Setting new standards

April 18, 2018
Measurement is a constant thorn in the side for internal communication professionals. Everyone knows how important it is, but knowing precisely what to measure to determine the effectiveness of IC is a subject of seemingly endless debate.

Now, research by an international task force has identified a set of standards that could be a new benchmark in this area.

The research – conducted under the auspices of the Institute for Public Relations’ Measurement Commission – involved a study to identify standards that can be used to measure the effectiveness of IC in a consistent and comparable manner.

Stacey Smith, APR Fellow PRSA

Stacey Smith, Senior Counsel and Partner at USA-based consultants Jackson, Jackson & Wagner, and co-author of the report into the study, said the project was sparked by a desire to measure more than simply whether employees were engaged or not.

She said: “What can one do with engagement? One gets a score of whether or not they are engaged, but where do you go from there? You have no substance to really understand what engagement means and what to do about it.”

Following a two-year period of review and collaboration, involving conversations with hundreds of comms professionals, a proposed list of 22 standards was agreed upon. These were grouped into three categories: outtakes, outcomes and organisational impact.


Whether employees receive, pay attention to, comprehend or retain particular messages.

  • Awareness: whether employees have heard of an organisational message, issue, or topic.
  • Knowledge: employees’ level of comprehension about organisational messages, issues, or topics.
  • Understanding: employees’ ability to relate their knowledge to their work in a way that helps the organisation achieve its goals.
  • Relevance: the degree to which employees find communication from the organisation meaningful and useful.
  • Retention of information: the degree to which employees can recall key messages or topics when asked after a specified timeframe.

Evidence of changes to or reinforcement of opinions, attitudes and behaviours.

  • Attitude: a way of thinking or feeling about a subject (about an organisation, topic, or issue) ranging from very positive to very negative.
  • Advocacy: employees’ discretionary effort and time to promote or defend an organisation and its products and services.
  • Authenticity: perception that an organisation is transparent, honest, and fair – especially regarding the pursuit of its organisational objectives.
  • Empowerment: employees have the information, rewards, and power to take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve performance.
  • Collaboration: the process of employees across different divisions and/or units coming together to solve a problem and/or create something successfully.
  • Teamwork: the process of employees within the same unit coming together to successfully achieve a common goal or objective under the leadership of an appointed manager.
  • Discretionary effort: the amount of effort employees give to an organisation, a team or a project, above and beyond what is required.
  • Trust: a belief in the reliability, truth, and integrity of the organisation’s leadership, decision-making, and communication.
  • Satisfaction: the extent to which employees are happy or content with their job or work.
  • Transparency: the willingness of the organisation to share positive and negative information with employees in a timely fashion.
  • Fairness: employee perception that organisational processes for allocating resources and resolving disputes are impartial and just.
Organisational impact

If and how internal communication has influenced organisational performance:

  • Productivity: the quality and quantity of work output based on resources.
  • Innovation: thinking differently and experimenting with new approaches, ideas, or behaviours related to the organisation.
  • Continuous improvement: the process by which employees offer small or large improvements to improve efficiency, productivity and quality of a product or process in the work environment.
  • Reputation: stakeholders’ – both internal and external – evaluation of an organisation based upon personal and observed experiences with the company and its communication.
  • Employee retention: the number or percentage of employees who remain employed after a specified period of time.
How to measure

Stacey and her fellow researchers are currently working with a select group of organisations to identify the best way(s) to measure these standards. Their aim is to present their findings to the International Public Relations Research Conference next year.

However, she offered the following tips to those who may want to start applying some or all of them immediately:

  • “A major corporation with lots of budget could measure them all and that would be fine. Smaller organisations might want to pick a few to start with, which are most relevant to who they are as an organisation. “Narrow it down by setting up qualitative groups where you can talk to people in your organisation, look at the standards and say ‘what’s most important to us?’
  • “Some of the outtake standards are more survey-type questions. But when you get things like ‘understanding’ and ‘relevance’, a lot of people don’t ask anything. “Find ways to ask these questions in a more behavioural way. Ask about it on their level. ‘What did you hear? What does it mean for you in terms of how you are going to do your work?’
  • “Don’t wait 18 months to do any measurement. Do it along the way in small bites. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, or lots of manpower.”
Report authors (from left) Sean Williams, Michele Ewing, Stacey Smith and Julie O’Neil collect award Tina McCorkindale, President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations.

Stacey added: “Internal communication practitioners are doing extremely important work and they don’t always get the recognition – or the budget – that they deserve. This can be a real step in that direction.

“If organisations start to live up to these standards and start working towards improvement in each of these areas, they will be more successful, simply because the employee base will be onboard. You will be working towards a more cohesive culture that has levels of trust, transparency and cooperation that they haven’t had before.”