It’s always interesting to see the search terms people use that lead them to this blog. One term that pops up fairly frequently is “What questions do I ask on a communication audit?” or some variation on that theme.
The fact that the question regularly appears is encouraging. It tells me more communicators are interested in conducting audits of their programs, which is a worthwhile investment of time and money. However, it is an investment. You can’t really do a high-quality communication audit on the cheap. Or, you could, but the data you get from it would be minimally useful.
A communication audit is not simply a survey. It is a thorough, in-depth examination of a communication program’s effectiveness. A survey usually is part of an audit, but it is just one tool for gathering information. An audit also usually includes focus groups; interviews with stakeholders such as business leaders, employees and the communication team’s internal clients; and an analysis of communication vehicles by someone with deep experience and expertise in organizational communication. (I’m assuming the audit is being conducted on an internal communication program; an audit of external communications would be similar but involve different stakeholders and participants.)
The decision about what questions to ask on an audit really depends on several factors, such as the organization’s culture, the role of communication in the organization, the number and variety of communication vehicles being used, the degree to which the organization uses those vehicles to communicate strategic messages, the frequency with which communication takes place, and many others. This is where an outside consultant to conduct the audit can provide a lot of value. Consultants who specialize in communication audits know how to help you identify the issues you want to explore through a survey, focus groups and interviews, and they can help you figure out what questions to ask. (Third parties also add objectivity to the audit process, but that is a subject for another time.)
Generally, however, survey questions should focus on getting a sense of what communication vehicles and processes are working effectively and what you need to improve. Questions might offer a scale of agreement/disagreement with statements describing the vehicles. For example:
- “The ACME intranet homepage keeps me informed about important things happening in the company.”
- “Quarterly town hall meetings help me understand the business strategy.”
- “’This Month at ACME’ provides information that helps me do my job better.”
Questions should be as specific as possible and should ask about strategic purposes of the communication vehicles. A question like “How much of ‘This Month at ACME’ do you read?” will not generate information that is useful. Whether employees read most of it or only part of it doesn’t tell you how well the magazine informs them about business strategy.
Focus group questions should be designed to get participants talking about the specific things they like and don’t like about communication vehicles. If possible, it’s a good idea to have copies of the magazine or to have a live connection to the intranet so that the facilitator can point to specific features and elements and ask questions about them. If you conduct focus groups before the survey, the qualitative data can help determine the questions to ask on the survey. If you conduct the survey first, that data may suggest areas to probe in the focus groups.
Interview questions should focus on obtaining senior management’s and internal clients’ views of communication as a strategic business tool. Again, the data gathered through interviews often informs the development of survey and focus group questionnaires.
Even if you hire a consultant to help you with your communication audit – and I strongly recommend that you do – understanding the kinds of questions to ask can help you save time and minimize costs. Although I am no longer in the consulting business, I have partnered with several good communication consultants who can conduct a communication audit at a reasonable price. A communication audit is not a simple process, so don’t expect to pay just a few thousand dollars for one. If you hire the right partner, however, the money will be well-spent and you will have a much clearer understanding of what’s working in your communication program and what isn’t.
Filed under: Communication Measurement, Employee Communication, Strategic Communication Tagged: | communication audits, communication consultants, Communication Measurement, communication surveys, focus groups, questions to ask on a communication audit, Strategic Communication