new products and services. Mine analysts' reports and business publications to identify the outcome you want to achieve.

Identify the results you can affect. Understand what's behind the metric, what strategies management has to achieve, and what they're counting on. Dig deeper: Do the plans depend on employees doing anything different than they've done before? What has employee performance been in the past? What is line management doing to get the employee performance it needs?

PR leaders must start with an understanding of what results they will affect, rather than what activities they will conduct. They create an urgent connection between what the business needs to accomplish and what employees need to deliver.

For example, to contribute to that $30 million in manufacturing improvements, partner with operations to review quality scores and with HR to analyze staff surveys to properly address communication and information flow issues that may be attributed to a particular demographic segment, such as supervisors. Then develop a communication plan to support supervisors in listening to employees and acting on front-line suggestions about quality. Staffers will start to believe that quality is valued and they'll work hard to identify and fix quality problems. Our experience shows that leads to higher quality and serious savings.

Develop cross-functional partnerships to attack and address root causes. Communicators that get results look at how information flows and how problems are addressed inside an organization. Let's face it, communications is one dimension of the mix of issues that can affect employees and key stakeholders. Other dimensions are teamwork, recognition, management style, sales approach, marketing philosophy, and corporate culture. However, if communications is measured in a vacuum, while other issues are measured in a separate silo, it's difficult to be on par with the rest of leadership.

Communicators who partner with key stakeholders to identify an integrated approach to addressing a key business issue work hard to understand the beliefs and behaviors that impact business results. For example, if retention is a problem within an organization, communications can work to develop a strategy. It can partner with HR to identify metrics linked to improving employee motivation and, in turn, decrease turnover. Communications can impact HR "outcomes," so measuring results separately can miss key opportunities to drive performance.

Provide clarity, information, and inspiration. Asking for and listening to stakeholder views is a valuable step in delivering effective communication. Do this through three dimensions:

Clarity. Explaining to people what you really want them to do;

Information. Providing them the information they need to make the right decisions;

Inspiration. Helping them understand why they should care.

Focusing on developing communications that provide vision and inspiration along with a clear line of sight will help communicators engage employees and customers and drive action.

The message is simple: There are huge strategic benefits to be gained by connecting communications with a business result. The outcome is evident: Not only will you improve efficiency and performance and create stronger links to business performance, but your commitment to measuring results will allow you to become a strategic partner and help lead the business. After all, it's the result of the action that counts, not just the action itself.

  • Patricia Bayerlein is a consultant with Gagen MacDonald, a strategy execution and employee engagement firm.

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