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Let’s Rein In The Hype About Relationship Measurement

12 Oct

There appears to be a groundswell of support among the measurement cognoscente (a.k.a. metricsexuals*) for the concept of Relationship Measurement.  Much of the early work in Relationship Measurement was done by Dr. James Grunig and Dr. Linda Hon, as published in their seminal 1999 paper; “Guidelines for Measuring Relationships in Public Relations” (get a copy here).  The basic premise of Relationship Measurement is that public relations is fundamentally about managing the relationship between an organization or company and all its stakeholders – employees, communities, customers, partners, etc.  Dr. Grunig and Dr. Hon identified six factors – four characteristics of relationships and two types of relationships – that collectively are highly correlated to relationship strength: 

  1. Control Mutuality
  2. Trust
  3. Satisfaction
  4. Commitment
  5. Exchange Relationship
  6. Communal Relationship

 In my opinion, Relationship Measurement is an interesting concept that has a place in the public relations measurement mix, primarily as a diagnostic tool.  It is not, however, a panacea nor should it be considered the ‘next big thing’ in measurement.  Here’s why: 

  • With Relationship Measurement you are measuring the strategy (how) and not the objective (what).  A company wants better relationships with employees because that probably means their employee retention rates are higher, or their talent acquisition costs are lower, or perhaps because satisfied employees provide better customer service.  They want better relationships with customers because they may buy more products or services and are more loyal.  Relationships are the means to the end perhaps, but not the desired outcome. 

  • There is no proof (yet) that better relationships lead directly to better business outcomes.  While it may be intuitively obvious to many of you that having better relationships is good for the business, the research necessary to demonstrate this has not be done in any broad-scale way of which I am aware.      

  • It is difficult to demonstrate the value to the organization of public relations if we are focused on measuring relationships.  If you go into a CEO’s office and he/she asks how public relations is doing this year and you respond, “Great, relationship strength is up an average of 12% across the board”, you will get a very blank look in response.  Like it or not, public relations must demonstrate how it is helping to drive desired business outcomes if it is to be considered a core strategic function within the organization.   

In the coming months I’m quite sure you will hear more and more about Relationship Measurement.  Read the articles and the books.  Experiment with it and see if it meets your needs.  But please, can we keep a little perspective about what it is and what it is not? Thanks for reading.  I welcome your contrary viewpoints.  –Don B  

* props to Katie Delahaye Paine for this term (see Katie’s blog here)