To grow and to sustain themselves, companies continuously make investments of money, time, and personnel in product development, research, marketing, infrastructure and expansion, and the many other components of operating a business. But boards of directors, investors, and shareholders want to know whether those expenditures are worthwhile, whether they truly bring value and growth to the company.

In other words, what’s the return on investment?

No component of the business today escapes ROI analysis. To answer that critical question across the many facets of the business requires some sort of measurement to gauge whether the investments expended are yielding the intended results or, we hope, even exceeding them. The more accurate, timely, and reliable the measure, the better.

Understandably, then, executives and managers are increasingly focused on measurement in its various forms through any number of means. The growing sophistication and availability of digital analytical tools is making measurement more readily attainable on an increasingly regular basis for an expanding list of activities – particularly because many of those activities occur in a digital environment, whether it’s supply chain or sales data, external web traffic, or internal communications that occur on companies’ intranet and/or internal social media.

In the context of the need to manage change within the company, though, measurement can be especially valuable to help assure ongoing smooth operations. Measuring the internal dialogue can be helpful, when you consider that change initiatives and evolving strategies require understanding and buy-in from employees at all levels. We want to know: Are our internal communications effectively driving the necessary behavior and attitude changes among employees? Digital measurement – internal analytics – can help us answer that kind of critical, time-sensitive question.

But in the rush to quantify anything and everything, our expectation is that those measurements be monitored constantly. Yet monitoring is more than just logging numbers and percentage changes, looking for increases in understanding, say, over the course of time. That is certainly important, but we must also gain insights from them; insights that help us make adjustments in our decision-making, as well as what and how we communicate going forward.

Are we moving the needle?
For marketing departments, for instance, weekly fractional changes in market share up or down can mean millions of dollars, plus or minus. Determining the effectiveness of an expensive promotional campaign, for instance, is built on the reactions of focus groups and measures of message penetration. So timeliness of those measures is a top priority once the product is in the marketplace to determine whether the promotional effort is “moving the needle.”

On the other hand, when we start measuring what happens among the people inside the organization, what are we really chasing? Let’s assume we can get a weekly or monthly read on what the employees are looking at on the internal website, how many are viewing what, for how long, what they’re doing with it, who they’re sharing what with, etc. Also, let’s assume we can discern what they’re chatting about on internal social media, and whether the chatter is positive, negative or neutral, or whether it echoes our key messages about change.

What do we do with that information? Do we become obsessive about it? Do we become reactive? Do we become too reactive? Monitoring employee communications is certainly a critical and potentially valuable capability, insofar as it enables us to respond to employee information needs and adjust what we provide them, when, and through what channels. Beyond that, what are we looking for?

The problem with such internal monitoring is its potential to distract us from our core mission, to entice us to get ahead of ourselves – ahead of a curve that may or may not be critical, a curve that we may or may not be able to define – to make us too smart by half when what we really need to be providing to our internal audiences is something far simpler than what analytics might tempt us to believe.

The Mission
Let’s remember our mission: At base, employees are just trying to do their job, to be good at it, to get better, to be acknowledged for their contributions, and to be aware of and understand the relentless changes that they and their company must contend with and adapt to.

As communicators, our primary role, then, must be to provide the context and relevant information to help employees stay abreast of the shifting marketplace and its multiple impacts on them and the company. If we do our jobs well – everything else being equal – then the company will thrive, employee attrition will stay low, and high quality talent will be attracted to our organization.

In the alternative case, the business will fumble its opportunities, under-estimate its challenges, and fail to meet revenue and profit targets. Even worse, the best talent will leave and the mediocre will remain. Growth and success will elude the organization.

In the short-term, then, measuring the quality of our employee communications becomes an opportunity to stay on top of and eliminate the gaps in understanding among the internal audience that can fester and result in poor performance. And, it enables us to identify those communications activities that don’t add value or understanding.  Monitoring the conversation inside the organization, then, should be less about numbers and percentages and more about the content and context of that conversation.

If our analytics and monitoring allows us to determine whether key messages are resonating or not, whether people “get it” and are promulgating them in their conversations inside the organization, then the monitoring becomes truly valuable. It is giving us critical and timely guidance to help us adjust our content, relevance, cadence and context to assure maximum effectiveness.

So in that regard, yes, measurement is important and can be valuable. But rather than becoming obsessed with upticks of tenths of percentage points of intranet traffic, we must focus instead on delivering timely, relevant information and context. If our measurement helps us do that well, then it’s doing its job. In that way, we as communicators are contributing to the success of the organization and its people, delivering meaningful returns on investment for the company.

Jack LeMenager is an independent employee communications consultant based in Boston, MA. He is also the author of two books on employee communications: Inside the Organization: Perspectives on Employee Communications, and Sandcastles in the Tide: The Value of Employee Communications in the Context of Change, from which this article is excerpted.