Is your employee communication program effective?

How to conduct an audit in 5 steps

You work hard to bring your communication program to life: Your objectives are well thought out, you followed best practices and carefully crafted key messages. But how do you know if it’s working? Are employees engaged? Do they feel informed and understand what they need to do?

To find out, your first inclination may be to conduct a communication survey. While a survey will be efficient, it will only provide part of the story. To get a true assessment of the effectiveness of your entire internal communication program, it’s best to conduct a full audit.

An audit is a useful tool to understand how communication is performing and typically includes several research methods designed to develop a clear picture of strengths and opportunities.

To ensure your audit is comprehensive, follow these five steps:

1. Conduct a channel assessment

Begin your audit by evaluating all the ways you communicate — your channels. Done right, an assessment should give you an idea of each channel’s effectiveness: what’s working and what needs improvement.

First, make a list or collect samples of your channels. Then, rate each of them against eight best practices by asking the following questions:

1. Communication objectives: Does the channel have a clear purpose and is it meeting your objectives?

2. Audience segmentation: Does your content target a specific group of employees?

3. Information hierarchy: Is there a clear organization of content? Are there navigation cues, such as a table of contents or subheads?

4. Length and readability: Is content easy to read?

5. Transparency: Is the tone of content candid?

6. Feedback opportunities: Does your audience have the chance to participate: ask questions, leave comments, like or share?

7. Focus on employees (relevance): Does content focus on what it means to employees?

8. Visuals: Are images, icons and fonts used?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you uncovered a clue that your communication channel could be improved. If you answered “yes” to all of them, your channel is probably working well. But, most likely, you’ll have a mix of “yes” and “no,” and your “no” answers will identify opportunities for improvements.

2. Run an internal communication survey

Surveys are a great diagnostic tool to identify achievements, problem areas and gaps in communication. One of the benefits of a survey is that you can track progress — measure something today and then ask again in several months or a year.

Internal communication surveys provide data in response to narrow, concrete questions. When writing survey questions, remember to:

· Be simple

· Include only one concept per question

· Avoid jargon or obscure language

· Use a consistent scale (e.g., Likert scale)

Results from the survey will provide an overview of employees’ experience with your communication program. A robust, in-depth survey that measures communication effectiveness will:

· Be 25 to 40 questions

· Take seven to 10 minutes to complete

· Explore multiple topics

· Cover five key dimensions:

-If employees take action or know what to do

-Employees’ attitudes, such as their belief that the organization is headed in the right direction

-Employees’ level of knowledge about key topics

-If employees are satisfied with communication

-Whether or not they read or view communication

3. Facilitate focus groups [DP1]

While surveys provide the initial data needed to gain insights into employees’ needs and preferences, focus groups provide the opportunity to explore survey results further. As part of a comprehensive audit, it’s ideal to run a survey before conducting focus groups. For example, if employees rated your newsletter low, but rated town halls high, you could discuss the reasons in a focus group.

This form of qualitative research is ideal for:

· Generating ideas

· Exploring an issue

· Getting new perspectives

· Testing a concept

· Assessing levels of knowledge

· Interpreting survey results

The most important factor in the success of focus groups is how well a moderator — the person who facilitates the discussion — leads the session. To manage the experience:

• Develop a discussion guide

• Practice before the session

• Put participants at ease

• Set participants expectations

• Use active listening skills

• Keep the conversation on track

4. Conduct interviews with leaders

One-on-one interviews are a great tool for getting valuable feedback from leaders and other key stakeholders, such as members of the HR team. You’ll gain perspective on what’s going well and where they need help fulfilling their role in communication.

Interviews don’t take long (ideally, 30 minutes) and they’re not difficult to conduct. Set yourself up for success by developing a discussion guide to help you stay on track and ask consistent questions across multiple interviews.

To develop questions for your discussion guide, you can:

· Uncover business issues where communication can help

· Use data from the research you’ve completed

· Ask for candid perspectives on a specific topic

· Discuss potential improvements

· Gather communication needs and preferences

· Solicit ideas or solutions for a specific issue

5. Prepare a report

With a comprehensive audit, the biggest challenge is connecting the dots between all the research methods. Here’s a process you can follow to develop a set of key findings and corresponding recommendations:

· Start by reviewing your objectives — the purpose of your research. Remember what you set out to learn and keep that top of mind.

· Now look at the data for each question. For surveys, that means crunching numbers. For focus groups and interviews, it means pulling together responses (what employees and leaders told you) for each of the questions in your discussion guides, identifying themes for each question and documenting any unexpected, out-of-scope learnings.

· Begin to develop conclusions. These key findings are like your elevator speech; the pitch you’d give in less than a minute if you had to provide the highlights of what the research revealed and what it means.

· After formulating the main conclusions from your research, decide on what you will do in response to these findings; these actions become your recommendations.

The report will summarize the data you collected and review the next steps needed to improve your employee communication program. Use it with key stakeholders to influence decisions about communication planning, update core communication channels and demonstrate the impact of internal communication.

Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis and Company, the award-winning employee communication firm. Visit https://www.davisandco.com to know more.