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A Quick Guide to Effective Communications Audits

Posted by Insightlink on 10/30/14

How Can You Improve Your Communications Effectiveness?

One of the steadiest results we see in our annual survey of employee attitudes is that many organizations do not rate very well on the topic of communications. This year, for example, just four in ten of all U.S. employees are extremely or very satisfied with the effectiveness of communications within their workplace.

One of the recommendations we often make to clients who see weak ratings on communications is to conduct a thorough “communications audit” as the first step toward making improvements. But what does that actually mean?

First of all, the goal of any communications audit should be taking an objective look at your communications plans and activities to determine if both are as efficient and effective as possible. You should be looking to determine which communications vehicles, messages and platforms work well for your organization and which need to be updated or eliminated. In larger organizations, this can also be a great opportunity to adopt “best practices” that are working well in some parts of the organization but have not been adopted in others.

Here is a good 10-step plan to get you started on this path:

  1. Use your organization’s mission statement as the foundation for your audit. Keep in mind that that all communications with your employees should serve that mission. Your mission is the framework you should use to effectively evaluate the purpose of each communications tactic. When you are reaching out to your employees, are you advancing your organization’s reason for being?
  2. Get senior management support for your audit, to ensure that you are adequately covered in terms of budget, time and transparency of results. Also, put together a team to assist you if you feel that will prevent the process from getting bogged down.
  3. Start by reviewing your organization’s communications plan and policies in light of your mission statement and as a “launching pad” for your audit. What if you don’t have a formal communications plan? Obviously, you need to address that omission as part of this initiative.
  4. Decide the scope of your audit. Keep in mind that “corporate communications” is not restricted to the messages you formally deliver to your employees but also includes emails from leadership, presentations and speeches, marketing and web-based materials, social media postings and even standardized email signatures. Be careful not to limit your scope too narrowly but, at the same time, do not make your task so huge as to be unmanageable.
  5. Gather up all of your communications messages and formats for the past 6 months or so. You’re looking to see how and how often you communicate key corporate developments to your employees. Do you share and celebrate important achievements? Who does this information come from and how is it delivered? Do you usually give “just the facts” or do you put the information in some kind of context for your audience? Once you and your team have gathered these materials, lay them out in front of you. Now, look for both consistencies and inconsistencies. Are you communicating a discernable image for your organization through those materials? Are your logo and other brand identifiers both up-to-date and used in a standard way? Which materials look like they are the result of careful thought and effort and which are not? Are some valuable and frequently-used materials really out of date and in need of refreshing? Can you quickly tell who the audiences are for each of the different types of material?
  6. Get some additional feedback from your employees, including collecting any existing survey data that relates to communications (to avoid re-inventing the wheel!). Remember that your employees have to live with the inconsistencies and barriers of your communications practices day after day. There are lots of different ways to get valuable feedback, including inviting feedback and suggestions for improving communications from your employees directly, conducting internal employee focus groups or commissioning a survey to examine this topic in more detail. Don’t be afraid to use more than one method for collecting feedback.
  7. Regardless of which approach you use, some key questions to consider asking include: How do you feel about the frequency and timing of communications within this organization? What kinds of messages/information do you need to see more of? Which ones would you like to see less of? Do you get the information you need when you need it? What kinds of communications policies should be adhered to within this organization? How well do your messages fit the format that you are using? Are your current tools valuable, attractive, interesting and clear? Do your employees find themselves relying more on the informal “grapevine” than your formal communications? Also, watch out for signs of “email overload”! One important criticism that we often hear is that employees have no way of finding out about new job openings before those openings are made public.
  8. Summarize the top strengths and weaknesses of your current corporate communications. To achieve this, start by carefully digesting and synthesizing all of the information you have collected. At this point in the process, you should be starting to see some consistent themes. Be sure to separate the positive themes and findings from the negative ones. Do your current communications show a relatively high degree of consistency or are your messages really all over the map? Where do things stand in terms of both frequency and quality of the content? Where do you seem to be doing well and where are you falling short?
  9. Create an action plan to maximize what you are currently doing well and tackle your weaknesses. The only real value from a communications audit is in the changes you bring about. An important part of action planning is deciding where you want to go because, without that clear destination, you cannot design a successful roadmap. Group your objectives into short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. Then start outlining tasks that will help you achieve them. By definition, of course, you can probably achieve your short-term goals with the tools you already have whereas your long-term goals will likely require a greater commitment of time and resources.
  10. Start putting your plan into motion, including choosing a date for your next audit. Achieving success in this type of initiative requires a high degree of accountability and established measures of performance. Don’t forget to list what issues you couldn’t address in this audit that you’ll want to include next time. Remember to regularly update your key stakeholders on the progress you are making as you fulfill your plan.

To help understand if your organization needs a communications audit, our Insightlink 4Cs employee survey is designed to give you a good overall picture of the “health” of communications in your organization. Call us at 866-802-8095 ext. 705 today to get more information.

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