Coming into 2012, the spotlight on organizational communications is shifting to analytics in a big way.

That is, more and more CEOs and business leaders are asking questions and seeking new insights concerning manager and employee behavior in specific situations; the most effective use of social media; how people interact with information; organizational clarity; and where they need to spend more time internally for the greatest return. This newfound interest is being fueled by a number of factors including the overwhelming array of tactical choices now afforded us by technology, a lack of confidence in current internal communications efforts and measures, and an increasing cynical workforce

The driving force behind this new approach, as we see it, lies in the fact that organizations are increasingly using communications to improve the business rather than the more conventional closed loop of using communications to improve communications.

While this level of inquiry is both healthy to the business and our profession, the reality is that this type of data is absent in many Communications Functions and, in turn, in many leadership or strategy discussions.

The New Dashboard

Make no mistake, the information being sought is not a mere regurgitation of the “hits-clicks-eyes” formula that somehow attempted to place meaning or value on quantity vs. quality while seeking relevance of information and relationships. Rather, the new dashboard is about bringing together a rather large set of variables – content, context, media, timing, socio-economic factors, frequency and cadence, recognition, actions, and word-of-mouth, to name but a few. The new dashboard mixes science with intuition, data with observation, and facts with perceptions.

Such insights allow senior leaders and communicators alike to gain a better grasp of the intricacies of their workforce and, more importantly, the efficacy of their management model. The result is a more appropriate and responsive communications strategy and effort internally – spending the right time and resources in areas that drive and add clarity, influence behavior, and encourage engagement.

The question to ask ourselves in developing a dashboard is, “What are leadership actions and internal communications revealing to us about employee perceptions, behavior and performance, and how?”

“Smarter is Better”

The most significant result of any strategic organizational communications effort is “smarter, more confident employees.” It is not about “generating awareness” or “keeping people informed.” Rather, it’s about ensuring people at all levels make better decisions.

For some leaders, such a high-minded goal is a bit off-putting. Why? Simply put, it means giving up perceived control. It means sharing information about financials and the overall health of the enterprise. But the rewards inherent in being open and transparent far outweigh the potential negatives. For example, if people understand how and where the business makes money then everyone from sales reps to manufacturing specialists can calibrate their ideas and actions to best suit the reality.

A Look Ahead and Around the Corner

In addition to analytics driving more effective organizational communications, there are a number of trends we will continue to see play out in 2012 and beyond:

• Employees are Your Best Product: That is to say, we must begin outfitting employees who opt in with information, data, and tools as part of external informal and formal outreach to customers or consumers to build trust and engender relationships. Increasingly, employees are seen as trustworthy advocates and more valuable than the product you actually build and sell.

• Organizational Clarity y is a Major Challenge to Individual and Business Success – Given all the distractions today, gaining and keeping employees’ attention and interest in the business strategy and direction is at the heart of success. How clear is your strategy? W here, when and how do you reinforce it? How can employees influence it? What do you recognize and reward?

• Employee Engagement: It’s about the Conversation – Several studies indicate that employee engagement is suffering globally. A 2011 Blessing White report stated that fewer than 1 in 3 employees worldwide (31 percent) are actively engaged in their employer’s business. And nearly 1 in 5 are actually disengaged! Adding to this dilemma is the fact there are multiple definitions being bandied about concerning Engagement. Truth is , there are degrees of engagement each with their own set of positives. Engagement for the most part means creating conversations within the organization between and among specific employee groups – polling them, raising subjects of interest, obtaining opinions, initiating ideas, fostering innovation, etc., as a means of involving people in the overall business.

• Recognizing Employees as Customers vs. Audience – By defining employee segments by interest vs. function or job position, further honing our understanding of how employees think and process information to further target content. When we treat our own people with respect and create relationships we embolden people to act, to take initiative, to engage.

• Citizenship as a bridge to Business Strategy – To better align individual values and interests with the direction and approach of the organization. Studies have found that leading brands are drawing Citizenship closer to Strategy in an attempt to gain employee interest, support and influence behavior.

• A new Management Model – To focus on facilitation, engagement, discussion and debate. The result is a new set of behaviors and characteristics for manager level professionals.

• Balancing Social with Facial – In an era of social interaction fostered by new media and technology, the need for face-to-face communications to share knowledge, engender dialogue, and strengthen relationships has never been greater. Unfortunately in too many organizations, managers are relying too much on such new technologies in lieu of conventional face-to-face communications. World-class organizations are balancing internal communications and the management model to reflect this reality.

• Redesigning Internal Communications to achieve Organizational Confidence – Rethinking how, when, where, what, whom, and why information is shared, captured and disseminated in order to become more open, transparent, interactive, creative and dimensional in terms of content and context. The goal or result is a smarter, more confident workforce.

• Leaders Must Challenge, Not Cheerlead – Messages and Rhetoric from senior leaders, including CEOs, are taking on a more provocative tone after years of being overly optimistic. Research has indicated that employees feel more respected when their leaders deal with the reality of the business situation rather than sugarcoating things. Further, employees want leaders to discuss honestly sensitive issues such as layoffs, offshore job creation, globalization, pricing, restructuring, and financial performance.

• Strategy Must Be Experienced – The trend continues in translating the business strategy into a narrative that can be followed, comprehended, and experienced by all employees. The Strategy as Narrative concept is a story arc that is dimensionalized and iterative, continually populating all leadership messaging, management actions and internal communications platforms.

• Communications As a Corporate Promise – Best practice organizations are establishing a Standard or Promise for how employees will be communicated with. Typically designed as a “promise,” the Standard calibrates strategy, management behavior, internal communications, and employee engagement to achieve organizational clarity.

• Content is Expanded; Context is Broadened – Further to the point above about allowing employees to have access to financial data, content inside organizations is mushrooming to better reflect the interests and ideals of the workforce. To that end, internal communications functions are working to become better at storytelling and story mining seeing the business in much the same way you would if viewing through a kaleidoscope. This also applies to broadening the context of content providing a basis or rationale for information so people can process and learn at a much greater rate.

From Flashlight to Beacon

Opening up new pockets of information by incorporating analytics is allowing communicators and business leaders to shine a strong light on key drivers of the business. Doing so repositions communications in all its forms to be a catalyst in helping leadership get smarter about the business. Further, comprehending the macro trends driving new behaviors is a major imperative for organizational success. The test is in how we assimilate and adapt to the new reality. The business result can be seen in a much smarter, more confident workforce, a stronger corporate reputation, and a more well-defined brand.

Gary Grates is a principal at W2O Group,- the holding company for WCG, Twist Marketing, and W2O Ventures, responsible for leading the corporate and strategy group, an organizational communications consulting unit.