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Measuring communication effectiveness

Michelle Hicks WEBIt’s often tough for communicators to demonstrate their value to an organization, because a lot of us do not understand how to measure the effectiveness of our work and, ironically, communicate it to the top brass. For example, the cause and effect of a particular publication can be difficult to single out if several other efforts are happening at the same time. But measurement is possible with some discipline before a project begins and after it is completed.

Award-winning business communicator Ann Wylie says an alternative to proving cause and effect is to demonstrate a correlation between our efforts and the company’s success by establishing that communication was received, believed and acted upon.

There are several ways to quantify a communication effort. One is to establish clear goals at the beginning of the project: “Active participation in Open Enrollment will increase by 30 percent.” Alternately, you could conduct a content analysis. Wylie recommends using a matrix to determine the percentage of your publication’s content devoted to a particular message in order to get to quantitative data about the number of times the message was created and delivered.

However, we all know it doesn’t matter how many times we send the message. If it wasn’t read and received by our intended audience, it didn’t hit the mark. There are several ways to test if the audience read and, most importantly, understood the message. Questionnaires or pulse surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one interviews can provide this data. Developing the right questions is where the process can be tricky.

Often, effectiveness tests might ask, “How much of the publication did you read?” They are general, and they rely on subjective answers by the people being surveyed. Even the most dedicated reader of the Wall Street Journal would have a difficult time honestly answering what “percentage” of that publication she reads every morning.

Instead, questions should focus on specific, message-related questions to determine if the message was sticky and stayed with a reader. For example, to measure communication regarding performance review deadlines, your question could be, “Your self-assessment must be returned to your supervisor by: a) Aug. 31, b) Sept. 15 or c) Sept. 31.

Next, you need to determine if the communication was believed. Assuming the communication was created, distributed and read, measuring the attitude of readers helps you understand if they believed what they took in. This is best measured by doing an attitude evaluation prior to the communication effort and then after to see if your messages helped clarify understanding and shift attitudes about a subject. For example, ask a question like, “What is your opinion of the company’s new performance management process?” Comparing the attitudes of readers before and after your messaging effort can demonstrate a shift in attitude and how significant the shift was.

Finally, changing attitudes is helpful, but changing behavior is the true objective of any business communication whether you’re marketing new products to customers or a new PPO network to employees and their spouses. So, going back to the performance management deadline example, one way to validate behavior change is to measure the number of employees who entered their self-assessment by the deadline. This helps to show if the business enjoyed success as a result of your effort.

Measuring and reporting on your effectiveness helps you speak the language of management. It enhances your credibility among your peers and, even better, provides valuable insight to you about how to do your job better. Most importantly, however, when you can define your objectives, deliver on your efforts, and measure their value to the business, you are helping your organization succeed, which is the reason communicators and everyone else is employed by your company in the first place.


Michelle Hicks, a senior professional in human resources, is a director in the communication practice of Buck Consultants, a Xerox company.

About Michelle Hicks