Communication Is Just As Much A Part Of The Business System As Production And Sales, And It Is Also Just As Accountable To The Bottom Line.
By Thomas J. Roach
Back in the days of pencils and pica sticks, many public relations practitioners felt that what they did for their companies was intangible. They kept people informed and generated goodwill. Their success was measured by how many martinis they had time for at lunch.
Today we understand that communication is just as much a part of the business system as production and sales, and it is also just as accountable to the bottom line. It is true that knowledge and goodwill are not part of the physical environment, but they impact the physical environment and that impact can be measured. Internal communication is directed at employees. Employees provide labor, effort, decision-making, and a degree of consistency for a company. Communication resources spent to create a friendly, supportive environment should show results in fewer sick days.
Communication initiatives to involve employees in decision making should result in higher motivation, which can be measured in production rates. Resources spent informing and training employees should improve decision making and therefore measurably reduce downtime caused by unanticipated problems. And a comprehensive employee communication program should have an overall impact on quality.
External communication is about building consensus. Successful public affairs coordinators avoid public shouting matches with neighbors of the quarry, engage the cooperation of city and county officials, and carry the support of legislators – all measurable activities.
Business communication expends resources, and it can and should be held accountable to the same scrutiny as any other arm of the business. Whether a company has a communication department or individual exempt employees managing pieces of the communication network, every job can have specific goals that are measurable by key indicators.
The easiest way to manage the measurement part of communication is to put the people in charge of communicating in charge of collecting the feedback. When progress reports or end of the year reports are written, they should have statements and measurements that address impact.
Of course, cause and effect statements are problematic for communication. Communication deals with probabilities, not with absolutes. If a safety training program looks at work injuries before, during and after the training sessions, then it might be able to report a reduction in injuries. This does not mean absolutely that the training reduced injuries; instead it provides a reasonable indication of the worth of the training program.
For internal communication, key indicators might include turnover, sick days, downtime, injuries, and a variety of production measurements. External communication can be measured by the number of column inches of positive, neutral, and negative newspaper copy, the quantity of positive and negative letters received, the number of community members attending open houses and other company sponsored community events, the average length of time it takes to get approval from zoning commissions, and the time logged lobbying legislators.
The shift to an accountable communication program may require listing all communication objectives and making specific members of the organization accountable for each of them. Each communication operative then identifies key indicators and tracks them. When reports are made, they include the key indicator data.
Ultimately communication is about culture. The ideal company has employees who like their jobs, and it fits into a community that recognizes and appreciates its contributions to the economy and the environment. The goal is to achieve esprit de corps, and yes, esprit de corps is as intangible as it sounds. However, the ways we achieve esprit de corps are not. It is developed one communication process at a time, and everything about individual communication processes is measurable.