By Susan C. Rink, President and Owner, Rink Strategic Communications, LLC
It’s fall ─the season for tailgate parties, apple festivals, plaid flannel shirts and pumpkin spice everything. For most private sector companies and non-profits, it’s also time to start working on the 2020 operating budget. If you are an employee communications professional reading this blog, chances are you will be asked to do more in 2020 than you did in 2019, and most likely with less money.
It’s a fact of life. I’ve often joked that while my friends in marketing can get a million dollars to do a customer event, we employee communicators have to hold a bake sale to get the money for a simple email template. Sad, but true.
But instead of lamenting our lack of funds, employee communicators should look at fall budgeting season as an opportunity to tune up our communication campaigns and vehicles. It is just like taking your car into the mechanic, and watching them hook it up to one of those computers to assess the battery, spark plugs and all the other mysterious things living “under the hood.” This is the perfect opportunity to take an unbiased look at what you and your team have worked on over the past three quarters and whether or not you have met your performance goals.
How do your programs measure up?
For starters, are you measuring your communications vehicles? Are your measurements limited to open rates, or do you include polls and feedback loops to see if people are actually reading the articles and receiving information that they find useful?
What about your all hands or town hall meetings? Do you track attendance? Do you do any type of post-event survey and track those results to monitor trends and identify areas for improvement?
What about messaging? Are your employees able to describe the company’s strategic platforms, do they know how the company is performing against key business metrics, and can they explain the company’s culture?
If you answered yes to all the questions above, kudos to you! The bulk of your work is done and now you can get down to the nitty gritty details of determining which programs to sunset (or cut off cold turkey at the end of the calendar year), which to maintain, and where there are gaps to fill.
But what if you answered no to most of the questions? In that case, you have a bit of work to do. The good news is that it won’t take you a lot of time and won’t cost a lot of money to do so. (Although I probably shouldn’t tell you that, since companies hire me to do communication audits for them. But hey, we’re all friends here, right?)
The “Do it Yourself” Mini Audit
To conduct your mini-audit, you’ll need to get a feel for what is working and what isn’t. There are a couple of ways to do that.
One is to take advantage of existing data, such as a recent employee opinion/engagement/culture survey. These surveys are a wealth of information about employee attitudes on such topics as leadership candor/approachability, connection to the company’s mission, and health of the culture – all topics which are influenced and reinforced though effective communications.
Another idea is to institute a “flash poll” of a random group of employees, about 15% of the workforce. Keep the number of questions limited to five or so, and focus on messaging and information flow. You can issue the poll after an all hands meeting or a couple of days after an employee email newsletter is distributed (if you have one of those, if not, there’s another tool for consideration). There are lots of great online polling tools you can use, like Survey Monkey and Poll Everywhere, which offer free 30-day trials.
The third option is to host some informal focus groups to gather anecdotal feedback. To drive participation, schedule them during lunch and market them as “brown bag” sessions. One word of caution, you’ll need to be very clear that the topic is communications; otherwise it may devolve into 60 minutes of complaints about anything but communications.
Armed with the data you have gathered, you can now gather your team to discuss the findings and make informed decisions about what you can do differently and/or better in 2020…including measuring all your communications programs on a monthly basis.
About the Author
Susan C. Rink is president and owner of Rink Strategic Communications, LLC, which helps their clients talk to and listen to their employees during times of change. Her clients range from global technology, retail, manufacturing and hospitality companies to professional associations and non-profit “think tanks.”
Prior to forming Rink Strategic Communications in 2007, Susan spent more than two decades in employee communication leadership positions with Nextel Communications and Marriott International. A long-time resident of the Washington, DC, area and former chair of PRSA-NCC’s Independent PR Alliance, Susan recently relocated to South Carolina where she is learning to drive faster, speak slower and cook really good grits.