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COMMUNICATION STRATEGY The concept of Communication strategy (cs) is based on the assumption that corporate communication/ public relations/ communication management is practised as a strategic management function; that it assists the organisation to adapt to its environment by achieving a balance between commercial imperatives and socially acceptable behaviour; that it identifies and manages issues and stakeholders to ensure that organisational and communication goals are aligned to societal and stakeholder values and norms; and that it builds relationships through communication with those on whom the organisation depends to meet its economic and socio-political goals. Communication strategy is conceptualised as a functional strategy, providing focus and direction to the Communication function. It is facilitated by a practitioner performing the role of the communication manager at the functional organisational level. It is the outcome of a strategic thinking process by senior communication practitioners and top managers, taking strategic decisions on the management of, and the communication with, strategic stakeholders. Developing Communication strategy makes the Communication function relevant in the strategic management process by providing the link between the organisation‟s strategic goals and its communication plans. The Communication strategy development process can be summarised as including both the formulation of communication goals in the Communication function‟s „deliberate‟ strategy development (typically as part of the budgeting cycle, for example once a year), as well as the ongoing formulation of communication goals as part of „emergent‟ strategy development (the latter resulting from environmental scanning and issues management). The Communication strategy formulation process consists of several steps: Step 1: Develop 'deliberate' communication goals. The organisation's key (strategic) priorities are reviewed, culminating in a series of communication goals and themes aligned to these priorities, representing 'deliberate' Communication strategy. The communication goals focus on closing the vision – culture – reputation gaps, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the Communication function. Step 2: Set efficiency targets. These are set to supplement communication goals, thereby increasing the efficiency of the Communication function. Step 3: Develop 'emergent' communication goals. Constantly emerging societal and stakeholder issues that are identified in the organisation‟s issues and stakeholder management process are addressed in a series of communication goals and themes that represent 'emergent' Communication strategy. The communication goals focus on closing the vision – culture – reputation gaps, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the Communication function. Step 4: Develop a communication framework. Strategy development is transformed into strategy implementation by means of the communication framework. The latter provides an opportunity to indicate which communication plans will be developed around each of the goals. Step 5: Set communication budgets. The communication framework is resourced by deploying a budget. Step 6: Set evaluation methodology. The measurement of delivery on communication goals and efficiency targets are planned here. Step 7: Generate communication plans. Properties defined in the Communication strategy for each of the intended Communication plans (e.g. descriptions, communication goals, planning horizons, and responsible people) will feed automatically through to the new Communication plans. DEVELOP 'DELIBERATE' COMMUNICATION GOALS In Step 1, the organisation's key (strategic) priorities are reviewed and a series of communication goals and themes determined that are aligned to these priorities. This represents the development of 'deliberate' Communication strategy. Review the organisation’s key (strategic) priorities As a point of departure, you must review the organisation‟s key (strategic) priorities. Most organisations have an annual strategy development process linked to its budgeting cycle. Differing from organisation to organisation, the result of this process is called corporate strategy, enterprise strategy, business objectives or strategic intent from which the key strategic priorities of the organisation for a specific period can be deducted. These strategic priorities (also called strategic goals) serve as the umbrella under which the rest of the organisation‟s functional strategies belong. Develop communication goals and themes Based on the key (strategic) priorities, you are to develop a series of communication goals (and themes) outlining the deliberate strategy of the Communication function. These communication goals will provide the Communication function with a sense of purposeful direction, ensuring that it focuses its resources on doing the right things. Communication goal-setting is the most important step in linking Communication strategy to higher-level strategic priorities. A communication goal is the destination an organisation wants to reach through its communication with regards to strategic priorities and their implications for stakeholders. It provides the link with lower-level communication plans that are developed to implement these goals. Communication themes are also developed as broad messages that the organisation wants to communicate about specific strategic priorities. Often, organisations refer to themes as position statements. Well-formulated communication goals and communication themes are central to communication strategy development and should focus on closing the vision – culture – reputation gaps that exist between organisations and their internal and external stakeholders. Close gaps to realise the organisation’s strategic priorities Deliberate (and emergent) communication strategies, no matter in which industry or context, usually have one aspect in common namely the need to address the vision – culture - reputation gaps that exist in modern organisations. Understanding the core business of communication management in this context makes it much easier to identify the function‟s role in working with the rest of the organisation towards a desired future (the so-called strategic intent). From the vision – culture – reputation gaps, issues arise that need to be dealt with appropriately. The way in which an issue will be addressed, depends on the nature of the issue. Not all issues can be solved by communication alone. It is therefore important to classify issues that arise from these gaps in order to direct one‟s communication. There are five issue types: Organisational issues Type 1. Communication is not the cause of the problem, but can provide a solution (e.g. organisational change such as transformation or a merger). Organisational issues Type 2. Communication is not the cause of the problem, cannot provide a solution but can explain the issue (e.g. budget cuts or new legislation). Corporate communication issues. Where too little or no communication with external stakeholders is the problem (e.g. with the media in case of negative publicity; or with investors in case of a volatile share price). Management communication issues. Where too little or no (internal) communication between managers and employees is the cause of the problem (e.g. communication about the organisation‟s vision or staff reductions). (Tactical) communication issues. Where messages are not reaching target audiences (e.g. because of inappropriate communication channels such as television to reach a rural population; or email to reach factory workers; or difficult and technical language used to reach people who are communicating in their second language). The Communication Function‟s strategic mandate is to support the CEO in achieving the organisation‟s strategic priorities through its core competence of corporate brand or reputation management. Effectively managing the organisation‟s reputation and/or brand requires perfect alignment of the organisation‟s vision (the leadership‟s aspirations for the future of the organisation, which is much more than a one-line slogan -- it is the story that clearly paints the picture of the organisation‟s desired future); culture (the way in which the organisation presents itself through the behaviour of its employees); and reputation (the collective perception of the organisation among its key stakeholders, built over time). In striving for the perfect balance between these three elements, the job of the Communication function is to close the gaps that may exist between them. There are potentially three different gaps that need to be closed: 1. The vision-culture gap develops when the leadership moves the organisation in a strategic direction not understood by employees (a management communication issue) or not supported by employees. (In a worst case scenario, the latter is an organisational issue Type 2 where communication cannot provide a solution, but can be used to explain the issue. In a best case scenario, this is an organisational issue Type 1 where communication proves successful in obtaining the support). 2. The reputation-culture gap is caused by a misalignment between the organisation‟s reputation and culture. It usually means an organisation does not practise what it preaches and, therefore, inevitably leads to confusion about what the organisation stands for. (This is an organisational issue Type 1, where communication in the form of perception surveys amongst stakeholders will bring the confusion and its cause to light. This is also a management communication issue in bringing to employees/managers‟ attention the importance of „walking the talk‟. This can also be a corporate communication issue when external stakeholders do not understand the vision because of insufficient communication from management.) 3. The reputation-vision gap is the result of conflict between what the leadership of the organisation sees as its future and key stakeholders‟ perceptions/expectations of the organisation. (This is a corporate communication issue when stakeholders have the wrong perception of where the organisation is going because of insufficient communication by management to them. It is however an organisational issue Type 1 when stakeholder expectations of where the organisation should be going are in conflict with where the leadership thinks it should be going. In this case communication can be used to provide a solution by bringing the societal or stakeholder perspective to management in order that organisational strategies can be adjusted). From the above it is evident that the Communication strategy is much more than one-way communication from the organisation to its internal and external stakeholders to communicate the organisation’s desired future and its strategic priorities. Rather, it is two-way communication to create mutual agreement and understanding of the organisation‟s desired future and its strategic priorities. When employees (internal stakeholders) have a clear understanding of the vision and strategic priorities of the organisation and they know what behaviour is expected of them in order to achieve it, they are likely to behave accordingly (closing the vision-culture gap). When the relevant external stakeholders understand exactly where the leadership of the organisation is taking it (vision) and what it will focus on to get there (strategic priorities), and as they see its employees behaving in a manner congruent with their understanding of where the organisation is heading (closing the reputation-culture gap), they are likely to experience the organisation more positively (closing the vision-reputation gap). The challenge in the development of Communication strategy is to gain insight regarding the relation between the organisation‟s strategic priorities and its internal and external stakeholders‟ agendas, needs and wants. Obtaining this insight will enable you to define the unique contribution of the Communication function resulting in three to five key priorities for the Communication function. View an example of key priorities. Close the vision-culture gap In order to develop strategies to close this gap, the Corporate Communication strategist, as a starting point, has to have a clear understanding of the organisation‟s strategic intent and priorities. Merely repeating to employees the words used to capture the leadership‟s thinking in the corporate strategy document is not enough. The idea is to delve deeper and to unpack the underlying intent of the vision and each of the strategic goals (sometimes called business plan objectives or a variety of other terms) so that employees can truly understand and therefore support it. Another step towards closing this gap is to define enterprise values that are in support of the vision and strategic goals and to develop a Code of Conduct that captures the desired behaviours for living those values. The communication strategy will seek to create maximum understanding and enterprise-wide buy-in for the values and behaviours. Close the vision-reputation gap The primary focus of the communication strategy in closing this gap is effective stakeholder relationship management. To perform this function effectively, the Communication strategist needs to be involved in the formulation of the vision (organisation‟s strategic intent) and strategic priorities as these have to be informed by insights on stakeholder needs, expectations and perceptions. Once the organisation‟s strategy is developed and the vision and strategic goals are clearly articulated (or implicitly understood), it becomes a function of the communication strategy to identify the most relevant stakeholders, not only for the organisation as a whole, but more importantly for each of the strategic goals. The communication strategy then has to specify the ways in which the relationship with each of those stakeholders will be managed to ensure common understanding among stakeholders and the organisation of where it is heading and what it will focus on to get there. It is part of the communication strategy development phase to specify the measurement tools that will be employed to determine and track stakeholder perceptions, thereby determining the size and nature of the gap that still needs to be closed. Close the reputation-culture gap This becomes almost a natural consequence of the success achieved in closing the other two gaps. When employees behave in a way that is congruent with the organisation‟s vision and strategic goals (closing the vision-culture gap) and the organisation and its key stakeholders have a commonly shared view and understanding of the vision and strategic goals (closing the vision-reputation gap), there should be no gap between what the stakeholders expect of the organisation and how they experience the behaviour of its employees. SET EFFICIENCY TARGETS An industry under fire In Public Relations and Communication Management, strong emphasis has been placed on the effectiveness of progammes, plans and campaigns, and with very good reason. At the end of the day, what matters most are the results achieved. In spite of attempts to move from a cost to profit centre in the 1990s, more than 85% of all Communication functions are operating as cost centres, suggesting an assigned budget to be spent in line with a given mandate from the top, with or without the potential to realise income. Some Communication functions operate as in-house agencies supplying communication products and services at a charge to other units of the organisation. Others are managed purely as support functions without any expectation to generate income. Whatever the case may be, the reality of being held accountable for how the organisation‟s resources are spent – the accumulated costs - is undeniably wide-spread and prevalent not only in private organisations, but also in the public services sector. In an era of downsizing characterised by the quest for enhanced efficiencies, communication functions are not escaping the demand to 'do more with less'. Even worse, there seem to be an embedded understanding that cost centres are fair targets of reduction and elimination if the going gets rough. Responding to the pressure, the Communication industry has reacted mainly in three ways: 1. A renewed focus on effectiveness – understanding what should be achieved by communication products, programmes, campaigns etc. 2. A search for proving the illusive ROI case – substantiating the overall value of managed communication in terms of the value created for the organisation 3. A closer look at the management of operations – managing time, quality and cost in line with the quest for enhanced efficiency Step 1 and 3 of the Communication strategy are concerned with developing communication goals in a manner that will facilitate the effectiveness of the communication function. This is done through alignment with the organisation‟s strategic goals as well as issues and stakeholders in the environment. Step 2 places the spotlight on the way in which the function manages its operations and offers the user an opportunity to supplement the set communication goals with efficiency targets. Step 4 offers the communication framework as a catalytic mechanism to transform strategy development into strategy implementation. Step 5 resources the implementation by deploying a budget. Step 6 leads into the building of a ROI case, by ensuring that what could have been „big, hairy, audacious goals‟ and vastly general efficiency targets are specific enough to be measured. Operational Excellence For a period in the late twentieth century, many scholars and companies believed that managing operations was the most critical component of any organisation‟s strategy. Inspired by the remarkable results achieved by Japanese companies, most organisations and their consultants placed a high priority on redesigning, reengineering, and continuously improving their processes. Company‟s efforts to achieve operational excellence were largely successful. Many enjoyed dramatic improvements in the quality, cost and responsiveness of manufacturing and service delivery processes. But there were also huge sacrifices made, and several healthy business practices became casualties of this development. As with every development in business, criticism mounted and through the pen of the gurus the pendulum have since swung from evolution to revolution, from process to people, from step-wise improvement to shifts in performance, and from operational excellence to sustainable strategy. Wisdom gained from the above, is never to pursue efficiency at all cost. Yet, managing operations as a priority is as critical as it was 5 or 10 years ago. Without excellent operations, organisations find it difficult to execute any strategy. In the final analysis the ultimate challenge lies in a combination of Key Strategic Priorities (do the right things) and Operational Excellence (do things right). Driving efficiency in Communication Management Very little has been done in terms of unpacking efficiency for Corporate Communication, which in part explains why efficiency measures have been disregarded for so long. However, taking a few sheets from the general management book, it seems that setting efficiency targets – like setting goals and objectives – vary depending on the level of planning. More specifically applied to Communication Management, the nature of efficiency targets set in the communication strategy, communication plan and communication activity will change. The focus in the Communication Strategy will be placed on strategic management (e.g. strategic alignment, meta-planning, financial /resource allocation, continues learning and improvement, and information system deployment); View an example of efficiency targets the emphasis in the Communication plan will be on project management (utilisation of resources, supplier management, client satisfaction), and in planning Communication activities it will be inputs and throughputs that count (e.g. process quality, task time, cycle time, activity cost). Planning for operational excellence should therefore happen on every level of planning. The question to ask is how we can improve the utilisation of our scarce resources in bringing about the desired results (achieving our goals, objectives and deliverables). Often this boils down to cost reduction or process improvement. When setting efficiency targets it is important to consider the typical measures to be used in determining success. In order to stimulate thinking and demonstrate the intention with efficiency target setting, a list of targets and measures taken from Robert Kaplan and David Norton‟s Strategy Maps were adapted for the Communication function. Efficiency target Method Become the industry cost Cost per unit (e.g. staff newsletter), benchmarked against leader competitors Percentage of annual reduction in cost per output Percentage of cost budget variance Develop capacity Percentage of employees trained in the five core competencies Number or percentage of employees qualified with professional status Percentage of employees with knowledge and training in the core competencies identified for the team Instil a culture of continuous Employee survey on culture for continuous improvement and improvement knowledge sharing Number of new process improvement ideas generated Percent of employees process improvement suggestions adopted Number of ideas for quality and process improvement shared across multiple business units Performance improvement from employee suggestions and actions (cost savings, process time reductions). Achieve just-in-time supplier Lead time from request to supplier to receipt of product / capability service On-time delivery percentage Percentage of transgression on delivery timelines Use new ideas from suppliers Number of innovations from suppliers Achieve supplier partnership Number of suppliers providing communication services directly to internal customers Lower the cost of producing Activity-based cost per communication product communication products Cost per unit of output (printed newsletter) Continuously improve Number of processes with substantial improvements processes Number of inefficient or non-value added processes eliminated Improve process Cycle time (from start of production to product completed) responsiveness Deliver responsively to Lead times, from request to delivery, per proposal internal customers (other On-time delivery percentage business units) Increase account share with Percent of growth in existing customers‟ business internal customers (other business units) DEVELOP 'EMERGENT' COMMUNICATION GOALS In Step 3, constantly emerging societal and stakeholder issues that are identified in the organisation's issues and stakeholder management process are addressed in a series of communication goals and themes that represent 'emergent' Communication strategy. Issues and stakeholder management For the Communication function, the process of formulating emergent (also called emerging) strategy is a continuous process of detecting, identifying, interpreting and monitoring issues in order to pre-empt the implications of these issues on the organisation‟s stakeholders, its policies and its strategies. The outcome of regular, structured and systematic analysis of the environment is an Issues Map. This Issues Map results from the prioritisation of issues based on consequences for stakeholders. View an Issues Map. For each of the issues, taking into consideration the issue analysed and the stakeholders impacted, communication goals and themes are to be developed in order to cope with a problem/opportunity inherent to the issue. The formulation of a set of communication goals and themes in emergent strategy formulation is similar to the process followed with deliberate strategy formulation in Step 1. For example, an organisation may decide to focus on its human capital as a highly valued resource by consistently communicating to employees that they are the organisation‟s competitive edge -- not an issue, but rather a communication opportunity for the leadership. This is an intended (deliberate) strategy with a related communication programme to achieve this strategic goal. However, through a culture and climate study, the organisation may realise that the trust gap between management and employees has actually widened instead of closed. As a result, the organisation may turn its attention to unaddressed underlying issues (e.g. perceived inequality and preferential treatment) important to employees, instead of the constant feed of “feel good messages” (the so called Company speak). This becomes an emergent strategy, dealing with a detected issue arising from the internal environment. Organisations must be alert to recognise advantageous emergent strategies, and flexible to accept them. Otherwise, an ineffective intended strategy may not bring the desired results, and a beneficial emergent strategy will not be allowed to thrive. Analyse the environment Without a research orientation, communication practitioners cannot play a part in Issues or Risk Management and therefore in the formulation of emergent strategy. There are two types of research in communication: environmental scanning, which provides information needed for strategy formulation; and evaluation research, which assesses the achievement of communication objectives. In practice, the focus is on the latter. However, it is by conducting environmental scanning and analysis that the Communication function will make its biggest contribution to strategy formulation at the Board and top management level. The credibility and impact of the Communication function in the strategic management process is increased by continuous scanning of the internal and external environment. This may entail the following: Conducting advanced media analysis at regular intervals, to understand the agenda and behavioural patterns of key decision-makers (editors and journalists) and publications (electronic and print) in the mass media. Engaging in rigorous monitoring of relevant government decision-makers on all identified issues. Conducting opinion audits (formal or informal surveys) amongst strategic stakeholders, influencers and opinion leaders to determine their opinions on identified issues. Creating channels to track the opinions of stakeholders on these issues over time. Identifying any (all) interest groups or activists that campaign for, or against, or have a vested interest in any of the identified issues. Issue analysis Resulting from environmental scanning, analysis of an issue consists of: Showing insight into the main problem and/or opportunity inherent to the issue (e.g. How does this issue affect the organisation now, or will it impact on the organisation in future?). Understanding the issue in the context of its life cycle development in order to indicate its status (the Traffic Light Status tool may be used to indicate status). An honest assessment of the type of issue/ risk we‟re dealing with, as not all identified issues can be solved solely through communication interventions (the Issue Typology tool of Steyn & Puth, 2000 is often used to manage expectations upfront and lay the foundation for realistic goals and objectives to follow). View an example of Issues Analysis. Stakeholder assessment If environmental scanning is a starting point for the formulation of emergent strategy, then stakeholder assessment is its control focus. The first step in setting communication goals and themes is to identify the relevant stakeholders to an issue. Any issue without an affected stakeholder group is really not an issue at all. The motivation to constantly analyse the internal and external environments of an organisation lies in tracking stakeholder reactions to current issues and detecting new issues. Intelligence gained from environmental scanning may entail: The opinions, knowledge and expectations of both internal and external stakeholders such as employees, communities, and customers. The agenda of the media as gatekeepers and advocates of particular viewpoints. The agendas of interest groups and activists, who directly seek to influence public policy. The government‟s position. In linking issues to stakeholders, there are four important elements to consider: The implications of an issue on a stakeholder group and the likely behaviour of the stakeholder group as a result. (What are the implications on stakeholder X? What is the likely behaviour of stakeholder X? Possible actions they may take?). The degree to which a stakeholder is already aware of the existence of an issue (usually rated on a 5-point Likert scale). The extent to which the organisation is vulnerable to the likely stakeholder reaction (usually rated on a 5-point Likert scale). It is important to determine the amount of power a stakeholder group has in relation to a specific issue. The amount of power depends on the organisation‟s dependency on that stakeholder group as well as the access that the group has to political processes and to the mass media. The relative strategic importance of the stakeholder to the organisation. (Is the stakeholder labelled as a primary or secondary stakeholder?) View an example of Stakeholder Interpretation. Stakeholder relationships There are four approaches in dealing with stakeholders: Approach 1 - Inactivity: The first approach, inactivity, involves ignoring the opinions and values of stakeholder groups and continuing “business as usual”. For instance, this would be the case when a company starts receiving complaints from customers about defective tyres that they are manufacturing. The company however decides to ignore the complaints and continues selling the tyres. Approach 2 - Reactivity: The second approach, reactivity, involves waiting for something to occur (usually stimulated by a stakeholder group) and responding to that. Continuing the example: After a series of accidents and the loss of lives the Government (Dept. of Transport) commissions an inquiry. Only now does the organisation withdraw its tyres from the market. Approach 3 – Pro-activity: The third approach, pro-activity, is anticipatory. It involves trying to predict the behaviour of stakeholder groups, the external changes that may occur and positioning the organisation appropriately. In the above example, if the organisation had been in touch with its customers or dealers through research, they could have investigated the matter before it became public knowledge. This could have resulted in fixing the problem or recalling the tyres. However, government intervention led to a loss of credibility and reputation. Approach 4 – Interactivity: The fourth approach in dealing with stakeholders is the interactive mode that entails active involvement with the stakeholder groups that can influence the future of the organisation. If the organisation had good two-way communication with their stakeholders, they would have identified the problem in its early stages. Even more effective would have been to follow a partnership approach with stakeholders. Partnering would have involved the affected customers, dealers or government in the problem-solving and decision-making processes of the company with regards to the defective tyres. A partnering approach could have strengthened relationships with stakeholders, rather than antagonising them. SET COMMUNICATION FRAMEWORK During the formulation of deliberate and emergent strategy in Steps 1 and 3, only broad communication goals are set, indicating the desired future outcome (mini vision) for communication interventions. In this step in the Communication Strategy (Step 4) an opportunity is provided to indicate which communication plans will be developed around each of the goals. This framework for all the communication plans visibly demonstrates the link to strategy while at the same time enables budgeting. It is the point of departure for the communication planning phase to be discussed in the next plan type: Communication Plan (CP). View an example of a Communication Framework. SET COMMUNICATION BUDGETS SET EVALUATION METHODOLOGY Measuring the value of Communication Management In September 2004, in what has been labelled as “the largest and most comprehensive survey of the PR profession ever attempted” (Benchpoint Intelligent Measurement, 2004), 69% of 1040 respondents from 25 countries said they measure the effectiveness of what they do. 77% of those who do not currently engage in any form of measurement stated they plan to do so in future. Those spearheading the move towards increased measurement were no other than the Board of Directors and CEOs of the surveyed companies. In the same study, 88% of all respondents said they would be interested in the development of a Return-on-Investment (ROI) tool. The possibility to substantiate the value of communication with numbers is a compelling thought for practitioners. In both the USA and Europe much has been published on the elusive ROI case for public relations and communication management. The common thread that runs through discussions on measurement and evaluation appears to be the question of accountability. Well-managed organisations that are accountable to their shareholders, members or taxpayers, view expenditure on Communication, Marketing and Human Resources as an investment. As such, these functions should yield a ROI. From the perspective of senior management and shareholders, the most desired and attractive form of ROI has always been a direct monetary return demonstrated in increased sales, share price, market share or increased membership, sponsorship, funding and other financial criteria. Given these criteria, some management disciplines such as the Communication function preferred to think about themselves as “intangible” and therefore, not subject to ROI expectations. However, mounting pressure for increased accountability and the robust shift towards triple bottom line performance not only introduced new forms of ROI measurement, but extended the ROI criteria beyond the financial bottom line. Systems such as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or Key Results Areas (KRAs), Benchmarking and Balanced Score Cards used widely by organisations, are no longer concerned with financial results only. Sound social and environmental performance is becoming prerequisites to obtain and maintain a „licence to operate‟. Intangible assets of organisations such as intellectual capital, customer satisfaction and loyalty, corporate reputation, positive stakeholder relations, employee satisfaction and loyalty, and corporate culture are now estimated to account for 70% of an organisation‟s worth. For some companies, the estimation is even higher. The current concept of bottom-line, a 15th century method of accounting for an organisation‟s tangible assets (land, buildings machinery, raw materials, an inventory of finished products, capital etc.) cannot recognise intangible assets or, for that matter, the contribution of any function towards intangible assets. If growth and prosperity in present-day business no longer depend on financial performance alone, and if value creation in the new economy is fuelled less by physical or tangible assets and more by intangible assets, then clearly delivery on Reputation Risk Management, Corporate Social Responsibility and Stakeholder Relationship Management resides within the core of this „new ROI criteria‟. This argument does not only make the evaluation of a Communication Function possible, it puts building a ROI case through the systematic accumulation of measurement results well within the reach of users of this software system. The comPro Performance Measurement System Borrowing from thought leaders on communication measurement and evaluation, a performance measurement system has been developed consisting of a generic framework for evaluation that can be customised for an organisation‟s strategic intent, own context or specific organisational needs. The system asks of the user to choose from a list of metrics and methods to evaluate (1) effectiveness and (2) efficiency on three levels: Level 1: Evaluating communication activities, products and events (against pre-specified deliverables). Level 2: Evaluating communication plans, programmes and campaigns (against objectives). Level 3: Evaluation the communication strategy (against goals). The primary aim of the performance measurement management system is continuous improvement and organisational learning through constant feedback. Involvement of all practitioners is important and therefore the system is designed to be accessible, transparent and easy to understand and use. There are three critical principles: Principle 1: Evaluation is not research Some of the main reasons offered for the lack of communication evaluation are „lack of research budget‟, „lack of time to do research’ and „lacking research skills‟ suggesting some kind of confusion between research and evaluation. Evaluation does not equate formal research. There are many evaluation techniques such as self-assessment, peer group ratings and one-on-one client or management feedback that can fairly, and easily, be applied without any formal research. While the importance of formal, structured research is not to be debated, it is not evaluation per se. If measurement and evaluation can only take place when research is possible, ROI will forever be elusive. Research is a strategic tool that feeds into planning, implementation and evaluation and a valid and reliable tool it can indeed be. Measurement and evaluation on the other hand is a management process, not a once-off or bi-annual project. In the absence of a research budget or time, measurement and evaluation should still carry on. Principle 2: Evaluation is an ongoing, systematic process By evaluating activities, plans and strategies in a continuous, integrated and systematic process, and by using a range of formal and informal methods, evaluation can be more strategic and valuable to management. Instead of attempting one large research project when money and time is available, „lots of little bits of evaluation‟ make the process more valuable, manageable and cost effective. Principle 3: Evaluation is a forward looking activity The reason we systematically measure everything boils down to reducing uncertainties, improving effectiveness, and enhancing decisions. The purpose and focus of evaluation is learning to improve future performance. Naturally the collection of historical data is an essential prerequisite, but when perceived simply as looking back to judge past performance, evaluation can be threatening. When used as a process to gather information in order to advise management and contribute to the cycle of continuous improvement, measurement and evaluation are much more constructive. Practitioners may feel uncomfortable if they have the perception that they are being “judged” by their immediate managers, but seldom object to having a process measured by a tool. This shift in focus to see evaluation as a forward looking activity is important to resolve the „fear of being evaluated‟ which has kept many communication practitioners from embracing evaluation more enthusiastically. Levels of evaluation A question often asked is “Why „setting an evaluation methodology‟ should be part of planning?” The answer to this question lies in the essence of strategic alignment. Strategic alignment is a process whereby the imperatives in the organisation‟s top-level strategies (e.g. Enterprise and Corporate strategy) are translated into a functional strategy (e.g. Communication strategy). Consecutively, the functional strategy is deployed into cascading levels of planning and implementation. The number of levels in the planning system is of little importance as long as every subsequent plan, project, programme or activity is in line with the strategic intent. In the process of strategic alignment, planning is „rolled down‟ and evaluation is „rolled up‟ along the same strategic line. Therefore strategy development and planning are integral parts of the performance measurement system. The evaluation process to measure the success of a Communication function cannot be initiated at the end of the financial or calendar year, or even half way through. The measurement criteria must be built into the strategy development and planning. Without „something to measure against‟, measurement provides results in isolation, with little or no value for evaluation. Measurement becomes evaluation only when compared to a specific norm such as a communication goal, objective, target, or deliverable. The yardstick for performance measurement will always be imbedded in the communication function‟s planning architecture. Metrics and Methods The first step in evaluation is to determine „what‟ to measure? The strong emphasis in existing literature on measurement techniques, methods and tools is concerning, as too much energy is spent on discussing the „how to‟ of communication measurement instead of focusing on the „what‟ that should be measured. All too often, instead of conceptualising the „what‟ of measurement, practitioners seem to be locked in discussions on the merits of focus groups, media content analysis and opinion surveys, or defending the objectivity and randomness or timing of methodologies deployed. The „what‟ to measure in communication evaluation is referred to as metrics. Metrics are therefore the various constructs (things) that are to be measured. View list of metrics. Methods, on the other hand, describe the „how to‟ (techniques) of communication measurement. In most cases the „how to‟ of communication measurement involves „asking the relevant stakeholders‟, be it with a focus group, or survey, or interview. View list of methods. To set realistic metrics, communication practitioners need lots of common sense and at least an elementary understanding of communication theory. Measuring intangible assets like corporate reputation, brand equity, relationships and corporate citizenship is not an easy task. Clustered within terms such as reputation and relationships are many different, more basic constructs like loyalty, trust, satisfaction, faith and admiration. We need to understand what we want to measure before we can ask. Ill-conceived assumptions about what communication can achieve sometimes lead to misguided and overly optimistic goals that make evaluation risky and problematic. This is best achieved with a conceptual construct that displays the full „what‟ of measurement in a framework (Likely, 2000:24). The „how‟ (techniques of measurement) is an operational matter, for which external advice can be sought. Level 3 Evaluation The third level of evaluation, planned in this step of the Communication strategy, measures the performance of the function against its set strategic goals in the longer term. Usually these measures cannot be linked to one specific activity or plan, but relates to the collective performance of the function over time. Movement on indicators such as reputational value and relationship health is a consequence of the value created by Communication Management over a longer period of time. It therefore is known as the measurement of „outgrowths‟ or the cumulative effects of the performance of Communication Management on the previous two levels (activities and plans). EFFECTIVENESS: Measurement of the Communication function‟s effectiveness is critical to link its performance with organisational goal achievement. The majority of communication goals do not directly contribute to increased market penetration, market share, sales and ultimately profitability (the bottom line). Communication Management is often called upon to influence areas important to long-term sustainable success such as key stakeholders‟ perceptions of the organisation. If a communication goal was set in a „straight strategic line‟ with an organisational goal, then achieving that communication goal will positively impact on achievement of the organisational goal – thereby contributing to the new ROI criteria or triple bottom line. Accordingly, the contribution of Communication Management must be measured in more than direct monetary returns, even in financially–orientated public and private companies. View an example of selected metrics and methods for measuring effectiveness. EFFICIENCY: Efficiency metrics comprise the areas in which top management would like to see improvement of the overall management (time, cost and quality) of the function. Metrics can include process improvements, productivity improvements, cost containment or people development – culminating in a process of continuous improvement. View an example of selected metrics and methods for measuring efficiency. GENERATE COMMUNICATION PLANS The strategic intent articulated in the Communication Strategy (CS) cascades into a combination of Communication Plans, created in Step 4 of the CS. The number of Communication Plans is of little importance as long as every subsequent plan, project, programme or activity is in line with the function‟s strategic intent. Generating these Communication Plans release the needed planning vehicles for teams in the Communication function to plan exactly how communication goals will be achieved. Once generated, a Communication Plan becomes part of the list of plans in the software system. Properties defined in the Communication Strategy for each of the intended Communication Plans (e.g. descriptions, communication goals, planning horizons, and responsible people) will feed automatically through to the new Communication Plan. This feature of the software enables strategic alignment between the functional strategy of a Communication division and its subsequent planning activities.
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