Aligning Internal Comms Metrics with Organizational Goals
January 16, 2024
Internal Communications teams routinely douse fires and move mountains, but they don’t always get the recognition they deserve. Call it a case of competing priorities, extreme modesty, or the cobbler’s children, but either way there’s often a gap between the value Internal Comms teams deliver and the value they receive credit for.
Translating impact isn’t easy, but it’s essential. And while IC departments have more tooling and data available than any other time in history, it doesn’t craft its own narrative. Luckily, there’s no one better at translating and conveying complicated information than a talented Comms team.
So, let’s take a look at some ways to measure and communicate the impact good internal communications can have on an organization.
Why should anyone else care about Internal Communications metrics?
They shouldn’t—unless those metrics relate to their own efforts or the goals and aspirations of the organization at large.
Metrics in a vacuum aren’t of value to the broader team, but that’s ok, because they almost never actually exist in a vacuum. Finding the intersection between comms and cross-departmental goals can be a noteworthy challenge, and most teams are already mired in day-to-day execution. The good news is, that intersection we’re looking for nearly always exists, whether it’s a singular piece of valuable “aha” data, or a broader Key Performance Indicator (KPI).
Strategy and performance measurement expert Graham Kenny illustrates this relationship in a recent Harvard Business Review article:
“KPIs need to reflect the fact that value creation is a two-way street, and that both sides of the transaction need to get something out of it…It’s critical to understand the decision-making criteria (strategic factors) that key stakeholders use to support your entity and what you want from them in return.”
The problem often begins with how common (and easy) it is for a department to get in the habit of referencing the metrics most meaningful to their goals, as they focus tightly on their area. Those metrics may be of little interest to executives concerned with overarching company goals—or, alternatively, they could be of great interest in the right context.
Most executives recognize that internal communications are essential to business success, but translating that value requires metrics that align with their chief focuses: high-level strategy, and bottom line outcomes. A report titled "Internal Communication in the Eyes of C-Suite Leaders” by communication non-profit IC Kollectif claims, “Executives now see internal communications as an essential management tool for improving their financial bottom lines.”
The same report also reveals some tension and caveats surrounding that belief:
“C-suite executives need their CCOs and communication teams to demonstrate they’re bonafide business people with an expertise in communication. How can someone provide strategic council if they are not an expert on the business, the industry, and the drivers of it.”
The formula to addressing this tension isn’t much different from good storytelling:
- Understand the goals senior leaders consider essential.
- What is the greater narrative behind those goals?
- Find the intersection where those goals might align with your own.
- How can your work deepen that alignment?
- Weave those two parallel narratives and their outcomes together
- What unique data or insights can you provide that inform this collective goal?
Aligning metrics to reflect company goals and values
“CEOs believe internal communication is tightly linked with Core Business objectives and they recognize the chances of successfully implementing strategic initiatives are greatly diminished if employees do not understand or know how to help support key objectives.”
C-suite executives must focus on attaining high-level business goals. When everyone uses metrics aligned with those overarching goals, it’s easier to know whether you’re tracking toward or away from them.
Most metrics are not KPIs.
Metrics and KPIs are both measurements, but they are not the same. KPIs track progress towards overarching, strategic business goals. Metrics track specific processes or activities that contribute to the KPI.
Both metrics and KPIs can be highly informative when used correctly in their proper place. But when used interchangeably, confusion can be the result. Thinking of KPIs as being strategic and metrics as being tactical may help.
Let’s say a SaaS organization’s strategic goal is to improve employee retention by 25% over the next year. Critical metrics to track would be the number itself, and the initiatives that contribute toward it. In this scenario, an Internal Communications team might be working very closely with HR/People Operations.
Examples of communications metrics supporting the organizational goal of a 25% improvement in retention might be: employee advocacy rates, survey responses, event attendance rates, announcement engagement, and onboarding material engagement.
Types of metrics to share
We can break most sets of metrics, including comms metrics into two buckets: qualitative and quantitative.
Quantitative metrics are generally numerical, calculable, and provide concrete information about communication performance. A good example of a quantitative metric for comms would be the number of read receipts, views, or replies for a given announcement.
Qualitative metrics are generally more subjective, but no less valuable. While historically, coding qualitative data was challenging to achieve, techniques like sentiment analysis can provide crucial insights into a topic. Comments on a new policy or announcement would be a good example of a qualitative metric for comms.
What metrics might be helpful for my peers?
High-level, KPI aligned metrics, like those we discussed above are crucial to seek and share across departments; however, there are still several examples of data you might have access to that would be priceless to cross-departmental peers.
Read and Acknowledged
The notification a sender receives when a recipient opens a message is a read receipt. Email and internal messaging systems can employ read receipts, but limitations exist.
Read receipts allow senders to track who has opened their message and how many recipients have or have not opened it. However, they do not provide information about how much of the message the recipient read. Also, read receipts cannot determine if an attachment has been opened or read.
If a message is critical, like in the example of an emergency or a stock blackout period, senders can require recipients to confirm they’ve read and acknowledged the contents. In those cases, even very narrowly focused internal comms metrics can be essential.
The number of valid replies a business receives back from campaigns like surveys, emails, internal messages, and quizzes is the response rate. The same logic applies to internal communications.
It’s easy to calculate the business’s response rate to establish an organizational baseline. Simply track response rates over some time. Longer periods and more tracked messages yield more accurate data.
There are proven ways to improve response rates:
- Write a compelling subject line or title. Short, straightforward, and presenting a benefit, problem, or reason works best.
- Show (don’t tell) why the message is important.
- Deliver real value so when recipients see a message from you, they open it eagerly.
- Timing is critical, and every team is different. Tracking the time messages generate the most responses is helpful.
Employee engagement and employee advocacy
Employee engagement is an indirectly measurable emotional attachment to their organization’s aspirations and culture. Employee advocacy is a directly measurable, practical strategy that focuses on inspiring employees to act as ambassadors. The engagement level of employees influences the advocacy strategy.
Measuring employee advocacy and engagement is more complex than other metrics because both require multiple measurements to gain a complete understanding.
Examples of employee engagement metrics are:
- Employee satisfaction
- Voluntary employee turnover rate
- Employee retention rate
- Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS)
- Employee performance
Although employee advocacy programs can include both internal and external aspects, most metrics focus on online activity because data is readily available, employees generally find online activity more accessible, and more consumers are searching online.
Crucial employee advocacy metrics are:
- Percent of employees sharing content
- Percentage of employees who have participated in the past 90 days
- Content with the most shares
- Content engagement rate
- New candidate referrals
Communicators can simplify choosing the most impactful metrics to track by considering the overarching strategic goals their company is working to attain. The communications metrics that shed light on the organization’s progress toward meeting or exceeding those goals are the ones that will capture interest and support organizational goals.
Organizations can measure employee interest in company initiatives and changes by monitoring engagement across the content in their company intranet. The company’s internet is also an excellent place to reinforce communications messages by making the same information archivable, searchable, and available anytime.
Using a tracking feature that works for both desktop and mobile is helpful because it reveals variations in usage habits that may be beneficial for teams, but the information doesn't directly impact the bottom line.
What metrics aren’t helpful to share?
Some communications metrics are of value to internal comms teams, but in isolation, they provide little useful information interesting to a broader audience.
Emails sent or messages posted represent inputs, not outcomes.
Measuring the outcome of a successful campaign produces a KPI that’s much more valuable to decision-makers working toward a goal than knowing the number of messages required to generate that ROI.
You might need to know how many emails were sent in order to ensure the right audience was reached. That’s actually critical information for the team sending them, but not the broader organization.
Build and share your own dataset
While there are numerous metrics that apply across most organizations, the collection of metrics that will matter most to your organization are unique. Focus on building and demonstrating value by sharing communication metrics that provide the most insight into activities impacting the core areas senior leaders across the organization are working to influence.