If the words ‘internal communications audit’ send a shiver of dread down your spine,— you’re not the only one.
Looking at it from a distance, any internal audit seems like a huge, daunting mountain to climb, particularly viewed on top of an already-busy schedule. And the spreadsheets. Oh, God, the spreadsheets.
Don’t worry. That’s exactly why we’ve created this guide. Once you break it down into bite-sized chunks, an internal comms audit becomes much easier to visualize and conduct.
There will still be spreadsheets, possibly.
Equally, with the right approach, those spreadsheets will stop looming so large over you and (dare we suggest it) become genuinely useful tools for hitting some major internal comms milestones.
Below, we’ve given you a quick rundown of how an audit works. Examples, tips, practical advice... it’s all there.
At the end of the article, you’ll find a free internal communications audit template. It’s not an absolute structure you must stick to (it’s your HR department, who are we to tell you what to do?) — but you might find it a useful jumping-off point for your own activities.
What is an internal communications audit?
An internal communications audit does what it says on the tin: helps you evaluate how effective your internal communication methods are.
Let’s face it: internal comms is a lot of work. You want to be sure the hours you put in = the results you want to get out. And, if they’re not, you want the opportunity to switch things up, make improvements and get the biggest bang for your buck on internal comms spend you possibly can.
When you carry out an internal communications audit, you examine every single channel you use against a defined set of criteria, like post engagement, knowledge retention, or the overall effectiveness of your key messaging.
Communications audits are also helpful for:
- Identifying any gaps in your internal communications strategy (and figuring out how to plug them).
- Creating a properly defined set of benchmarks which you can use to measure future performance.
Who should run an internal communications audit?
Ideally, the internal communications manager should head up an internal communications audit, because they will have the most in-depth knowledge of current systems and strategies.
Don’t worry though — it’s not all on you!
An internal communications audit should kick the following support team into gear:
- The internal comms team (if there is one)
- The HR department
- Senior executives
- Representatives from key stakeholder groups
You won’t be able to carry out an effective audit without these groups on board. Stakeholder representatives provide valuable insight into how your wider workforce uses your internal comms channels.
Senior execs are vital for consulting on strategy and budgeting. Bluntly, there’s no point centring your findings around the need for a new internal comms system if there’s no budget for it.
Internal comms and HR colleagues are useful for sharing some of the grunt work with. You don’t want to be poring over spreadsheet after spreadsheet by yourself, if you can help it. Get them to pitch in. Oh, and bring snacks. A lot of snacks.
How to conduct an internal communications audit
1. Establish what you want to measure
You won’t know what’s working well if you don’t know what ‘working well’ means.
That’s why it’s so important to identify your key metrics before carrying out your audit.
What do you want to measure? What constitutes success in these areas? Common areas to cover include:
- Effectiveness of different channels
- Employee awareness of key messages
- Effectiveness of leadership communication
For example, you might want to measure email engagement to see whether everyday messages are getting through to your wider workforce, or whether your team leaders share news with on-the-ground employees effectively.
2. Do a mini internal communication channel audit
The example above probably throws up an interesting point for you: digital channels are inherently measurable.
You can lean on your internal comms software for open rates, engagement times and more to get an in-depth picture of how your digital channels are performing.
Non-digital channels like notes with payslips or the break room noticeboard are not inherently measurable. You’ll need to be aware of the inherent bias this presents and work to overcome it
And, of course, it’s easy to over-rely on analytics when they’re available. Data is a powerful thing, but ultimately only tells one side of the story. To get a comprehensive picture of all channels’ performance, you should include:
- Quantitative employee data from an extensive employee survey
- Qualitative employee data from one-to-one employee interviews and focus groups
- Digital analytics data
- Historic employee engagement data (for example previous employee engagement surveys or pulse surveys)
3. Examine your existing strategy, channels and processes
A thorough overview of where you’re at currently is central to any internal communications audit.
There are no shortcuts here. For each channel you use, map out:
- The purpose (for example internal intranet - everyday communications)
- How frequently you use that channel
- Who that channel is aimed at (for example office workers, mobile workforce)
- The amount of effort you put into maintaining it
- How it fits into your wider comms strategy
- Your long-term goals for the channel
For larger organizations in particular, this may take a little while. The good news is that the effort you put in here really pays off. The more in-depth you are in your analysis, the more insight you’ll gather from the data you collect in the next step.
4. Gather and analyze the data you need
Here’s where you send out surveys, run focus groups, conduct interviews and analyze usage data to inform what’s working (and what isn’t).
Remember to select a representative sample of employees to provide data here. It’s easy to incorporate a degree of accidental bias, even with the best of intentions.
For example, if you only run focus groups at HQ, you’re excluding remote and frontline sections of your workforce that could provide valuable insights.
To avoid this, keep accessibility at the front of every decision you make.
You could try running remote focus groups or interviews via video conferencing, or more casual drop-ins in frontline break rooms (again, snacks are your friend here).
You might also like to set up forums or discussion threads on your employee intranet for more generalized insight.
5. Analyze your findings and create a final report
Here’s where you put the findings from steps three and four together and figure out what action you need to take.
Are you sinking hours into team leader mailing lists, only to find key messages aren’t getting passed onto their direct reports?
Do more people want instant online access to company updates, despite not having computer access or even a company email address?
Have you found that leadership communication is only visible to a very small percentage of your workforce, and that this is negatively impacting employee engagement?
Once you’ve analyzed your results and identified the improvement steps you want to take, it’s time to create a final audit report. This should contain:
- An overview of the research and why you conducted it
- The methodologies you used to carry out the audit
- Your key findings from the audit
- An in-depth analysis of both qualitative and quantitative employee data
- Any recommendations for improvement
Obviously, if you run your own budget and can make decisions autonomously that’s fantastic — if you’re not in that position, it may be a case of presenting your findings to the board.
If so, the more direct supporting evidence you can provide, the more likely you are to persuade them to back new approaches to strategy.
Senior board members are numbers people, by and large; lean on empirical evidence as much as possible if you want them to loosen the purse strings for (for example) new intranet software.
Your free internal communications template
We’ve split this into two handy tables. The first is a scheduling tool, because breaking down an audit into smaller tasks makes the whole project much more achievable.
Below that, you’ll find a template to help you analyze your existing channels in depth.
TaskPeopleDatesInitial kick-off meetingE.g Head of internal comms, HR representative, relevant senior execsE.g 5th MayEstablishing key metrics and methods of measuring themE.g 12-19th MayConduct an in-depth review of existing channelsBuild employee surveySend employee surveyAnalyze survey resultsSend invites for focus groups and interviewsAnalyze results from focus groups and interviews Compile final audit reportSign off final version of audit reportPresent audit report to senior execs/C-Suite
ChannelUseUpkeep per week (time)Main audienceStrategyEmailE.g weekly newsletters, large one-off announcements
2 hours newsletter content creationOffice workers, remote salaried employeesSingle point of access for corporate news and major announcementsNoticeboardE.g Rotas, everyday comms, employee-led announcements (e.g charity fundraising)30 mins per week (to print and put up rotas), otherwise a free for allFrontline retail staff, warehouse operatives Delegated to regional managers to ease pressure on internal comms teams, ideally operationalPayslip notes