Measuring the value of communication has always been important. Today, it’s become something of an obsession, and it’s easy to understand why. But instead of focusing on measuring the value of communications, communicators should concentrate on communicating about measures that people value. Here’s an example of how a St. Louis-based winner of the Baldrige National Quality Award, Wainwright Industries, applied that principle.
Making data meaningful with “Mission Control.”
When they set their sites on the award, they knew they would have to collect a lot of data – and figure out how to share it throughout the organization. The solution was inspired by NASA. The Wainwright team decided to post the data in a single room organized around priorities that came from input provided by employees. They called the room “Mission Control,” and it was designed to let all employees know how various aspects of the company’s performance are tracking at all times. Using color coded flags, the display provides instant awareness of emerging problem areas. What’s more, it activates a pre-set course of action if performance indicators fall below established benchmarks.
While it’s essentially a communication system, not many professional communicators would typically see it as part of their domain. Therein lies the proverbial rub – and the opportunity to be more relevant.
Measuring what matters to people.
When communicators measure their success in terms of functional indicators like media impressions, newsletter satisfaction ratings and similar measures, they’re not connecting with most employees who don’t care much about those measures. Ultimately, the most vital function of organizational communications is to facilitate the exchange of data, information, and knowledge that support employees in doing their everyday jobs. That’s what most people care about – and that’s where communicators should focus much of their measurement efforts.
The first step is to ensure you’re focusing on relevant indicators. Examples might be safety, employee learning and development, results of continuous improvement efforts, quality of products and services, defect and rework rates, results of employee opinion surveys, customer satisfaction, sales and margins, progress reports on employee profit-sharing and the like.
Sharing information so people see why it matters.
But all that data is useless without an effective system for sharing it. In short, measurement needs to be supported with a communication system that spans the entire organization. Communicators shouldn’t try to do it alone, though. They should work closely with other key functions – human resources, organizational development, finance, quality, information technology, sales, marketing, customer service, etc.
The roles played by the people in this measurement and communication “orchestra” vary depending on numerous factors. Someone, though, has to take the lead and serve as the “conductor” who keeps the group operating in unison. That role is ideally suited for communicators who can see their way out of their traditional boxes.
Regardless of who plays what role, several important elements have to be built into the design of an effective measurement and communication system:
- Leading and lagging indicators
- Frequent and timely
It’s a big role to take on, but it’s worth it. Beyond the merits of the system itself, communicators stand to be recognized more for the value of their work – and appreciated more for their contributions to the performance of the organization.
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