Friday, September 02, 2005

Tell me what I want to hear

The CIB Freelance Forum nearly got into an interesting debate this week - unfortunately it fizzled after just half a dozen posts.

A member had been asked to put together a newsletter survey questionnaire and was wondering if there was a standard document for this kind of exercise. She was swiftly flamed from several quarters - the flamers, me included, questioning the value of this kind of survey.

Two or three times a year I'm asked to audit internal media and the conversation often goes something like this:

Client: We'd like to survey readers of our publication.

Me: Why?

C: We want to know what they think of it.

M: Does it matter?

C: Err, yes. We spend £100,000 each year with an agency and have a dedicated member of staff working full time on the publication. So we want to be sure that our readers like it. And if they don't like it, we need to take their criticism into account and act on it.

M: So what do you want to ask them?

C: Oh the usual. We want to know if they read it; how long they spend reading it; what they particularly look for; their views on the design and the readability of the content.

M: These are people who have no choice in whether they receive the publication or not. It's like pay and benefits: part of the package. If they all come back and say they hate the publication and never read it, what would you do?

C: We'd have to obviously make changes; look for another supplier and perhaps even change our approach to having a magazine.

M: But do you really expect your readers to say such things?

C: No, they're normally quite happy with what they get - we get high ratings which really helps when it comes to entering awards and so forth.

M: So actually, the survey is more about justifying a full-time role and a spend of £100K.

C: Oh, I wouldn't say that. We're a well respected team and confident that our comms strategy is delivering real results to the business.

M: So you don't really need a publication survey then?

C: I suppose not. Thanks, bye.

Most probably then go off and find another agency who'll do what they want. But a few call back and we get into a much more interesting and mutually beneficial conversation. That's around how best they can use the communication tools at their disposal to improve employee engagement.

Instead of worrying about design or typeface or how well-written the pieces are, the conversation moves to what information needs to be shared in an organisation to motivate the best people to stay longest. That's what employee engagement is all about: keeping the people you need for as long as you can.

If I'm an employee, I'll stay if there's a reason for me to get up and come to work. If I have the tools I need to do my job; I understandnd what's expected from me, see how that fits into the overall direction of my business - and if I feel my contribution is valued, I'll not only stay, but will probably become an ambassador for my business. But if any of those factors fail, I'll start looking elsewhere - or at least gripe about my employer when I'm down the pub on a Friday night.

And clearly, effective communication across an organisation can have a huge influence on my engagement. But it's affected by much more than the company happy sheet. My communication with my boss; the believability of senior leadership and the information I have at hand are probably all far more important to me than the set-piece tools constructed at the centre.

Corporate communications cannot manage the communication agenda across an organisation and it's vital that today's communicators rise above the print and the keyboard to understand what's really important to colleagues in the business. Find the drivers that attract and retain people within your business - there are many sophisticated survey tools that can help that work. Once you know the drivers, you can use all the tools at your disposal to influence them - and it's this influence that should be measured, in the context of the business plan and company performance.

Don't ask people: do you like my magazine? Ask them what they need to know to do a fantastic job in the organisation - and then provide the right tools, based on the needs of the organisation, team and individual to share that knowledge.

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