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5 Lessons from an Internal Communications Audit

Conducting an internal communications audit needs an organization to have the maturity, flexibility, and the time to pause and reflect and course correct, if needed. Not every organization will have the will or the interest to do so. However, those that do, have been known to benefit immensely.

I recently had the opportunity to run an internal communications audit for a not-for-profit.  Kudos to their leadership team to believe that such an exercise could add value. Unlike businesses where such audits can draw from resources, funding, time and people to support the exercise, in not-for-profits, such effort can mean a slowdown, reorientation and reprioritizing of resources to make it work.

Not-for-profits communication challenge

Not-for-profits may not see internal communications as important because they are too focused on managing stakeholders, acquiring donors and fund raising. So, they often, depend on part timers who may not have the skills and expertise to manage internal communications. In their quest of getting things done, limited attention is paid to a strategic approach to internal communications. Often internal communications and external communications don’t align. There is a lack of emphasis on measurement and limited or no investments are made in training staff on contemporary approaches to communication. All these makes conducting an internal communications audit more important than ever.

How to conduct an Internal Communications audit

Before diving into an audit, the communicator needs to appreciate the environment he or she will delve into, learn about the culture and perspectives of leaders and staff and what challenges they face on the ground. Merely looking at the audit as a standalone exercise may not give enough insights. Here are some perspectives, tapping the lessons I learn from the not-for-profit experience.

  • Understand the organization and culture: Spend time talking to leaders and staff. At a time when you need to remotely engage it can get even harder to gather the true picture. Put your camera on to connect on a personal level. Ask open ended questions. Dig deeper and be curious.
  • Be direct about the goal: the audit isn’t meant to solve the issues but to put the spotlight on what works and needs attention. Also coming in as a consultant means an “outside-in” perspective helps. You don’t have any baggage and you can view the issues objectively.
  • Know the journey: Internal communications audit helps to gauge the effectiveness of what, who, how and when messages get shared, received and understood within organizations. If the organization is new and is starting out with internal communications, then asking internal stakeholders what they want to achieve, can help to tailor the approach.
  • Have an open mind: Every audit may not turn out to be path-breaking or eye-opening. It may end up with discovering incremental opportunities for stakeholders to fix and manage. Gather all possible elements to give you deeper insights – reports conducted internally and by third party agencies, examples of communications, a walk-though of channels, interviews with different audiences, review of external literature on the entity and focus groups.
  • Reflect and revisit: Always make your notes as you progress, ideally as a journal so that you can reflect and improve. Once you have done with all the data gathering, take time to review and re-read comments. You may come across something which strikes you as odd or novel. Giving yourself that time can allow for better distilling of insights.

Key callouts

Often the basic issues are ignored in organizations – from the value of managing grapevine, engaging early, making leaders accessible or acknowledging user experience.

Here are some perspectives that can probably help you as you go about your audit journey.

  • I discovered that language matters. Especially, in a country like India, where not always English is spoken at the workplace, communicating in the local language can get the messages embedded better.
  • Just communicating isn’t enough. You need to understand internal networks and influencers whose credibility matters at the workplace. One of the questions I asked invited respondents to share whom they reach out to most for information and the results were intriguing.
  • The audit also helped uncover that the tone of voice as shared by the organization can be often viewed differently. Unless, communication is tested before getting rolled out, it may not always be accepted.
  • Making information accessible is vital although control and fear can prevent people from letting go. Trust comes with transparency and it helps to educate leaders that allowing for democratic engagement with communication can lead to more engagement.
  • User experience is important for the success of communications. When the messages shared and how people perceive them don’t match actions taken, there can be erosion of trust.  Often, hierarchy and structures come in the way and audits can uncover these aspects.
  • Enlisting support of staff, storytelling impact, demonstrating value of communications and listening as a practice can lead to positive outcomes.

An audit is as good as the actions taken to bring about positive change. The process of running an internal communication is engrossing and provides deep insights for practical interventions. Having the commitment to see it done right and making sure the recommendations are finally acted upon, is as important as doing it in the first place.

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