A client recently told me he thought his company was “over communicating” to his employees.
He was right in one way. Our assessment of communication inside his operation told us that while our client had initiated a lot of communication activity, much of it missed the mark. He was over-communicating all right, just not effectively.
This isn’t uncommon. Many leaders confuse communication activities with communication. For instance, when confronted with a quality problem, they produce and distribute a video on the importance of quality and hope the quality problem goes away. Of course, a video by itself isn’t going to make much headway against a raft of other signals that employees receive daily, which send the opposite message.
Communication activity doesn’t equal communication.
The communication system in any organization is incredibly complex. It represents all the things you say and do that form perceptions that drive decisions, actions and results. That includes what leaders say and what they do, what rewards reward, what measurement systems count, who you promote, what you teach and who you recognize. Everything within the organization communicates. Hiding in your office instead of showing up at a meeting doesn’t absolve you from communicating. Your absence communicates. You can’t not communicate.
How do you know if you’re managing this complex system or not? You measure it.
You can measure the entire process or pieces of it. There are plenty of ways to do this.
You can start informally with a time-tested consulting approach called asking, listening and looking around. It will tell you gobs of stuff that’s very useful.
Or you can measure more formally. Here are some examples of formal ways we measure our clients’ communication effectiveness. The methods I’ve listed can be used alone or together, depending what you want to learn and fix.
Results and ROI
This measures actual performance improvements against the cost of creating the improvements. Here’s an example.
Our client was a software engineering company. Its sales force was having trouble selling, in part because of a number of regularly occurring communication breakdowns. Sales people couldn’t get information about soon-to-be-released products, current product features and benefits and pricing flexibility. When we eliminated these breakdowns, sales increased $10 million over a relatively short time. The total cost of the solution was a little under $150,000. This, of course, is a huge return on the company’s investment.
This tool measures the extent to which people respond positively to specific questions, which either drives or defines engagement. Engagement is a condition that occurs when employees share the values and purpose of the organization and are willing to “do whatever it takes” to help the organization succeed.
Questions can relate to issues such as open and candid communication, fair and appropriate pay, autonomy, learning and development, sense of purpose and meaning.
The index is useful if you want to know who is and isn’t engaged. This is important to know as you begin efforts to improve performance. For instance, a pharmaceutical client had high engagement levels in sales but low ones in development. Because their business strategy was focused on getting new products into the pipeline, we worked to improve engagement in the development where the payoff would be the greatest.
The say/do assessment uncovers mixed messages and their sources. It consists of a battery of questions that invite survey participants to assess the extent to which the company or its leadership says certain principles or values (e.g., quality products, low costs) are important and the extent to which the company actually delivers on (does) those principles or values.
A say/do assessment reveals the actual culture as compared to the desired culture. One of our clients wanted to brand itself as an innovative company yet our say/do assessment revealed that 56 percent of its employees believed the company neither encouraged nor rewarded innovation. Employees thought the company said one thing to the customers and another thing to employees. This hurt leaders’ credibility. The fact that the company didn’t encourage or reward innovation made it harder for the company to deliver on its brand promise.
Performance Barrier Assessment
The performance barrier assessment identifies communication breakdowns that are hindering a company from achieving specific performance targets—such as speed to market, building brand identity or becoming a low cost producer. The assessment helps uncover where communication mismanagement, or flaws in the communication system, contributes to poor performance around something the company must do well to compete. This is a useful assessment to employ as a precursor to the Results and ROI assessment above.
Value to Cost Assessment
A value-to-cost assessment provides rich data that helps a leader identify the return the company is getting on many communication processes, activities, programs, or media. It assesses a communication portfolio much as a leader would assess a business portfolio. Using a survey instrument, it can reveal how important people in your organization believe specific components of the communication system are to achieving company goals. It reveals how effective those components are. Blended with an analysis of the cost of those components, a leader can determine the value to cost ratio of each component and the entire mix of components.
This process is an excellent way to re-deploy resources from low importance to high importance areas. This often means an organization can make improvements without additional money.