Communication audits are our most useful tool for measuring our impact as communicators. So why are so many of us refusing to turn the measuring tape on ourselves?
‘Judge not, that ye be not judged’. Good advice if you’re trying not to stop your colleague eating that third bag of crisps or understanding your partner’s latest shoe choice. But when it comes to communications, judging is different. In fact, we encourage it.
Regularly evaluating your skills, messages and channels is an important part of maintaining a strong communication strategy. It’s particularly so at this time of year. As we approach the half-way point (yes, it really is nearly June, don’t let the great British weather fool you), what better time to review the goals we set at the beginning of the year and check that we’re on track?
Let’s get (constructively) critical
This year’s Gatehouse State of the Sector report showed that internal communicators find an independently conducted internal communication audit is the most useful feedback tool. However, this is also the method adopted by the fewest number of respondents – only 17 per cent.
In-house audits fare better, at 41 per cent. Couple this with the fact that 44 per cent of internal communicators named a lack of resource or budget as a barrier to success and you start to see in-house audits’ big benefit in flashing lights. They’re low cost.
Internal communicators find an independently conducted communication audit is the most useful feedback tool”
Indeed, there are a number of free, easy ways you can quickly health-check your communications. First things first, look at the goals you set for communications – or even yourself in your personal development meeting – and check each piece of comms matches up to at least one.
For content, ask a family member to read a piece of copy and see if they understand it. If they’re stumped, chances are employees aren’t getting it either. Microsoft Word has a tool that measures how ‘readable’ your writing is by telling you how many years of education it would take to understand it. And IBM Watson has free, advanced online tools that analyse tone and even the personality of the writer so you can gauge how people ‘feel’ after reading your comms.
You could even sneak a few questions about communications into your daily routine as you hold meetings and send emails. Or perhaps organise a few small focus groups – just make sure they have a good mix of people from across the business and preferably are run by someone not in the Communications team for a more honest response.
But let’s not forget the other part of that barrier to success we just mentioned: resource. In a job where you can often feel like you’re being pulled in five different directions at once, finding the time to sit down and do a full-scale comms review can seem like a luxury you can’t afford.
Plus, there’s the issue of being too close to our own work. No matter how self-aware you are, or how much you think you know of best practice, it can be difficult to have the distance and neutrality to really stand back and critique yourself. That’s when the benefits of, and value in, an independently organised audit start to come into focus.
What the 17 per cent think
One communicator who sees the value of an independent audit is Mark Bickerdike, Senior Internal Communications and Planning Manager, UK and Ireland at Costa. Joining Costa in 2017, he wanted to understand the state of internal communications in his new place of work.
I have independent, verified evidence, rather than relying on people’s opinions and anecdotal evidence. It makes my arguments for future improvements stronger.”
“I started by speaking to lots of people around the business. I did a gap analysis, highlighting priority areas to address,” he explains. “But I wanted help working out the most effective way to address them. I needed an independent organisation with a strong background in internal comms and – because we wanted to explore new digital tools – a high digital awareness.”
Last year, Mark partnered with Sequel to run a comprehensive, independent audit. From Bradford to Bristol, we travelled around the UK to ask 50 store employees about communication at Costa. And we gathered feedback through interviews with 30 Support Centre (HQ) employees and an online, all-company survey using our proprietary pulse tool.
Now the audit is complete and results and recommendations received, Mark says the audit has given him what he needs to present his case.
He says: “I have independent, verified evidence, rather than relying on people’s opinions and anecdotal evidence. It makes my arguments for future improvements stronger.
“And it’s given me extra clout when it comes to producing day-to-day comms. If someone says to me that they want a poster, for example, I can show them that the research indicates that isn’t the most effective mechanism for communicating with our employees and suggest something else.”
Most importantly, whether you’re going for a quick ‘DIY’ health check, or looking for a more thorough understanding of your channel mix, measuring our impact – and ensuring we’re having one – through audits is vital to our position and value as a profession.
As Mark says: “Internal customers are becoming more demanding, so it’s only natural that there will be more pressure on us to deliver quality communications that support greater business performance.”
Need to call a ‘critical’ friend?
For help with finding out what’s making your audience tick – and what’s turning them off – contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about audits and measurement.