Conducting an audit

Perhaps you’re looking for inspiration to dive into your first audit. Or maybe you heard about other communicators completing internal communication audits and you’re curious, “What did they do with the results? Was it worth the effort?”

Internal communication audits are a big commitment since they typically use several research methods to develop a clear picture of strengths and opportunities. It’s time to invest in an audit—rather than conduct a one-off research project, such as a stand-alone survey—when you need to:

  • See the big picture of how communication is experienced across the organization—especially when the communication function is decentralized
  • Understand how to make immediate improvements to your communication
  • Build evidence to make the case for major changes, such as introducing new apps or other technology

So, what’s the payoff? Why take on a project like this? Let’s look behind the curtain of six recent audits and a change that each communication team made based on the results.

Case study 1: Shifting to strategic work

The communication team at an industrial service company was worried about its weekly news update. Fewer than 15% of employees clicked links contained in each update.

This news update was designed to be a summary of need-to-know stories—up to 10 stories per issue. Each story included a title, a one- to two-sentence description and a link to the full article on the intranet. The articles were beautifully written, 500-word stories on a variety of organization-wide topics.

What was the problem? Why were so few employees clicking on those links? We did a quick communication audit to find out why: a seven-question survey followed by two focus groups.

We learned employees valued the weekly update since it provided a Goldilocks moment—just the right level of detail. Of course, if an employee wanted to learn more, the links provided quick access.

What did the team change?

Our audit findings caused the team to think differently about the problem. Members of the team expected to make changes to the newsletter but, instead, they changed their focus—reimagining the work put into intranet articles. They decided to reduce their target word count (from 500 words to 200–300) with the goal of spending less time on articles and moving that time to more strategic work. They balanced the shorter articles with a new type of feature article (on critical topics about the business) that is published less frequently but runs longer.

Case study 2: Consolidating communication channels

The corporate communication team at a conglomerate was concerned that employees were being bombarded with communication from multiple sources. Members of the team had a theory that newsletters had exploded and they needed to influence other communicators (who did not report to the corporate team) to develop a more efficient approach. Being a small team of three, this corporate team also wanted to streamline its work and be more effective with resources.

This audit—one of the most wide-ranging I’ve worked on—included:

  • Channel assessment (97 channels documented). Purpose: catalog the channels employees receive and assess their effectiveness
  • Interviews (21). Purpose: understand the communication process and issues from the stakeholder point of view
  • Focus groups (32). Purpose: talk to employees about their knowledge of key topics, their experience with communication and their ideas for improvement
  • Site visits (14 sites around the world). Purpose: document employees’ communication environment at key sites 

What did the team change?

One of the key outputs from the channel assessment was a channel map that documented newsletters across three levels of the organization: corporate, business unit and individual companies. We reviewed that map and a comprehensive audit report in a two-day meeting with the corporate team and communicators embedded in business units. One of the key findings that resonated with the group was the breadth of newsletters being generated across the company—far too much for any employee to consume. The entire group committed to a dramatic strategy: collapsing all newsletters into one solution and developing an editorial process to ensure employees would receive relevant content based on their business.

Case study 3: Developing a vision for the future

The head of communication for a consumer goods company was on a mission to significantly add internal communication resources—moving from a team of one (him) to five. He wanted new team members to hit the ground running by articulating an internal communication system, including defined roles and expectations.

To help us set priorities for this newly expanded team, we conducted a quick audit that included a review of past communication materials and one-on-one interviews with people managers.

What did the team change?

Two main outputs took shape after a series of three workshops to define the company’s internal communication system (including objectives, channels and guidelines, editorial strategy, prioritization methodology and measurement approach):

  • We developed a purpose statement for the function to serve as a guiding light for communication strategy and implementation work the team would support.
  • We also developed a maturity model that articulated the current state of internal communication and mapped how the function would increase its support at key milestones. The model was also an important tool to use with leaders—to manage their expectations of how their businesses would be supported.

Case study 4: Expanding resources to manage communication

An audit (which included a channel assessment, interviews and focus groups) at a defense manufacturer revealed information silos and competing messages. For the small corporate team, the results presented a challenge: How to coordinate communication across six business units when it didn’t have responsibility for business lines or sites.

What did the team change?

After reviewing the audit results, the team decided to focus on the coordination issue since it would have a powerful impact on employees’ communication experience. We worked with the team to shape a communicators’ network that included colleagues from business lines, functions and sites. The network was designed to help the organization move from a siloed approach to a coordinated view of communication, including:

  • Encourage multiple perspectives from each part of the company
  • Develop and distribute content
  • Share communication resources and eliminate duplication
  • Share leading practices and feedback
  • Collaborate on communication challenges

Case study 5: Helping leaders and managers ramp up their communication

Having been put through the wringer during the past two years, the communication team at a hospital and health care network decided it was time to audit its internal communication practices. We helped the team with a channel assessment, interviews and focus groups that included frontline health care workers and knowledge (office) employees.

What did the team change?

One of the findings that rose to the top for the team was feedback about leader and manager communication. Leaders thought they were doing a good job with regular visits, but employees shot back, “Saying hello is not interacting.” We worked with the communication team on two initiatives to bring leading practices to leader and manager communication:

  • We conducted a quick workshop with the C-suite of leaders that included a role play using tough questions we received from employees.
  • We also facilitated 14 workshops with managers to review what we heard from employees during the audit, define organizational communication and their role, and share strategies to fulfill their communication role as they complete their work every day.

Case study 6: Increasing strategic capabilities

Members of the communication team at a research institute approached us to help them understand what was working well with their internal communication program and what could be improved. Ideally, the team wanted to use this feedback to inform its strategy, structure, resources and steps to enhance communication. In this case, the audit approach was simple: interviews with key stakeholders and a channel assessment.

What did the team change?

The audit results helped the team understand it was operating as a reactive and tactical function. Members of the team needed to shift from being order takers to being seen as strategic advisors for functions and departments, and playing a proactive role to build community and encourage connections across the organization. We started with defining a new purpose/mission to position the function as a Center of Excellence. Then we worked on five elements to build the team’s reach and capabilities:

  • Shape a cohesive story about the organization
  • Transform and manage channels
  • Set standards for internal communication across the organization
  • Support leaders and managers
  • Measure effectiveness
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