Building Research Into Your Internal Communication Program

I’ve been a communication consultant in China since 2002, so I’ve seen a lot of RFPs for internal communication projects. But I’m always scared to see clients who ask their agencies or consultants to deliver a set of communication collateral without budgeting for any employee research, either before or as a part of the project. Taking the resources for some well-planned research before you start designing your internal communication program can help to:

  • keep your program focused on the real issues
  • incorporate the right media / training / incentives
  • ensure that the program meets expectations
  • improve engagement
  • contribute to attraction/retention
  • save money in the long-run

But despite all the benefits, many internal communication RFPs still simply begin their time-lines with just a briefing, followed by collateral delivery! Consultants and agencies are often also guilty of skipping the research stages in a communication engagement. By trying to keep costs down or shorten delivery schedules, many consultants promise an engagement that skips the research, and ends up delivering collateral which is not properly fitted to some important undiscovered need (even though it fits the initial, unresearched assumptions). So to start off the new year right, here’s a short review of some of the common and important research tools that could enlighten your upcoming internal communication program:

Communication Satisfaction Survey

The most common communication measurement tool, the Communication Satisfaction Survey is conducted annually by many large companies to keep a pulse check of their communication health. These may also be conducted as a one-off to prepare for specific changes, but will be difficult to interpret without baseline data from previous audits. These surveys are easy to develop, quick to implement and have even been productized by some companies.

Communication Audit

This is a more thorough analysis of a company’s communication practices, usually from the top of the organization down to the level of office, department or function. These are used to inform the creation of new management systems, identify communication bottlenecks and map formal and informal networks. A comm audit is a powerful and sophisticated tool that yields very detailed results, but it can be time consuming and will require a lot of participation from management and employees.

Channel Audit

This audit analyzes actual the communication channels that a company is using using (e-mail, newsletter, intranet, blog, etc.) and the effectiveness of their message transmission. A channel audit is great if you’re thinking of introducing a new channel or if you want to redistribute communication resources. It’s good to include before engaging an agency to design a new communication campaign, but it’s also good to run this audit after having already run a cultural audit or engagement survey. It can also be helpful to include a communication load survey to see if people are overloading (and tuning out) on internal communication.

Engagement Survey

Probably the most widely used HR survey that I’m aware of, the results of an engagement survey should tell you which drivers are most important to your employees and how well the organization’s delivery on those drivers is (or isn’t) keeping the employees committed to the organization. An engagement survey should be conducted annually and is invaluable for all sorts of managerial decision making. But remember that results will need some expert interpretation, and baseline data will usually be worth the investment.

Organizational Culture Instruments

There are a variety of instruments used to assess your present organizational culture and to tease out from top executives where that culture should be headed. These are especially useful in change management including M&A activity, major reorganizations or vision redirections. These tools can be broad-spectrum for overall behavioral drivers, or they can focus on very particular employee characteristics like arousal seeking tendencies, self-esteem levels or even music preference. Choosing the right instruments may take some creativity, but they can often yield surprising and unique insights into how to motivate and retain staff members. It’s also good to remember that organizational culture is fluid, so you want to be testing not only for your present levels, but also for where the top executives want to end up in the next few years.

Communication Process Instruments

There are literally dozens of small, precise instruments for gauging different processes, including:

  • conflict management styles
  • team interaction
  • mentoring effectiveness
  • communication load
  • manager communication styles
  • job description clarity
  • reactions to particular leaders

Sometimes it is useful to include one or two such smaller and more narrow instruments into a larger Communication or Channel Audit if you have a hunch that they may be affecting employee dynamics, and you can work creatively with your communication consultant to find the right tool. Finally, Whatever internal communication research tools you may need, your communication consultant should be familiar with a variety of these tools and should have experience interpreting their results. Your communication consultant should be able to help you assess which tools are right for your situation, tailor the tools to your needs and deliver meaningful recommendations from the results. Do your homework before designing your communication program. Your employees will appreciate the difference!Connect with John on LinkedIn

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