It’s time to talk about proving return on investment (ROI) for internal communications. ROI is a fantastic accounting measure that makes a lot of sense to executives from business backgrounds, but showing impact through numbers is not necessarily something communicators have traditionally done well — largely because it’s not something anyone taught us, and it hasn’t historically been something that’s really asked of us.
It’s no surprise that the latest Gatehouse State of the Sector survey found that measurement and reporting is neither a high priority nor regular activity for most internal communications professionals.
Things are changing, though, and that’s a good thing for internal comms!
We often have a decent gauge of what people know, where there are gaps, and how employees feel about their work and their employers, but we often don’t know how to translate that into numbers. Where we as internal communications professionals are finding ourselves, is in need of ways to translate the inherent messiness of communication to a line item.
Much like our counterparts in human resources (HR) a decade or so back, we don’t have an entirely straightforward way to apply meaningful numbers to the bulk of our work. But we can learn from what HR has managed to do: use a blend of emerging technologies, substitute measures and an expanding body of research to define relevant metrics, deliver on them and make the case for a seat at the leadership table.
Where to focus your internal communications metrics to show ROI
The most direct way to tie internal communications to a company’s bottom line is via metrics that measure employee engagement.
Innovation, productivity, growth, retention — all are consistently shown to be significantly impacted by high employee engagement. When we’re considering how to prove our strategic worth, employee engagement metrics should be the first port of call.
This means we need to step a little further ahead than the basic analytics we might normally reach for when asked for numbers. Trusty metrics such as open rates, click-throughs on newsletters, page views on an intranet and so forth have their place, but we need to start looking at the bigger picture.
Metrics that matter
- Employee satisfaction
- Our most straightforward measure and one we generally need to either build a survey or piggyback on other initiatives for, employee satisfaction is already intuitively tied to internal communications for most leaders
- Productivity-related measures
- Why: “employee engagement continues to be an important predictor of company performance even in a tough economy” (Gallup)
- Retention and employee referrals
- Employees who are informed and feel like their voices are heard and appreciated are more likely to stick with the company and to recommend it to others
- Customer satisfaction
- Employees who are engaged with their organization and are fully informed and equipped with the information they need to do their job well are able to provide a better customer experience. Since most companies are already tracking this metric, internal comms professionals already have a baseline to work from.
Lagging vs leading indicators
To show ROI in the fields above, you need to start by considering what kinds of data you have access to, and how you might get access to or create a method to capture more.
For example, if you work for a manufacturing company, the number of workplace injuries would be a lagging indicator. The percentage of compliance with full personal protective equipment, on the other hand, would be a leading one.
Leading indicators are predictive of success, and it’s the actual thing you can exert influence on in the moment. The number of injuries represents something that’s already happened after the fact and are thus lagging indicators. Both measures are important as you need both sets of metrics to paint a full picture.
Getting started with internal communications metrics
Begin by asking yourself what you should be measuring but aren’t. What could be shared as evidence of success in your role? Are there certain numbers your leadership team values over others?
In the beginning, there will be a period of trial and error to see what works and what’s worthy to report. If there’s a department or person in your organization who loves data (and you can find them in every organization), partner with them.
ROI is so specific to each organization, that it’s not useful to spend too much time to compare numbers with what other people are doing. What is useful is creating benchmarks for your organization to track over time. And that’s how you get started.
To learn more about the topic, here’s a guide on the best practices for effective communication in the workplace.