Elements of Strategy, Part 4: Data-Driven Decisions & Effective Communications

Part four of a series, “Elements of Strategy.” Check back each week for more insights.

Decisions get made in many different ways in organizations. When profit’s driving the bus, there’s one overriding measure of success:

Dollar sign

But what happens if your organization is non-profit? What happens if your unit isn’t part of the sales funnel, or if you work for government? That makes things difficult, because measurement often becomes “softer” when money’s not on the table. Committing to measurement, and – more importantly – committing to measure the right things is challenging in these situations, but far from impossible.

Ready, aim…

Let’s say you’re leading a digital communications department, and you’re charged with maintaining the company’s reputation online. How do you measure “reputation?” Until science defines “reputation units,” you’re stuck.

At this point you might talk about how many people receive your newsletter, how many likes your Facebook page got last month, or the number of visitors to your website. All of these are valid, but none of them answer the question, “how well are we maintaining the company’s reputation?”

It might be downright frightening to measure the company’s reputation directly: what happens if it declines? If you’re the department charged with keeping it up online, you might want to avoid having to report that kind of bad news. At this point, you might retreat to softer metrics that can’t trip you up, but you don’t have to; there are other options.

A screen shot of Google Analytics data

Don’t fear the data


When it’s impossible to measure something directly, you can use a proxy. For example, you can’t measure reputation directly, and if you’re only one contributor to the organization’s reputation, you might not want to. However, there are things you can safely measure, such as sentiment on social media: are people saying positive things about you? How many people are clicking those good-news stories you share in your newsletter? How many positive comments do your videos get on YouTube? As the digital communications department, these are all outcomes you can directly impact.

Where it gets interesting is how these metrics can empower you: when you have a firm target (say, 80% positive sentiment on social media) you can pursue that metric, and create a strategy that’s going to get you there. Similarly, if 800 people are clicking through the good-news stories in your newsletter, you can come up with ideas for how to maintain and increase that number.

That kind of clarity is empowering. It removes uncertainty, creates focus, and motivates people to pursue clear goals.

And that’s just good business.


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