Organizational Communications Audit as Foundation of Successful Campaign.
By Nancy Settle-Murphy
Friday, 23rd January 2009
What's the best way to effectively reach and engage employees during a period of intense change? It depends.

The effectiveness of your communications campaign will depend on a lot of variables, such as impact of the change, effectiveness of current communications vehicles, credibility of senior management, prevailing perceptions and predispositions and sense of urgency.

This edition of Communiqué outlines the steps for a comprehensive communications audit that can help organizations focus time, energy and resources on the communications methods and tools most likely to reach and engage employees during times of change. Such an audit may also be used for other types of communications campaigns as well.

A communications audit can require a significant chunk of time to do well, which will be repaid many times over with a more focused campaign that can accelerate adoption to change and smooth transitions. Many of the following steps can be done in parallel by a team of people who can debrief at key points along the way.

Inventory everything that's fit to print. Start by taking stock of all printed matter created for employees, whether from local or site management, or corporate groups like IT, human resources or finance. Consider all types of publications, such as newsletters, flyers, desktop brochures and posters.

As you collect your samples, record important information on a matrix, such as publication name, publisher, intended audience, objectives, frequency, editorial guidelines and contact information. Leave a couple of columns blank for later (see below).

Explore all forms of formal electronic communications. Include Ezines, web copy, podcasts, webinars, wikis, blogs, and portals. Take a look at official memorandums that have announced significant changes in the past. Evaluate content for clarity, tone, openness, immediacy, frequency, and other criteria that might be important in your own communications campaign. Add these to your matrix.

Look at informal communication channels. Apart from the formal communications methods the organization typically uses to announce change, how do managers and employees usually discuss news, share rumors, or surface issues? For example, do certain employees typically pick up the phone or send an email, instant message or Twitter?

Do first-line managers call for a team meeting, whether face-to-face or virtual? Determine the extent to which communications flow freely up and down and side to side, versus following an orderly hierarchal progression from top to bottom.

Assess the perceived credibility and usefulness of communications channels through employee interviews. Make sure your interview sample is wide enough to cover a variety of functions, locations and organizations. Give more weight to people who are not part of the headquarters group, as their views tend to be more representative than those who might be privy to inside information on a daily basis. Create a survey and send in advance of your interview, which may be done via phone or face-to-face. (Note: In only rare cases should surveys be done via email, which does not allow for the requisite probing, which often yields the richest information.)

Questions should center on the perceived credibility of various information sources, as well as usefulness, clarity, accuracy, and relevance. Make sure that responses are kept confidential to ensure candor. Summarize key points and provide examples.

Identify and interview likely influencers of change. Consider who, by title or function, is most likely to really influence employees during this particular period of change. In most cases, this would probably include front-line managers and project managers. Interview a sampling of these people to find out what they need to be effective gatekeepers. (Make sure to test your assumption that these people feel that they can and should play this role!)

Find out how they prefer to convey change, what content would be most helpful, and what tools would be most helpful. Validate key findings from your employee interviews that seem puzzling or contradictory.

Factor in geographical dispersion of your targeted audiences. Consider the implications for those who work virtually. For example, how do we accommodate those who work remotely from their teams or their managers? How can we modify certain programs to work effectively for virtual audiences, where there are not critical masses of employees in one location? Also consider cultural and language differences.

Make sure to interview audiences from a variety of locations, and probe to see how much of the content they receive today is seen as relevant for their audiences. Find out where the translations and modifications, when needed, get done and who bears the cost. You'll need to factor these time and costs into your overall plan.

Complete your communications matrix of the "as-is" state. In addition to the printed and other formal forms of communications, include in your matrix other communications methods and tools you learned about as part of your interview process, both formal and informal.

Indicate whether each communication method goes directly from a centralized group to all employees, or whether a manager or other gatekeeper is expected to be the primary communicator.

Summarize your observations and recommendations. Once you have had a chance to reflect on the current state of communications typically used by this organization in times of change, consider how this mix of methods and vehicles might be used for the change about to be rolled out.

Include in your recommendations answers to questions such as these: What components can work this time? Which should be expanded and which limited? To what extent should critical messages be conveyed from a central group to all employees, versus enlisting the aid of change agents? What's the best role for senior management and for local managers?

Consider the results of your organizational communications audit as "Point A." This represents the current state of organizational communications that can be tapped to help engage people during times of change. Now you have a solid foundation from which you can create a vision for "Point B," the comprehensive communications campaign designed to engage those people most likely to affect, and be affected by, the changes to come.

Future articles will explore various aspects of communications planning in times of change.

Founded in 1994 by Nancy Settle-Murphy, Guided Insights (formerly Chrysalis International) is a facilitation, training and strategic communications consulting firm based in Boxborough, MA – just 35 minutes from Boston, MA and 20 minutes of Worcester, MA.

The company's virtual team of seasoned facilitators, organizational development professionals, trainers and strategists is committed to helping teams achieve desired results more quickly by collaborating more successfully. A special area of focus for the firm is helping virtual teams who work across various cultures, functions and time zones.

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