Analyzing the New Standards for Measuring Internal Communications

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Bonfyre Breakdown: New Standards for Measuring Internal Communications

5 min

Without a clearly defined methodology for measuring internal communications, it’s hard for practitioners to capitalize on a strategy’s full potential.

Thankfully, things might be getting easier in that arena. Today on the Bonfyre Breakdown, we’re taking a look at an update from the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) on recent efforts to create a standardized system for measuring internal communications.

What’s it about?

There’s no question that internal communication has a material impact on the way businesses function. A robust internal communication strategy will align employees around important goals and even add a sense of meaning to work.

Many communicators in the past have had great success measuring that impact and communicating those outcomes to leaders. However, there is great variability in measurement technique, and no unified standards or systems exist to help communicators develop their strategic capabilities. As a result, internal communications metrics and measurement can be a great source of anxiety for communicators, as many have an affinity for language, not numbers.

Back in 2015, a global, 11-member task force of IC leaders assembled to create a standardized process with the support of the IPR and the Commission on Research, Measurement, and Evaluation. From their initial work, the task force came away with 21 proposed standards of internal comms measurement. In the context of the task force’s work, “standards” only refers to definitions of items to measure, not a methodology for how to measure them.

Recently, the leaders of that task force published a study that focus tested the proposed standards with an audience of internal communications thought leaders and practitioners. Below, we’ll be discussing the highlights.

3 Free Tools: Measure and refine your internal communication strategy

Why do we love it?

This research lays yet another brick in the foundation that will become measurement standardization. Measurement standardization will in turn empower internal communicators to reach the full strategic potential of their roles. As the study describes, standardization is important because it creates a common language between communicators and executives to understand the results of messaging strategies. Without that understanding, the dialogue between those parties is often prone to inefficiencies and communications breakdowns.

The task force leaders used a unique methodology called a “Delphi study” to progress their research. Delphi studies are designed with a goal to create group consensus from its participants across at least two rounds of feedback collection. In this study, participants were practitioners each with a minimum of 10 years of public relations experience, and at least of five years concentrated in the internal communications function.

From participant feedback, the task force leaders finalized a list of 22 standards for communications measurement (they began the study with 21). More than 90% of the study’s participants agreed that the majority of the standards belonged on the modified list. They also came away with a clearer, more robust understanding of what leading communicators are looking for when it comes to measuring internal communications. This is reflected in newly refined definitions for the proposed standards.

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The new standards for measuring internal communications are bucketed into the following three categories (see Table 3 in the study for definitions of each standard):

Outtakes, which the study describes as “whether employees received, paid attention to, comprehended or retained particular messages.”

  • Awareness
  • Knowledge
  • Understanding
  • Relevance
  • Retention of information

Outcomes, or “evidence of changes to or reinforcement of opinions, attitudes, or behaviors” in internal audiences.

  • Attitude
  • Advocacy
  • Authenticity
  • Empowerment
  • Collaboration
  • Teamwork
  • Discretionary effort
  • Trust
  • Satisfaction
  • Transparency
  • Fairness

Organizational impact, which identifies “if and how internal communication has influenced organizational performance.”

  • Productivity
  • Innovation
  • Continuous improvement
  • Reputation
  • Employee retention
  • Safety

In the first round of feedback, participants identified understanding, trust, and productivity as the most important standards across the respective categories of outtakes, outcomes, and organizational impact. Awareness is the easiest standard to measure, with the caveat that it is not useful. One participant noted “it doesn’t equate to an action – behavior, discussion, inquiry.”

Despite being a hot topic for the internal communications profession, employee engagement was not identified as a standard for measurement. Nearly 70% of participants agreed that because engagement was highly linked to other measurement standards, it should not stand alone.

In fact, the researchers believe this move will actually allow communicators to more precisely target engagement issues. This certainly aligns with our stance that engagement is concerned with effects, not causes, and that measuring employee engagement will involve root analysis of engagement conditions.

Participants cited a lack of time and resources as major roadblocks for measuring internal communications standards. For example, in the impact category, some participants identified the absence of leadership support as an undermining influence on their ability to devote necessary time and resources for measurement. This is particularly surprising as impact standards like productivity and retention are ostensibly what leaders would be concerned with the most.

The Gather Around blog has addressed the critical role leaders play in communication with employees, particularly when it comes to culture changes in the workplace. Leaders have such a powerful presence as communicators that they can make or break a communications strategy. Internal audiences look to leaders as key sources of reliable, authoritative information and take their actions as reflections of acceptable behavior in the company.

More than that though, it is clear that leaders play an active role not just in the act of communication itself, but in the measurement of success. Internal communications is in a transition period, as executives across the world now see the function as “tightly linked with core business objectives.” However, internal communicators cannot strategically execute their contributions to these objectives if they are not supplied with adequate time and tools to do so. Some doors only leaders can open.

This perhaps may grow ever more clear as the measurement standards task force continues its research–which is far from over. Looking to the future, the task force plans to identify methods for measuring the proposed standards and testing this methodology in the field with select organizations.

This month’s Bonfyre Breakdown discussed “Researchers Address Lack of Standardized Internal Communication Measurement,” an article from the Institute for Public Relations. Bonfyre Breakdown is the featured article series in our Monthly Roundup newsletter, a collection of our favorite culture, engagement, and communications articles from across the web. Subscribe today to see what all is highlighted in the latest newsletter!

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