Interview with Johanna Bohlmann: It would be so nice with KPIs

‍Johanna Bohlmann is the Senior Communications Manager responsible for (indicator-based) impact controlling of internal and executive communications at Vodafone Germany. Communications consulting for management and specialist departments, as well as the development of new formats, is thus increasingly controlled on the basis of data. Johanna studied journalism, American studies and law in Mainz and also works as a systemic coach at Vodafone. Before joining Vodafone, she spent nine years in various positions communicating for the energy supplier EnBW AG, mainly on the topics of transformation and change (“Energiewende”).

Thomas Mickeleit: It would be so nice with KPIs. That was the title of your presentation at the Communications Congress. I would like to pick that up again and thank you for allowing us to talk about this important issue. Only 28.6% of internal communications functions manage their work via KPIs (Trend Monitor IK 2022). You don’t really want to believe that. What was your trigger at Vodafone to make internal communication more data-driven in the future and to measure it?

Johanna Bohlmann: For us, it was more of a strategic, not a technical, approach to the topic. Vodafone Germany is in the middle of its transformation into a TechComms company. The need for communication within the organization has increased. We wanted to use our resources better as a team, to make more of an impact. What things can go away? What do we need more of? The impact data helped us make decisions together. And we notice that other departments understand us better since we can argue in a data-based way.

Thomas Mickeleit: Did the initiative come from your team or was that a demand from management?

Johanna Bohlmann: The latter, not explicitly, but we listened carefully there as well. (laughs)

Thomas Mickeleit: An annoyed colleague once told me that you can also measure yourself to death. How did you go through this process so that you didn’t end up drowning in data overload?

Johanna Bohlmann: We asked ourselves, what do we really need? We had to go back to the basics. So, for example, the aggregate, socio-demographic data of the employees: Age distribution, where they work, how long they have been there. These were important basics for us to set the right measuring points. Then we took a closer look at which topics and channels generate which reach. And when it comes to the question, do we make a communication, it has to trigger a concrete measurable action. If there isn’t, for example, if a department can’t clearly state what behavior is even expected, then we don’t do it. These are sometimes uncomfortable discussions, but necessary.

Thomas Mickeleit: This is the call-to-action that every communication should have. It’s great that you’re doing this so consistently. Another topic: Data must not only be collected, but also evaluated and finally visualized. I often hear the wish that if only I could pour all the information I have into a wonderful dashboard that shows me where I stand at a glance. Have you also had the wish and been able to fulfill it or are you still looking?

Johanna Bohlmann: Absolutely, preparing the data in a comprehensible way is the be-all and end-all. We are currently working with two very good, but separate dashboards for employee apps and mailings. This already gives rise to the thought that it would be nice to link these still with other data sources. However, we are not there yet.

Thomas Mickeleit: Is that on your agenda as a next step?

Johanna Bohlmann: Yes, within the communications department the interest is there, of course. The only question is, would you go for internal or external solutions here. Basically, we have infrastructure in house that works with technical data. These systems would “only” have to be connected – you can see that I am not an IT specialist. (laughs)

Thomas Mickeleit: That would always be exactly my recommendation from a consultant perspective. Look at what you have in house, try to use that and not reinvent the wheel. The most beautiful data is of no use if no insights are gained from it and, above all, no actions are triggered. Is there a routine with you, how you then derive actions from the insights that you draw from the data?

Johanna Bohlmann: In the long term, we use the data to adapt or develop new formats, currently for our executive team. In the short term, we set the “KPI cards” every week. This shared routine alone has led to greater knowledge within the team. Continuous engagement with the data also inspires people to try things directly. What happens if you have too many video links in a newsletter? How does this affect reach and click-through rates? etc. As already mentioned, it is also important to us that communication triggers something at the behavioral level. We measure that, e.g. registrations for events.

Thomas Mickeleit: Can you maybe give us a memorable example where you guys drew certain conclusions and then changed things? I remember at the Communications Congress you advised, “Don’t call it series.”

Johanna Bohlmann: There are often expectations in the departments that you play a subject for a long time. This then quickly becomes a series. We’ve found from our data that recurring elements, so either in the form of visuals or else the word series, dramatically reduces attention and reach. Funnily enough, this is completely contrary to the “binge watching” or series cult in the private sector. The challenge remains to accompany topics in the long term. We do everything now so that there is precisely no recognizability, but each time there is an aspect in a story or in a referral that is new and relevant.

Thomas Mickeleit: Finally, a more critical question: providing data and using KPIs creates transparency about successes, but of course also about things that are not going so well. Some colleagues feel that they are being controlled in some way. Did you have the discussion in your team and how do you deal with it?

Johanna Bohlmann: Of course, depending on how it’s structured, the topic has explosive power. We have set ourselves clear limits: we do not measure individual performance or individual recipient behavior, but only reach and impact. We want KPIs to work more effectively with existing resources. No more, but also no less.

Thomas Mickeleit: Thank you very much, Johanna! I wish you continued success on your transformation journey.