Here at Davis & Company, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about measurement—we’re completing a couple of survey projects and getting ready for our spring learning sessions.

So I thought it would be useful to share five questions our communication colleagues ask most often, and provide quick answers. Got another question? Just let me know.

1. Why is measurement important?
To test effectiveness, obviously. But just as important: to use data to influence your internal clients. And: to prove that effectiveness isn’t subjective (“I like blue”)—that there is empirical evidence about what works and what doesn’t.

2. Is a survey the only method for measuring effectiveness?
Actually, no. For example, behaviorial metrics are a good way to determine how communication channels are being used. For example, for electronic communication, emails opens, unique website visits and page views are all valuable metrics. You can also track behaviors such as the number of employees who attend a town hall or who pick up a printed piece.

3. My organization surveys way too often. So I’m getting pressure not to conduct a survey. Should I cave?
Watch out; I feel myself climbing my soapbox. The problem is not too many surveys. No, here are three root causes of survey overload: First, too many surveys ask everyone to participate (that’s called a “census”) when just a small representative sample is needed. Second, ineffective surveys give measurement a bad name, with too many questions or questions that don’t make sense. And third, when results never get communicated or acted upon, employees think surveys are a waste of their time.

I say: Go ahead and survey. But make your survey very targeted, extremely purposeful and immediately actionable. And communicate, communicate, communicate about how you used survey results to improve your program.

4. Is a survey really necessary? Can’t I just conduct a focus group and get the same feedback?
Glad you asked. Focus groups are “real” research when done right. But they’re not a direct substitute for a survey—as a matter of fact, surveys and focus groups serve very different purposes.

A survey provides data in response to narrow, concrete questions. It’s a good way to measure something today, then ask again in several months or next year to track progress.

A focus group, on the other hand, is inherently open-ended. It helps you explore one or more topics to ask such questions as, “How does this work?” or “Why is this so?”

How do you know which to choose? Determine your objectives and then select the research format that will best accomplishes what you need to find out.

5. What’s the biggest mistake communicators make when measuring?
Hmmm, it’s hard to choose just one. Here are three:

  • Don’t do it. Paralyzed by fear or perfectionism, many communicators measure seldom or—worse—never. A small, imperfect survey is so much better than no measurement at all.
  • Write bad questions or include a kitchen sink’s worth of questions. The best surveys are short, targeted and easy for employees to complete.
  • Fail to share the results—or act on them. Once you conduct research, put it to use. And take action immediately.
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