You’ve made the decision to pause and understand how your employee communication program, or a key component, is performing. Let the audit fun begin!

Here’s my four-step process, whether I’m conducting a simple study (such as understanding the effectiveness of a specific communication channel) or a comprehensive audit (multiple research methods used around the globe):
1. Set objectives
2. Determine research methods and scope
3. Conduct research
4. Analyze data and develop recommendations

1. Set objectives

A key component of setting audit objectives is your thesis: the main idea you want to explore. For example, perhaps you:

  • Have a hunch that newsletters are proliferating and you need data to make the case for consolidation and streamlining
  • Want to modernize your communication system: the communication tools you use and how they work together
  • Want to spend less time managing news and focus resources on communication activities that bring value to the business

Objectives are also influenced by how the audit results will be used: Do you need to influence an extended team that doesn’t report to you or do you want to make changes to communication vehicles you manage? 

When you understand where you’ll focus and how you’ll use the data, start drafting objectives. Two or three are all you need. And remember to keep them specific and realistic. 

2. Determine research methods and scope

After you’ve established your objectives, there are several factors that will influence your research mix:

  • How quickly the project has to move: more research tools = more time
  • Budget: will you work with an outside resource to complete parts or all of the audit?
  • Appetite to provide time for employees to participate, such as a survey or focus groups
  • If one research tool will inform another; for example, conduct focus groups based on the results of a survey

Now you can select your research methods and determine scope.

Audits typically use several research methods, including: surveys, focus groups, interviews, vehicle assessments, site visits and benchmark studies.

The scope will depend on the stakeholders you need to influence and if they feel your research is representative of the organization. For example, if focus groups are part of your audit and you need to influence a leadership team, you’ll want to ensure you have comprehensive representation across the organization. But if you intend to use the data only for yourself and your team, two focus groups will probably do the trick.

3. Conduct research

Don’t underestimate the time it will take to plan logistics, conduct research and analyze results.

My rule of thumb: the more people you need to influence; the more time you’ll need. A focused study should only take three to six weeks, while a comprehensive audit could take up to six months.

4. Analyze data and develop recommendations

One of the biggest challenges with an audit project is to connect the dots between all of the research methods used. Since a comprehensive audit will generate loads of data, I like using the power of a group to help with analysis and recommendations.

Here’s a simple process I follow:

  • Start with developing separate reports for each piece of research. For example, you may have a focus group report and a vehicle assessment report.
  • Then review all your findings (the separate reports) to find common themes and insights. A group meeting with those who fielded the research is a good way to do this. You can also leverage this team to develop recommendations.
  • Prepare a final report that summarizes the research approach, key findings for the audit overall, short summaries for each of the research methods and recommendations/next steps.

Check out this post if you’re interested in how to analyze qualitative data from an open-ended question in a survey. The same approach can be applied to analyzing focus group or interview data. 

Here's how one company completed a comprehensive audit.

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