Building a Business Case for IC Investment with Rachel Miller
Culture, Comms, & Cocktails is internal comms served straight up, so settle in, drink in the knowledge. Some shaken, some stirred, and maybe even some with a twist, and enjoy the top shelf guest I have lined up for you. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, Senior Strategic Advisor at SocialChorus. On this episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, we have Rachel Miller, Director at All Things IC Limited.
All Things IC was created by Rachel Miller in 2013 to help companies communicate internally through personalized consultancy and training. Rachel works alongside clients as a trusted extension of their team. Whether you need expert advice for one day or longer-term, together you can create a partnership which is right for you.
“If I think about how to get investment for internal comms, for me it’s all around business problems. So what are the business problems that we are trying to solve as internal communicators? Because you need to talk the language of the business. There’s no point in saying, “We need more people,” or, “We need more resources.” You need to start with what are the business problems that we need to solve, and therefore how are we going to do it? So it might be by having more people or more resources. You need evidence.” —Rachel Miller
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Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode #35 Transcript
Chuck Gose: Hello, everyone. My name is Chuck Gose, the host of The Culture Comms & Cocktails Podcast and senior strategic advisor at Social Chorus, and if you’ve been a normal listener to the podcast, then first off, thank you, but second, this one is going to be a little bit of a different episode. For the past few months I’ve been co-hosting a new live series called Spin the Wheel with Rachel Miller from All Things IC. Now if you’d like to watch the previous episodes, the easiest way is to simply go to youtube.com/socialchorus, but for the most recent episode, Rachel and I talked about building a business case for IC investment, and I thought it was valuable enough to also publish it here, and hope you enjoy the conversation.
Chuck Gose: Welcome, everyone to episode seven of Spin the Wheel. I’m your host Chuck Gose, and as always, joined by my lovely cohost Rachel Miller. How are you, Rachel?
Rachel Miller: I’m very well. Thank you, Chuck. How are you doing?
Chuck Gose: Doing great. Doing great today. So last week… we want to jump into this week’s topic, because we think it’s a very important one. Last week the wheel chose, I think it was number four was the number it landed on, which was building a business case for additional IC investment, and this was the number that I voted for. In fact, back to back weeks, the number I voted for.
Rachel Miller: And not rigged, either.
Chuck Gose: I’m pretty lucky.
Rachel Miller: Yep.
Chuck Gose: Feeling pretty lucky, but anyway, it’s an ongoing topic for internal communicators, and I think based on some conversations you and I’ve had over the years, and even leading up to this, we have some ideas we think might help or encourage communicators who might be a bit frustrated with that process.
Rachel Miller: Yeah. So the topic of tonight is basically how to get more resources, how to get more investment for internal comms. If I think about how to get investment for internal comms, for me it’s all around business problems. So what are the business problems that we are trying to solve as internal communicators? Because you need to talk the language of the business. There’s no point in saying, “We need more people,” or, “We need more resources.” You need to start with what are the business problems that we need to solve, and therefore how are we going to do it? So it might be by having more people or more resources. You need evidence.
Rachel Miller: So if you’re looking at your channels, for example, and you’re saying, “We need to invest in another one or a better one or have a channels and content manager, for example, to manage our channels,” I want to see evidence in terms of what are you doing right now with what you’ve got? And the mindset for me is are those channels working super hard for you? Are you clear about their purpose? Are you clear about how they fit in to what you’re trying to achieve as an organization? And then let’s spot the gaps and have that conversation. So what are the business problems you’re trying to solve? What’s the evidence? Show me, what measurement style is… how are you doing with what you’ve already got? So it’s all about numbers, all about evidence, and all about talking the right language for me, and that’s how you get investment in internal comms. You just need to know the right mindset and the right language to use, I think.
Chuck Gose: I would like to begin some of these with a little bit of a story, Rachel, and I want to share one with you and others.
Rachel Miller: Okay.
Chuck Gose: When it comes to investment, what I see happening a lot of times is internal communicators get discouraged so quickly, right away, almost the first no is always a no, or someone gives them negative feedback and they abandon it and go on to something else, and I’d like to share this example with communicators from my own background as a communicator at Rolls-Royce, that I had to put together this entire capital scheme for a new internal comms project. I had no idea what a capital scheme even was as I started to go through this process. So it was an amazing learning curve for me to go through this, working with finance people, working with purchasing to go through it. It was amazing. Completed this multi page document. Answered every question under the sun. Pat and myself on the back for doing a damn good job, and I got rejected. I was like, “How in the world? This is perfect.” I went back, got rejected again, got rejected again, and again, and again, and I lost track. It was either the fifth or six try –
Rachel Miller: Ouch.
Chuck Gose: -that I got accepted. The project finally got approved, and that took about a year for that to happen. What I learned, which was very sneaky on the part of Rolls-Royce, is that they automatically reject you the first three times. Now you’re thinking, why would they waste that effort and time? Well, they’re wanting to make sure that they aren’t wasting effort, time, and resources. They want to make sure that you personally are committed to this project. So if you try once and they say no, it must not have been that important in the first place, but if you keep coming back and you’re fine tuning and you’re talking to more people and you’re building support, all those things that we talked to communicators about doing in this process, then they start believing in the project because they know you believe in the project. So rather than just get discouraged with a no, now that could be Rolls-Royce being Rolls-Royce.
Rachel Miller: So I think that’s sneaky and smart. I quite like that, because it’s you testing them testing your commitment as well.
Chuck Gose: Oh, absolutely.
Rachel Miller: Because if you give up after the first go, then as you say, it can’t have been that important to you. I quite like that. I have not heard of anyone going to quite that many lengths, but –
Chuck Gose: Now I don’t know that that was a formal part of the process or not.
Rachel Miller: Okay.
Chuck Gose: Was it more of a cultural thing that built in? Like, “Nope, we want to see people come back time and time again to make sure that this is the project, this is worthy of investment,” but yeah, that’s a story that I experienced. Now the only reason I kept going back is because I did believe in it and people were encouraging me to keep trying, without me really knowing that getting rejected was part of the process of getting approved, which is fascinating. So my message to communicators is don’t give up on it. If you believe in a project, keep finding new allies, keep finding new ways to make it happen. Revise, refine. We’re used to doing that in our writing, and learn the process, because oftentimes this is a new process for some of us. I want to jump on around this topic of investment, Rachel. You hear a lot of times that, “Oh, we have to demonstrate ROI.” How do you recommend communicators go about doing that? Or how do you advise clients on that topic?
Rachel Miller: So I’m always keen to make it really tangible, and I like to craft a meaningful picture from the numbers. So I want to know the story behind the data, and normally that’s things like if I’m analyzing an organization’s internal comms and I’m looking for the return on investment ROI, I’m looking at how much are you investing per employee per year? And I like to have things like for the cost of a sandwich or a Mars bar per year, this is what we’re delivering and these are the business problems that we’re solving through our internal communication. So I quite like to get right down to the nitty gritty and right down to the numbers, but crafting that meaningful picture where it’s tangible and talking about outcome that’s not always about, “Got this many channels, doing this many stories.” Return on investment has to be the, “So what?” The outcomes of what’s happening as a result of this investment that we’re making.
Rachel Miller: And sometimes that will take a long time. Sometimes for behavioral change, particularly, it’s not always immediately apparent. So you need to do incremental measurement. You need to keep an eye on one of my rules for measurement is measure what you treasure. So if you’re thinking about ROI, what is it that you treasure? What is it that’s super important to your organization? And look at it through that lens, because you could measure all sorts, but really refining that right down to how do we demonstrate the work? How do we demonstrate what that return is on the investment that we’re making? What about you? What were your thoughts on ROI?
Chuck Gose: One, every week, or the last couple of weeks, I shouldn’t say every week, that’s a lie. The last couple of weeks I’ve been doing takeaways from this, of quick lessons learned from individuals. So as lessons you’ve learned about building businesses and ROIs, please share them in the chat, because we can pull those into the takeaways. I can already tell one, Rachel, is going to be that measure what you treasure, because I’ve always struggled with the point when people say measure what matters. You hear people will say that. My argument there is sometimes you don’t know what matters until you start measuring, but measure what you treasure automatically points to these are the things that our organization cares about.
Rachel Miller: Yeah, because you can measure stuff that doesn’t matter, and I see that all the time, where people are so fixated on how many people were at the team briefing, so how many people were briefed, and having these spreadsheets going back years of these are how many bums on seats we had at the town hall, or this is how many people have sat and listened to a team brief. I’d much rather know the number of questions. That data is far more important for me. That gives me crafting a meaningful picture around the data is how many questions were asked at the town hall? That’s a great number to measure. Is it going up? Why is it going up? Is it because people feel more able to ask questions? Do they trust our leaders more? That’s really the useful information. Just telling me how many people were tuned in remotely to a town hall doesn’t really tell me very much at all, unless the numbers go massively down.
Rachel Miller: Something that I heard actually from Brilliant Inc at the PRSA Connect conference last year, which has really stuck with me in thinking about measurement particularly, and I think it was in Jackie’s presentation where she said, “If you’re trying to measure the return on investment for town halls, you could count how many people were sat in the town hall, or when the town hall was on, walk around your building” if we’re pre-pandemic, “walk around the building and talk to people who are at their desk and say, “Why aren’t you at the town hall?” And when they did that, they found that actually the story wasn’t about you can change up the format, have external speakers and change the format of the town hall, but actually the meaningful story from the data was there’s a problem with line managers, because the number one reason that people weren’t going to the town hall was because their line managers weren’t allowing them, weren’t letting them. So that really resonated with me and I thought it was a fantastic presentation. It made me think differently around what do we measure? Why do we measure what we measure? So if you’re trying to ask for investment, having real clarity around how does internal comms happen? What gets in our way? It could be something as simple as our line managers don’t see the value in letting their people go to attend something.
Chuck Gose: And what I wanted to do here so I see this happening some time to time, is that people do not know how to calculate ROI. So this is a very simple formula. One of my rants, which you know, Rachel, there are many and we will talk about rants a little bit later, is communicators saying, “Well yeah, well I’m not very good at math.” Well, okay. Let’s pump the brakes on that. This is pretty simple math to calculate ROI, which is simply the profit, what you return, what you’re getting out of it, minus what you put into it, which is the investment divided by the investment. That’s your ROI. Then they might say times by a hundred, but you end up with a 0.2, that’s 20% ROI, which means your pay off is five years, what it takes to get to a hundred percent, but I think what happens a lot of times as communicators, we get hung up on saying, “Okay, we need to establish an ROI.” So then we start coming up with numbers and inventing numbers and doing some things that we can’t even remotely control out there.
Rachel Miller: Yeah.
Chuck Gose: Man, it’s not even good data at that point where we are calculating, and I think really what the organization is asking for is what are we going to get out of this? It’s not always a percentage number, a calculation out there, and so there’s another process that’s like ROI that I like called PIO. So it’s process, impact, and outcome. So process is … and I see this all the time working with clients at Social Chorus. We’re helping them improve their process of how they communicate and how they publish. So that’s an automatic return. People that might’ve spent two, three, four hours publishing content before, now spend minutes publishing content. So there’s an automatic process improvement there. Okay, so what’s the impact of that on the communicator’s daily life?
Chuck Gose: Well now that allows you to do so much more. You’re not spending time hunkered over one vehicle, duplicating processes over all these other vehicles. You’re publishing once and sending everywhere. So you’ve got your process improvement, which creates an amazing impact on the communicator’s life, and then the outcome is when you’ve got a better communications flow for all your employees out there. So I think that PIO model, which again, is process, impact, outcome, can also help a communicator fake through not so much the ROI calculation, but more that ROI conversation that people are looking for. When leaders say, “What’s the ROI? What are we getting out of it?” They don’t always necessarily mean numbers. They mean how’s this organization going to be different? What’s the impact that it’s going to have? And what’s the outcome as a result of this? And the more that communicator can show the impact on their life as a professional, the impact on line managers, the impact on frontline employees, the impact on leaders, the more people impacted, the greater the outcome, then the more support you’re able to get out of it.
Rachel Miller: It sounds so straightforward when you say that, and I’ve just spent time today judging the Institute of Internal Communication. Throw a couple of categories in there, and that lack of measurement is so apparent. I mean judging the industry what was for years, and we talk all the talk, and when it comes down to brass tax and you’re trying to analyze an award entry and you’re looking at the language, it’s still the language of outputs. It’s not the language of outcomes. So the key part of that model is outcomes, and so often that’s missing, and when I look at that, particularly with such a robust criteria for judging, the way it works is you have to go back to your objectives. You have to have smart objectives.
Rachel Miller: What did we set out to achieve? What was the purpose behind what we were trying to do? What did good look like? What do we want employees to do, say, think, feel differently? We talk about this so much, and then when you come to the end of a project or a campaign, or hopefully as you go, you’re measuring, if you don’t know what the intention was, you have no hope of measuring at all, because if you didn’t set the intention or the outcome, then you have no hope of measuring, and it’s not a dark heart, but we really struggle as, having read so many entries today, people really struggled to articulate that. So I’m curious if anyone has any mechanisms that are used for ROI. Leave them in the comments.
Chuck Gose: I want to pull in this comment from Joanna, because it’s a great segue into what I was going to talk about next, which is one big piece of advice I share with communicators is become a problem solver. Help solve problems inside your organization. That will help build support for an investment, and it goes back to aligning with what your organization is trying to do. If your objective is to say, “We want more people to open emails,” that’s not directly solving anybody’s problems out there. It’s why. Why is opening emails more important? Why is clicking through to news and information more important? Why is downloading an app more important? Why is putting information on people’s phones more important? What does that deliver for the organization? What problems does that solve? Because once you start solving leader’s problems … and not even just the C suite. VPs, people managers, you start solving people’s problems out there, you then start building these allies in place who will help support you.
Chuck Gose: So often when I’ve had a, and I know that I shared that Rolls-Royce example, because that was a big pot of money I was going after, but even for those small pots of money, so often I hear communicators say, “Well I don’t have the budget. I don’t have the money to do it. So then I can’t.” There are other people in your organization, you help solve their problems, they might have the budget. They might have the resources to help you do it, because they want to make an investment. It’s why I see the importance of communicators aligning themselves with IT and HR, and one of the biggest ones is health and safety. If you’ve got a health and safety organization at your company, they are always looking at creative ways to do new communications, because that goes back to solving a business problem. Health and safety is an issue –
Rachel Miller: Yes.
Chuck Gose: -within organizations.
Rachel Miller: Completely.
Chuck Gose: You solve their problem, you have new resources available to you. So here we’ve got Zane, I know enjoying his air conditioning and being a problem solver. Zane, not just on the job, but in life, unfortunately we can’t solve all the problems out there, but Zane, we can certainly work to try to solve all those problems.
Rachel Miller: I think to his point around what’s keeping our senior leaders awake though is really important. I also want to make sure I know what the top three things are in employees’ minds, and I make sure my leaders are aware of that. So I like to know both. I like to know what’s on top of mind for my leaders and I like to know what’s top of mind for my employees, and if they’re not aware of each other’s, that’s part of my job as the conduit between, that glue as part of the organization and binding it to itself is making sure that my internal comms is not just reflecting what’s the top three things that are among leaders. It has to be what’s on the mind of employees too. So I think it’s both. I think it’s making sure that there’s clarity across the organization and everyone is aware of what all the problems are from both sides.
Chuck Gose: The other thing that I see as a gap when we talk about building investment is what did you do with the past investment? What did you do to deliver value there? So I see about ROI people wanting to do that at the beginning of a project or use it to support a project. What I don’t see is them doing it afterward to articulate back to the business saying, “Hey, remember when we spent money on this or we invested time and energy in this? This is now what we got as a result of that.” So you’ve now showed them that return. It’s no different than asking for feedback. You ask for feedback, then you show people, “Here’s what you told us. Now here’s what we’re doing as a result.” This whole building support for investment is very much the same way. If you get it, then come back and tell people, “Here’s what we accomplished with that.”
Chuck Gose: So that when you come back… and thinking about an investment could be a lot of different things. It could be new technology, it could be a new employee that’s a part of it. So what if it is a new headcount that you want to bring into the organization and you went a year ago to ask for a new person and you got it and you go, “We’re growing. We need another person.” Talk about what the success was that bringing that other person in and how that helped the organization and what all their accomplishments were, because that will then … success and build on success, but if you keep that stuff quiet, they don’t know what ended up happening as a result of that.
Rachel Miller: Nope. There’s a new question that’s come in here, an anonymous one.
Chuck Gose: Is it this one?
Rachel Miller: Yeah, that’s the one. So do you think there’s a gap between demonstrating outcomes and business performance? So if we’re creating a business case to improve alignment with company values, do we still need to try and put a money figure in for how it could improve revenue? That’s a great question. I think there’s a gap.
Chuck Gose: If it is around improving revenue, then yes. I think you can put in guesses of by doing this, implementing this, launching this, creating this, we think we will get X return out of it, but I do think you can become more concrete with that when it’s that we want to improve health and safety scores by 10%. we want to reduce loss of workday case rate by 10%. I was talking with a communicator once and I got myself in a little bit of trouble, Rachel. I know that surprises you.
Rachel Miller: I’m really shocked by that.
Chuck Gose: They said we need to increase our random acronym number percent by 3% this year, I was like, “Okay, what does that number even mean?” And they’re like, “We have no idea.” I was like, “So what is 3%? Do I stop buying pencils if I’m an employee? Does that help with the…” I had no idea what they even mean.
Rachel Miller: Stationary is critical. So don’t stop buying the pencils.
Chuck Gose: So if we don’t understand what we’re trying to go after, that’s stop number one. Let’s understand exactly what we’re trying to solve, and I know I was being asked once what I can do with zero budget. Unfortunately, there are a lot of times that we end up doing things with zero budget or we borrow budget or we get creative and we –
Rachel Miller: Or we cross charge. I’ve cross charged when I was in house. We used to get stakeholders to post a cross charge from my department out to stakeholders where they paid for things, which is just always worth trying. I remember in 2008 post crash when we all had to suddenly do more with less. We all had camera crews just before proper smartphones, where we were all having these big budgets for comms and they were completely smashed, and our budgets were then pretty much zero and we had to get creative and we had to dig deep and we had do so much more with less, and I think we’re better off for it, frankly, because we up-skilled in lots and lots of different areas and I think we’re about to see the same again.
Chuck Gose: I think that’s a little bit of a misnomer for some people too that think, “Oh, the larger the organization, the more money that’s available. You can kind of do whatever you want out there,” and we know that’s not true either. It’s almost … what I’m seeing is the larger the organization, the more of a process there is to make that investment. Sometimes the smaller the organization, the easier it is to implement, not just even a new investment or process, but even change in an organization. We see that as communicators. Here’s something that addresses leadership priorities, what employees want and need and aligns and supports your business strategy or communication strategy, absolutely. You can check all those boxes. Here’s Emily: make sure the why is very clear. Yeah, the why we’re going through this effort. It’s not just always the money being spent, but it’s the time and energy and effort and how much care you put into this investment.
Chuck Gose: That’s where that reporting out, because the last thing leaders and employees want to see is a company spend money on a new, again, piece of technology and not have anybody really care about it, or invest their own time and energy and effort and creativity into it. So I think that, here’s a thought here for you, Rachel, about everybody needs to make an investment in internal communications. If we think it’s just ours now, sometimes what also ends up happening, Rachel, is we see as these large organizations, if some departments don’t see, let’s say the communications team doing what they want, they’re going to go off and do their own thing because they’ve got the budget.
Rachel Miller: Yeah.
Chuck Gose: They can just do it.
Rachel Miller: We love that.
Chuck Gose: And so then you end up with different platforms and different systems and different geographies and somebody has got to try to go through and then make sense of everything. This is also a great point from our friend Jason, what happens if we don’t make this investment? Now that I think sometimes for some leaders, they’re like, “Things are good. We’re good here,” but that’s where that feedback you’ve talked about, Rachel, that’s where that’s so important, to make sure that we are measuring what they treasure, because if it’s something that they care about, they’re going to probably want to probably maybe listen a little bit more for investment –
Rachel Miller: And that goes back to the language of the business. That goes right back to our first point of our conversation about understanding the language of your business and the problems that you’re trying to solve. It’s tapping into that. I think Erica’s point’s a good one around it’s about … internal comms is too important to be left to one team, one department, one person. It’s everyone’s responsibility. I feel like I need that tattooed on me. I say it so often, but I think it is understanding where the boundaries are and where the responsibilities are, and it does come down to budget as well. Everybody just wants more for internal communications. So internal communication, the overarching way a company communicates, and then internal communications, tools, tactics, methodology, channels, that’s in our budget line. So there is a blend there. There is a mix.
So is there anything, we’re coming up on man, this time absolutely flies by.
Rachel Miller: It flies by. It does.
Chuck Gose: If you enjoyed what you heard from this episode and want to check out others, find Culture Comms & Cocktails on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen, and when you do hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss any future episodes. This has been Culture Comms & Cocktails, internal comms served straight up. Thanks for listening.