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Most people will tell you that a communication effectiveness survey provides an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your communication programs. Typically, you find out information like how many people are reading a publication, how useful the company intranet is, whether employees think the town hall sessions are helpful, how well people understand the organization’s key business issues, and so forth.

What is less well-known is that through a communication effectiveness survey, you can actually quantify the impact that specific communication programs have on organizational performance—pointing out which programs to focus on to drive positive results in the organization. By measuring this impact, you will know how much influence each communication channel has on subjects such as employee understanding of business issues, employee engagement or the overall work environment.

Why is it important to quantify the impact of communication on organizational performance? First, it enables you to demonstrate to senior management the value (the return on investment) of communication. Second, it lets you focus your resources on those channels that have the greatest impact.

There are many ways to define “organizational performance,” and identifying the right measures depends on each individual organization. Basically, you want to look for performance measures that senior management see as critical to the success of the organization. If you can influence those measures through more effective communication, you can make a solid case for investment in communication. For some companies, anything that drives employee engagement will be seen as having positive value. For others, it may be commitment to quality or customer service.

For example, a financial services company recently conducted a comprehensive employee survey, and through advanced impact analysis, identified the three communication programs with the greatest impact on employee engagement: providing more information to employees, helping managers be better communicators and improving upward communication. The analysis showed that if the company could take initiatives to improve these key drivers, they could expect to increase employee engagement by 10 percent.

So if you plan to conduct a survey to measure the effectiveness of your communication programs, here are five tips to help ensure you get the most out of your research.

1. Measuring the impact of communication does not require any extra input from employees other than simply filling out a survey. The process of measuring the impact occurs in analyzing the data collected by the survey. If you’re planning to conduct a survey, you’re already collecting the data. Impact analysis is simply another step in the process.

2. Seek the help of an expert. Check around within your company for people who have expertise in statistical analysis. You might already have an internal research department. If not, check your marketing or finance departments. If you need outside assistance, you can seek help from a research firm or perhaps find a statistics professor who can take on your project. Whoever you select, be sure to find out what kinds of statistical analysis they can conduct and how they might approach your specific project. At a minimum, you should find someone who can conduct multiple regression analysis, which is a method that can be used to quantify how much impact your communication programs have on organizational performance. There are also more advanced methods that provide more robust results than multiple regression, and that typically require a highly trained statistician.

3. Once you find an expert, ask a lot of questions about what they can do to help you, and also what you need to do in your survey to ensure they can perform their analysis effectively. Ideally, include them in the design of your survey questions and methodology. It is critical that your survey questions are properly worded and that you ask questions about the right subjects. Fail to do this, and no amount of statistical wizardry can measure the true impact of communication.

4. Use the right measures of organizational performance. To quantify the impact of communication on the organization, you need to identify appropriate performance measures that senior management will buy into. The first step is to identify the measures your senior management team uses to evaluate the effectiveness of the organization. For example, delivering quality customer service may be a primary goal of your organization, and senior management may have identified employee engagement as a critical success factor for delivering quality customer service. In this case, you might look for ways to link communication to employee engagement. The survey you build would evaluate both communication effectiveness and measures of employee engagement. Then the statistical analysis would identify which communication programs have the greatest impact on employee engagement.

Here are some examples of organizational performance and employee engagement measures:

Bottom-line measures:

  • Financial performance
  • Employee productivity
  • Customer service
  • Quality
  • Safety
  • Employee turnover/retention

Employee engagement measures:

  • Level of trust
  • Employee commitment and alignment
  • Understanding of business goals
  • Understanding of individual roles
  • Overall work environment/culture
  • Job satisfaction

5. Use your survey findings to take action. Surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges in conducting a survey is actually doing something with the results. Too often, companies take a great first step in conducting an employee survey only to wait months and months after the survey to announce the results, and then make only cosmetic changes that are loosely based on the results. They end up reducing the organization’s level of trust and credibility by asking for employee input and then failing to act.

Instead, release the survey results—without any analysis—within weeks of closing the survey, and focus on the top three to five key drivers identified by the impact analysis for developing initiatives for change. Targeting specific areas that have the greatest impact enables you to focus on just a few areas of the organization—and these areas will have the most impact on organizational performance.

Following these tips can help move your next survey project from just an assessment of what is and isn’t working, to a critical tool in determining which communication programs have the greatest impact on the organization. With these results, you can focus on those areas that will have the greatest return on investment, and deliver a positive benefit to the organization’s bottom line.

Returning to the example of the financial services company above, follow-up surveys showed that employee engagement improved by exactly the amount predicted by the communication impact model. What’s more, the level of trust between management and employees improved from only 35 percent favorable in the first year to 50 percent favorable three years later. Now the communication department in this organization is regularly involved in senior management’s decision making process, and every key decision includes a discussion of the communication implications.

Certainly, this is not a simple process, but it is one that can have significant rewards in terms of demonstrating to management the critical role that effective communication plays in the organization.

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