A Self-Help Means of Auditing Communication

What Messages Do We Think We Are Sending That No One Receives, And What Messages That We Need To Hear Are Lost?

By Thomas J. Roach

Quarrying may date back to the earliest period of civilization, but it is just as subject to change as any other contemporary business. Technology and social issues demand that all organizations adapt their culture in order to be competitive and survive.

Business organizations are systems of employees, customers, investors and business partners. Survival requires us to make these publics aware of our intentions and to ask them to make us aware of their needs. This should happen on an ongoing basis as we engage in day-to-day business operations.

Needs and expectations of employees, customers, investors and suppliers have to pass through channels like meetings, email and one-on-one interactions and must move up and down through the chain of command so everyone in the business system can make adjustments.

Verify the Channels
From time to time it is useful to verify that the channels of communication are open and that the company is responding appropriately. Usually this is done with a communication audit. A communication audit is similar to a financial audit, only it tracks information instead of money.

The most basic form of research in a communication audit is the interview. Even if a company isn’t conducting a communication audit, it can be beneficial for departments or even individual employees to interview their internal and external contacts and ask them questions about what channels of communication they use, what information they need, and how they view the department or the company itself.

Typically, communication audits reveal internal problems like employees who don’t understand what is expected of them and some who don’t even know who their supervisors are. Externally companies find that customers value things the company has been ignoring, that they are dissatisfied with certain services and products, and that the company is wasting resources on products and services that customers no longer desire.

Full Audit
In a full communication audit, interviews are the first, most important look at meaningful feedback. If there is no corporate-wide communication audit, then a supervisor or department wishing to get feedback might use interviews as the only step.

Start by making a list of key internal and external publics. Externally this is the community, customers and business partners. The internal list includes your own chain of command, internal customers and internal suppliers – that is, the people inside the company for whom you provide services and who provide services for you.

Next lists of research topics are composed for internal and external interviews. This list, called a research guide, includes all the channels or ways you might communicate with the publics along with all the categories of information that might be exchanged.

Then a team of interviewers is named; training sessions are arranged so interviewers can practice probing the items on the internal and external guides.

Finally, interviewees are selected categorically and, when possible, randomly and assigned to the interviewing team who schedule and conduct interviews.

For a small department, this process can be very informal and continuous. Instead of writing up their results, interviewers could make verbal reports part of a monthly department meeting. But when a company-wide audit is performed, the interview reports should be written and categorized according to the guide items so that when they are all completed, the information can be combined under each category and included in a written report.

Over the last 20 years audits have revealed that email was one of management’s main means of communicating with hourly employees, but sometimes as many as half of the employees had no means of receiving the email.

What assumptions are we making now with intranet, Internet, social media and online systems for ordering products, communicating to the community and evaluating employees? What messages do we think we are sending that no one receives, and what messages that we need to hear are lost?

Thomas J. Roach Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].

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