DOA or WOW? 6 Ways to Take the Pulse of Your Organization


By William Trout, Director of Internal Communications, BBVA Compass

External communicators, be they PR, IR or media relations pros, rely on relatively established and transparent criteria to measure their effectiveness. Communicators tracking internally face a hazier landscape but still need to document their impact on the health of their organizations.

When it comes to measuring effectiveness of corporate messaging and effect on employees, there is no substitute for a well-crafted survey.  The following are six criteria that you should focus on when “taking the pulse” internally:

1. Message recall: Take three or four key messages you’ve shared over the last thirty days and ask employees if they remember them. Keep your questions channel-agnostic: it doesn’t matter so much where (on the Intranet, via an e-zine) employees have encountered the messages as much as whether they recall them. At BBVA Compass, message recall levels have tended to range from 90% (on “information on company charitable efforts”) to 60% (concerning the statement that “BBVA Compass is different from other banks”).

2. Message credibility: Effectiveness is even more about credibility than recall. Do employees buy what you are telling them? Be aware how specific actions can translate to employee responses: during recent austerity efforts, only 6 out of 10 BBVA Compass employees said they agreed that the company was ‘committed to its employees.’ Recently, agreement with messages around differentiation (the demonstration of which is a major challenge for all banks) has also trended lower, telling us we need to do a better job showing our employees just how we are different from all the other banks out there.

3. Line of sight: The degree to which employees understand organizational vision and strategy and apply it to their job function is a primary driver of discretionary effort. Drill down to measure line-of-sight by department as well as in relation to the larger organization.  Then ask if employees feel they have the resources to deliver on the vision. The results may surprise you. At BBVA Compass, high levels of line of sight suggested we were doing our job in terms of helping employees understand their contributions to key goals. But 70% ratings on the resource question suggested we still had work to do in terms of giving employees the tools to deliver on those objectives.

4. Managers as communicators: Effective internal communications balances the use of mass channels such as the Intranet with face-to-face dialogue. Probe levels of employee satisfaction with communication received from direct managers and from senior management. You will come away with a better general understanding of managerial communications challenges as well as specific nuggets you can use to fine-tune your strategies. Our surveys have shown time and time again that employees prefer their immediate managers to provide them with information on their role in supporting bank strategy. Interestingly, employees far prefer to learn about the direction of bank strategy generally from mass channels such as the Intranet, suggesting they feel their managers may not be in a position to know about that strategy in the first place.

5. Employee connection: Have employees rate on a scale of 1 to 10 their enthusiasm and sense of connection with the strategic path of the organization. In our case, we’ve found that back-office personnel feel more connected than front-line staff. This could suggest that those on the front-line (for the most part, tellers) feel they don’t have the tools to do their jobs. Or it could reflect the fact that tellers tend to have lower grade levels and higher levels of turnover, and not surprisingly, don’t feel very connected.

6. Employees as champions of the organization: How frequently, if ever, do employees speak positively about the company to friends and family? Word of mouth is the most effective form of “advertising”, particularly in the age of social media, and we can’t expect our customers to refer us if we aren’t talking about our bank ourselves.

Focusing on these six criteria will help provide you with a lot of valuable data. You’ll be able to assess the effectiveness of your existing approach to organizational communications and identify opportunities for improved message delivery, the significance of which goes beyond internal communications.

That’s because at the end of the day, you’ll have your finger on the pulse of employee sentiment as it relates to key organizational issues. Share these results with senior management and plan to track this data over time. You’ll know you’re making a difference, and those at the top of the house will know it, too.

As the Houston-based director of internal communications for BBVA Compass, a top 15 U.S. bank, William seeks to inform, energize and empower employees in support of the bank’s business goals and vision. Prior to joining Compass in 2002, William worked for a boutique financial advisory firm focusing on investments in Latin America as well as a consultant on government-sponsored development projects in Eastern Europe and Russia. His professional interests range from marketing communications to employee engagement to stakeholder outreach.



  1. Jason Sherman on March 1, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    GREAT list, William. Thank you for sharing your expertise and experience. I think #5, “employee connection,” should be given a great deal of attention. So much emanates from this factor. IF they feel connected and are enthusiastic about the organization and its mission, they will much more likely be champions of the organization, higher contributors, etc.

  2. Rodney Bass on March 2, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    I especially enjoyed number six. Companies are quick to spend time and resources on external, outbound marketing. They often forget about the power than can be harnessed internally by nurturing a strong, confident internal culture that leads to very powerful and inexpensive word of mouth. This is a great list, thanks for sharing.

  3. Trish Cunningham on March 2, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Great article Will! Thank you for sharing your results and insights. You continue to lead the way.

  4. Martha Jones on March 3, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Good article that can stand in for employee communications of any sort – change management starts with excellent and frequent communication to the right targets with the right message – this article sums it up; well done!

  5. Mike Klein on March 3, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Good list – but I’d suggest that one should also take a “throat culture” while taking a “pulse”. If doing survey work, I’d ask some open ends about “what are you hearing”, “what are you concerned about”, and perhaps “what needs to change” to elicit what’s top of mind as well as what we think we need to know.

  6. Allison Bond on March 27, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Terrific post, William. Thought provoking, actionable info. Thank you!