The power of insight

Post by Lee Smith, Director of internal comms agency Gatehouse

Monday 5 March 2018

In my first IC Space post, I talked about the need to align IC to organisational goals – how, if we want to be considered strategic, that has to be our starting point.


This time around I want to share another of my ‘strategic fundamentals’: insight.


I’m going to be blunt. Without insight you simply cannot be strategic. Full stop. If a strategy is “a high-level plan of action to achieve a long-term or overall aim,” then you have to know where you are currently, where you’re heading and whether you’re making progress on that journey.


Doing IC without insight is like throwing darts in a crowded room. With the lights off.


So how do you arm yourself with useful insights?

Insight gathering doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Insight takes many forms and some of it is pretty easy to access. My good friend Liam Fitzpatrick often talks about the need for internal communicators to create a ‘demographic logbook’ – basically a compilation of key facts about your organisation and audience. This is something any in-house professional can pull together without too much difficulty and, once you’ve got it, the chances are you’ll already be armed with more insight than most!


In here you should capture facts about the geography of the organisation – how many people you have, where are they based, how many there are at each level, how they access channels (e.g. wired versus non-wired), age, gender, role types – the list goes on! You may need to go ‘cap in hand’ to HR, but this information should be available.


Talk to people!

Another ‘quick and dirty’ technique is to just get out there and talk to people! As internal communicators we have a license to roam – an ‘access all areas’ pass – which makes insight gathering a breeze. So get out from behind your desk and go out to where the real stuff happens – be inquisitive, ask silly questions, hang out in the canteen and you’ll be rewarded with great insights into the reality of organisational life. Insight isn’t just about hardcore measurement – it’s also about being plugged into the organisation and understanding your audience.


Benchmarking is out there if you look for it

There is also a wealth of publicly available data to get your teeth into. Benchmarking and established IC and employee engagement studies can be a very useful form of insight too – if you know what’s happening in other organisations you can make some decisions about your own. Annual research like Gatehouse’s State of the Sector study can give you a great perspective and, better still, you can get the reports for free!


Get independently audited by an external company

But nothing beats first hand insight and this is where some investment really pays off. If you want to do it properly, it makes sense to have your internal communications independently audited by an external specialist. You cannot beat a full ‘roots and branch’ review of your IC for insight. A combination of qualitative and quantitative techniques is vital to build up a fully rounded view of the current state and, if done well, it will deliver insight by the bucket load.


If you can’t afford to bring in an agency, then do it yourself!

Start by interviewing senior leaders, to find out what they think and what they need from IC.  Next conduct a survey to capture some hard data and, importantly, establish baseline measures against which to track your future progress. Finally, use focus groups to really get under the skin of things. In our experience, it’s that last stage that is most beneficial – where the really rich insights emerge. Focus groups are, of course, just guided conversations – but the act of simply listening to the views, perceptions and experiences of a good cross section of your employee base is enlightening. If you want to understand the reality for your audience, focus groups are an absolute must.


Despite its enormous value, conducting a deep-dive audit remains the exception rather than the rule – according to Gatehouse’s latest State of the Sector survey, just 14% of respondents have brought in an independent specialist to do one in the last three years!


That study also highlighted that a staggering 12% of us confess to doing absolutely nothing to measure our own impact. Not a jot. But there are so many ways to measure our success – with intranet and email analytics, feedback from face-to-face events, engagement surveys, pulse surveys, social media metrics and anecdotal feedback – that there’s frankly no excuse for not doing something.

Stay curious

My recommendation is this: if you want to be more strategic, roll up your sleeves, get out there and do everything in your power to capture insights about your organisation and your employees. From formal measurement tactics, to simple conversations, be inquisitive and make it your mission to capture views, opinions, feedback, hard and soft data, facts and figures. Because the more of this you have, the more confident you can be in your decisions – and the more professional you will be perceived by those around you.


About Lee

Lee Smith is co-founder of London-based internal communication agency Gatehouse, a Gallagher company. As part of a Fortune 500 business with offices in 33 countries, he advises some of the world’s biggest and most complex organisations on how to engage, motivate and inspire their employees.

He has spent more than half his life in the communication business – a career that has spanned nearly three decades, covered both internal and external communication disciplines and in-house and agency roles.

He is a Fellow of both the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and the Institute of Internal Communication.

More in this series by Lee:

Hardwiring internal comms to organisational goals

How to be more strategic