Be resourceful: easily quantify your impact

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The person hiring you next will want to know what difference you’ve made in the past. The past is not always a guide to the future, but most employers and clients see it as an indicator.

They want it in clear concise measurable, and ideally easily verifiable terms. This is true for traditional permanent staffers and freelancers on the move alike – not to mention those who are willing to give their skills away pro bono: the recipient should still look for proof to ensure a good match.

It is how I’ve hired (and been hired) since the nineties and the good practice guidance out there reinforces the importance of this point, whether you read the classic What Colour is Your Parachute, this handy Interview Guide from Berkeley (PDF) or the direct advice from companies like Google.

Show the employer that you are a good fit with detailed examples of times when you successfully used the skills they seek. The Berkeley Job & Internship Guide

Many people struggle with this and come up short. You don’t want to know how many people with otherwise good CVs have made a wasted journey to an interview where they then failed to use data to set out the measurable difference they made. It is a lot of people.

Basically, a good interview answer is in its concise essence structured like this:

Faced with challenge X I did Y which resulted in Z. Whatever you’re starting these days it will most likely have a digital footprint – and this makes for easy illustrations – both qualitative and quantitative. Because a good Z is made up of both.

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Golden evaluation directs better communication

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Pulitzer? Nobel? Oscars? Difficult choices to select winners – and a challenge I had sympathy with as an evaluator for the IABC Gold Quill awards recently, A very hard task – but one that is also fulfilling and fascinating.

It’s a hard task because the standard of all the entries from IABC colleagues is high, fascinating to see the range of challenges and innovative solutions and fulfilling to be able to give feedback – and for the very best: special awards. The programme has now be running for 40 years and attracts entries from 25 plus countries from Argentina to New Zealand.

You may ask why do so many busy communicators take the time and trouble to enter?

For it’s not just a question of putting work samples in the post. Within specific categories like communication management, research and training, entrants complete a detailed form including work plans and work samples. Through this process, they are helped with support and advice from the IABC organisers with the well named Midas Touch.

There’s also information and support for the evaluators such as myself. And note – it is evaluator – not judge. When reviewing the entries, evaluators are expected not only give marks but also comment with the aim of giving not just praise but also constructive evaluation. So every entry is a winner – they all receive invaluable feedback to direct better communication.

Over the years Gold Quill has developed: a recent initiative being two evaluators for each entry. We all have out passions and prejudices and to ensure an objective assessment, each evaluator has a partner. Scores and comments from each are reconciled for the final submission.

Virtual judging

For 2015 I opted to be a virtual judge, working online and my “other half” was Andrey Barannikov, CEO of SNP, a communication agency in Moscow (@spncomms). When it came to reconciling our marks on our eight entries it turned out that we shared similar reactions in the main. There were a few differences – he was tough sometimes and I was tougher on others but overall scores were remarkably similar – which was very reassuring.

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4 ways to use data to tell stories

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I’m a contrarian about the “big data” revolution. I fear a world where corporate communication and marketing focuses on data at the exclusion of the human beings those numbers represent.

On the other hand, I’m a strong believer that this proliferation of data analysis, when fused with qualitative insights and human storytelling, can bring stories to life like never before. Increasingly, we are seeing how compelling use of data, combined with strong storytelling, can create memorable narratives in journalism, in entertainment, and in marketing and communications.

Here are four key ways that communication professionals can combine data and storytelling to create a particularly compelling way of understanding the world.

1. Let research and data show the scope and scale behind human stories

Journalists have perfected the craft of making human experiences the face of a story, while then using available data to talk about the broader context of that story.

Today, marketers and corporate communicators have more opportunity than ever before to connect research and data with stories of real people—whether through the content the company is publishing directly or in the stories that they pitch to media outlets. But many organizations have not invested in the resources and skills to conduct robust data analysis, or—on the other end of the spectrum—have become so enamored with data that the numbers aren’t being connected with examples that take us deep into the context of what these trends mean in people’s lives.

Global professional services firm EY (disclosure: a client of mine) has become a master at making this connection. EY has long been known for having its finger on the pulse of entrepreneurship.

And, increasingly, EY has demonstrated that knowledge and connection with entrepreneurs by highlighting entrepreneurs’ individual stories alongside regular quantitative research on global entrepreneurship patterns. The result is a steady, year-round set of stories that demonstrates both the breadth of entrepreneurship trends happening around the globe and the depth of stories of individual entrepreneurs in their particular market.

2. Draw direct connections between data analysis and on-the-ground stories

Too often, even when organizations attempt to combine quantitative insights with case studies, the connection between the two is not that direct.

That’s why stories in which individual anecdotes connect quite directly into larger data sets can be particularly valuable, such as iSeeChange, an initiative of Localore and KVNF Mountain Grown Community Radio in Western Colorado.

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11 ways to get comms wrong and achieve underperformance

I met with IABC’s Stephen Welch and Michael Ambjorn to explore #11ways – their study on the 11 communication practices that contribute to organisational “under-performance”. Watch them discuss the 11 ways to underperform, their solutions and the IABC’s Global Standard Of The Communication Profession.

81 companies across 10 countries, with approximately 390,000 employees took part in their 2014 study. The results revealed 11 challenges that today’s communicators are facing. These 11 factors are often the root cause of organisational underperformance.

Download the Full Report – 11 ways Benchmark Report (PDF). 

The 11 ways to underperform…and their solutions

1. Too many messages. According to their study average-performing organisations are 40% more likely to pack a lot of messages into their communications. High performing ones are much more parsimonious.

Welch and Michael Ambjorn’s advice here is to “keep it simple – stick to 1-3 key messages to avoid information overload.’ They recommend the IABC report Preparing messages for information overload environments in case you want to delve into this area deeper.

2. Monologues...’All about me.’ While average organisations like to talk about themselves, high performance ones are more balanced, better at listening and using two-way channels.

“Take time to listen and be more audience-centric. It’s about dialogue not monologue.”

3. Jargon-galore. Only 21% of communicators admit to keeping their language simple and jargon-free. Yet, high-performers are better at simplifying and keep messages clear.

“Technical language has its place but remember that the writer of corporate communications isn’t always the target audience. A lot of this can be resolved through traditional, focused copy-editing”.

4. Audience analysis. High performing organisations (71%) are much better at thinking specifically about things from the audience perspective than average organisations (45%).

“There seems to be a connection with performance because those operating in high performing companies are 60% more likely to think about things from the audience’s point of view. Think audience!” – they continue: “…there’s really no excuse any more with the panoply of digital tools available now – and if you’re not sure how to work these things, seek out help.”

5. Shiny tools. Over half of high performing organisations invest regularly in new tools to improve communications.

We have observed a trend for communicator to get excited about new technologies, say Welch and Ambjorn. Yet, they suggest communicators “consider what you are trying to achieve and whether you are likely to get a return on your investment…shiny tools might help, but are not the complete answer to improving performance.”

6. Channels…too many. A common mistake found from their study is the use of too many channels which creates confusion to both communicators and audiences.

“Finding the right platform, and using channels correctly is as important as getting the messages right. Think through the channels from an audience perspective.”

7. The know-it-all leader. Only 20% of benchmarked companies believe their leaders are good at communicating. “Or, as one organisation told us: ‘Executives that think they know how to communicate with employees, but don’t!'”

Welch and Ambjorn suggest that higher performing communicators “think about who is the best interlocutor for your audience, making sure they are effective communicators.” This might mean training and investment in senior leaders, so they can communicate to inspire their teams, something both of them have experience delivering..

8. The communicator as the paperboy or papergirl. In half of the benchmarked organisations, corporate messages are generally devised by senior executives, “potentially relegating the communication team to the role of a paperboy or papergirl: just delivering the message.”

Why this? “Perhaps it’s about credibility,” comment Welch and Ambjorn. Only a third of communicators admitted that their level of business know-how was high. “Communicators, we therefore suggest, need to improve their business understanding if they want to advice leaders.”

Welch, former Partner at Hay Group, has helped communications departments up-skill on this front, which helps them move whole teams from overloaded tacticians to the strategic advisors businesses need to succeed.

9. Hwaet! High performing organisations are 80% more likely to have a process for creating great corporate stories. They are able to take something they are good at (process) and apply it to something more emotional and resonant.

“Storytelling has become de rigeur in organisations but it doesn’t mean all stories are good ones. Don’t assume your narrative will burst forth randomly. It might need nurturing.”

 10. Emotional disconnections. High performing organisations are twice as likely to make emotional connections to their audiences.

“Your key audience are humans, so take time to appeal to both their head and their hearts.”

11. Dis-alignment to strategy. Only half organisations have communications aligned with the company’s strategy and goals, with teams focused on the things that deliver value.

“That’s just plain shocking,” comments Ambjorn. “It is time for communicators to step up and seek clarity – in fact this is a root cause issue that, if solved right, can help fix a range of the other 11 issues.”

It’s a case of EC-CASE!

How can organisations deal with the 11 communication symptoms revealed by the study? One way, is by using the IABC Global Standard of the Communication Profession. Summarised by the acronym ECCASE, the IABC Global Standard describes the six core principles or building blocks of the communicator’s work:

ETHICS – Communication professionals adopt the highest standards of professional behaviour.

CONTEXT – The communication professional is sophisticated about the organization’s internal culture and external environment.

CONSISTENCY – Acting as the organization’s voice, a communication professional expresses a single, consistent story for internal and external audiences.

ANALYSIS – Communication professionals research and evaluate how to serve and promote the organization most effectively and then offer recommendations.

STRATEGY – With rigor and discipline, a communication professional identifies opportunities and challenges both inside and outside of the organization. Addressing communication challenges and opportunities with a thoughtful strategy allows the organization to achieve its mission and goals.

ENGAGEMENT – A communication professional identifies and communicates with employees, customers, shareholders, regulators, government agencies and other groups with an interest in the organization’ s activities.

See also “Do you create or destroy value” related article which appeared in the Communication World Magazine.

 

GloriaPassionate about internal communications, social media, enterprise social networks, employee engagement, journalism and publishing, Gloria is the Community Manager and Editor of publisher simply-communicate, and Co-Chair of SMiLE London.

Gloria’s responsibilities combine researching, writing, and publishing content on internal communications, employee engagement and social business. She curates the publication of the weekly magazine and manages the on-line community of internal communicators throughout all the publisher’s digital channels. She frequently interviews companies and professionals in the field, writes case studies, products and book reviews, and report from internal communications and social business events. She works on SMiLE (Social Media inside the Large Enterprise), developing products and presenting on issues around introducing Social Media in the Large Enterprise.

Gloria’s keen interest in the relationship between social technologies, employee communications, and the future of work is also reflected in her writing on Marginalia on Engagement, her personal blog. You can find her on Twitter at @LOMBARDI_GLORIA