It’s All About That Base: Setting Realistic Targets in your Communications Plan

As professional communicators, the majority of us are most comfortable in the C-Communications phase of the RACE (Research – Analyze and Plan – Communicate – Evaluate) Model. C-Communicate is where we get to do all of the fun stuff like grabby tweets, inspiring videos, and cool logos. Our sad reality, though, is that if we don’t do E-Evaluate, we cannot be certain that they worked.

As important as E-Evaluate is, many of us avoid it or give it glancing attention at best. While our reasons vary, one many of us fall prey to is not knowing how to set realistic targets. We get confused between measuring the success of the program or the tool, i.e., how many “likes” for the post, verses what the program or tool was supposed to accomplish – did it change knowledge levels, attitudes or behaviors.

Determining if it changed knowledge levels, attitudes or behaviors requires us knowing what those levels were before we implemented our plan. In the world of performance management, we call this baseline data. Our starting point, our baseline, is considered part of our R-Research step: where our audiences are now versus where we would like them to be.

Baseline data also provides tremendous insight into defining realistic targets for your program. Aiming for 85% satisfaction among the parents in your school district with information they receive on school finance issues takes on a much different scope if your existing satisfaction level is 60% as opposed to 32%. Realizing 90% faculty and staff reporting they feel well informed during a crisis may take a multi-year program if your starting point is less than 25%.

So, how do you find your baseline? Take the counts, whether it be through tracking participation rates, administering surveys, polling for knowledge levels, etc. In addition to giving you that invaluable starting point, baseline data can also offer serendipitous surprises – where you learn things are not as bad as you thought, as well as serious ah-ha moments – where things are way worse than imagined and plans need to be adjusted.

targetgoal and baselinegraphic

Either way, once you have your baseline, it’s time to “do the math.” A teammate on my daughter’s swim team was on the starting block when the coach came up to her before her 50-yard freestyle race and told her he expected a 25 (seconds) from her. Eyeing him through her goggles, she replied, “Coach, my best time is a 28. Do the math!” For a swimmer to shave that much time from one race to the next is usually not realistic. Similarly, understanding your starting point together with the resources you have available to support your program will help you define what is a realistic improvement over the timeframe you have set.

Goal setting can sometimes feel like “plucking a number out of the sky.” In addition to knowing your starting point, another powerful tool veteran goal-setters use is benchmarking. Comparing your performance to organizations similar to yours helps frame both what is realistic and what is “best in class.”

In a future discussion, we will review how aligning process measures with outcome measures supports goal attainment.

Sandy Cokeley, APR
CEO SCoPE School Surveys

SCoPE School Surveys are online, affordable and easy to administer surveys dedicated to evaluating and informing school communications effectiveness. Contact Sandra Cokeley