Does communication really make a difference?

Guest post from #11ways co-creator Stephen Welch:

Billions of dollars a year invested in communication by organizations around the world in an effort to improve how they communicate, and make an impact with their target audiences.

Does it really make a difference?

Well to those billions and millions, we can add thousands. Thousands of minutes invested by communication professionals around the world to participate in the second version of the #11ways survey. And what do this year’s results reveal?  Does communication make a difference?

It seems the answer is “yes”.

Our research – covering over 100 organizations with over a million employees – tells us that there are some clear differences between high performing organizations and others in terms of their communications.

  • 89% of high performers align communications and strategy, but only 58% of average companies do.
  • High performing organizations (HPOs) are 3x more likely to rate their communications as excellent or very good.

Of course, correlation and causation are two separate things but a clear theme emerges in high performing organizations – a theme which is absent from the others:

They think about impact, not just output.

The high performers, for example, are more likely to keep their language simple, make emotional connections, and think about communication from the audience’s point of view.

In these organizations, we also see stronger connections between the communications team and the rest of the business:

  • In a HPO, communicators are over 2x as likely to claim that they have strong business know-how and operational understanding. Less than one in five communicators in an average organization would say this.
  • In an average company, only 12% of communicators rate the communication skills of line managers and business leaders as excellent or very good. This figure is 3x higher in a HPO.

However, despite these indications that there is a connection between being and HPO and being a good communicator, there is still some way to go if communicators want to really make a difference:

  • Across the whole sample, only a quarter of communicators would rate their organization as excellent or very good at communication.
  • Almost three in ten admit that some of their communication is not aligned to strategy and goals.
  • 53% keep their language simple and jargon free. Too bad the other half obfuscate.
  • 34% still measure their success by their number of twitter followers or facebook likes; and less than one in ten links communication to sales, profit or productivity.

Communicators still struggle to make an impact, it seems. Especially in a world where 96% of senior managers think they are good communicators. And when a communicator does come along – to give some advice or coaching – it is hard to make an impact if you only have a one in four chance of having business knowledge or operational understanding. As a business leader, why should I listen to you if a) I think I’m quite good anyway, and b) you don’t understand my business?

There are some hopeful signs, though. Since our 2014 survey, we’ve seen some positive trends:

  • While less than three-quarters say they align communication strategy and goals, this is at least significantly up from the 2014 figure (from 54% to 71%).
  • The number who aim for simple and jargon-free language has gone from 32% to 53%.
  • Almost half (47%) have processes for creating great stories, up from 31%.
  • 53% claim to regularly make emotional connections, up from 34%.

So there is hope, but still a long way to go.

Note: this is the preliminary report from the 2015 #11ways research, conducted April-May 2015, across 124 organizations. For fuller details, data and quotes, please get in touch.

For more information or detailed analysis, please contact:

Stephen Welch | Dana Poole | Michael Ambjorn