After some 32 years of measuring communications efforts, I can definitively declare that the three most frequent words I’ve heard are “show my value.”
They are frequently preceded by “help me” “need to” “can’t” and “how to.”
Whether you work for a giant conglomerate, a tiny nonprofit or a government agency, showing value is at the core of most communicators’ pain. At some point, everyone needs to somehow explain to senior management their contribution to the organization and to, hopefully, shed light on the best ways to communicate your value to senior leaderships.
Before we even get to practical tips, we need to dive into the underlying drivers behind those three words, so let’s start by unpacking the reasons behind the need.
Too many comms pros, as well as their bosses, see measurement as a binary construct: A campaign either wins or loses. In your performance review, you either show value or you don’t. And the downside of failure is much worse than the upside of success.
If we design measurement to yield yes-or-no results, then we design situations that create a fear of failure: You win and get a raise, or you fail and get passed over for the job you really want. At best, we present ourselves with three possible results: little green, yellow, and red lights. Red means, “I’m doomed,” green means, “I can go on vacation,” and yellow means, “Back to the grindstone.”
The problem is that most of those dashboards never teach us how to change those colors.
Chances are good that most every other department in your organization is using some sort of data to drive efficiency and improvement. They look at data as a learning source to determine what it will take to make their department or organization successful—however they’re defining success. So if you’re not there presenting data, you’re left out of those important conversations.
Thus a good measurement report like the one below doesn’t pass judgement on failure or success; it shows you how to turn all those red and yellow lights to green. The example below ranks various communications efforts according to the agreed-upon goal, (in this example, it’s engagement) and then factors in the resources required, so you can see which were effective (the programs that generated high engagement for relatively low cost) and those that may offer an opportunity to increase efficiency.
So the first step to greater communications success is to jettison the binary mentality and adopt a comparative perspective so you’re examining which efforts succeeded the most for the least amount of resources spent.
Then follow these four steps to “communicating up”:
- Speak the same language.
The first thing you need to do is making sure you’re speaking the same language as your boss, your boss’s boss and your boss’s boss’s boss. Schedule a meeting with anyone who needs to see your results, and get consensus on what “value” means to them. But it’s not just about definitions. You need to make sure that whatever is keeping them up at night is the same thing that’s you’re addressing in your research. Get inside their head as much as you can to understand what data they need to have in order to make better decisions.
- Understand what decisions need to made.
Communicating your results to management isn’t the end goal; it’s part of the process. At the end of the process should be a clear strategy for improvement, so make sure you get clarity around what decisions need to be made from your data. Do you need evidence that a program needs more resources? Or fewer? Do you need to convince someone that they’re wasting money? The answers will determine the nature of the data you need and how you use it.
- Cut out the blah-blah-blah…
Sugarcoating results is not appreciated in boardrooms. If there’s a problem that is costing you money, resources, reputation or trust, it needs to be fixed quickly. PR people are famous for presenting the proverbial half-full glass as one that is practically overflowing. That never works in boardrooms. Too many people can pick your arguments apart. So remember that the data is the data, and you learn more from failure than you ever do from success.
- Keep the stakeholders top of mind.
The one way to win an argument with senior leadership and get egos off the table is to pull the “stakeholder card.” Frame your results and your recommendations from the perspective of the target audiences, and be clear about how you contribute to the process that gets stakeholders to act in the desired way.