Conducting an Internal Communications Audit

How do you know if your internal communications system works as you intended? Are there communication gaps, good utilization by the targeted groups of employees, clear and consistent messaging, and a way to capture employee feedback so leaders can respond? Can you detect signs of union organizing or potential labor relations issues? Do internal communications support the corporate brand as an employer of choice? These are just a few questions an internal communications audit can answer. The internal communications audit is a systematic approach to assessing the communication systems and processes to determine what needs implementation or improvement. Without an effective communications system, your organization is vulnerable to lower employee engagement, high turnover, difficulty attracting talent, and higher chances of union organizing.

Goals of the Internal Communications System

First and above all, an audit of internal communications concerns the employer brand. Sarah Smith, Communications Consultant with IRI Consultants, explains, “The employer brand highlights the internal value of your organization and is what the organization communicates to current and prospective employees, both directly and indirectly. A strong employer brand must be based on equally strong internal communications.” 

Do your internal communications support or undermine your employer brand? Before conducting an internal communications audit, take the time to think about the broad goals. For example, do you want to develop better communications with deskless or remote employees? Do you want to give employees a stronger voice? Perhaps the communication system can play a more significant role in eliminating organizational silos by supporting cross-function collaboration. Corporate communication quality plays a major role in enabling or supporting:

It’s not uncommon for organizations to piecemeal their communication system over time by adding new technologies or platforms without ensuring the integration of the components. There is also a good chance some components of the communication system are not used because they don’t meet employee needs or the complexity of the communication tools discourages use because it’s too difficult to access the right information or connect with coworkers and managers or supervisors. Employees can quickly lose their sense of inclusion and belonging when that happens. 

McKinsey’s survey found that employers “seem to overlook the relational elements that are key drivers for why employees are leaving, such as lack of belonging or feeling valued at work.” Employees are “far more likely to prioritize relational factors, whereas employers were more likely to focus on transactional ones.” When employees lose their sense of belonging or don’t feel valued, they either quiet quit, quit, or stay and start a union organizing campaign. Your communications system should be efficient, productive, easy to use, and able to facilitate work and collaboration between onsite and remote employees and leaders and their team members. 

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What is in a Communications Audit?

Identifying the goals of the communications audit is followed by identifying connections like who communicates with whom currently; who should be communicating with whom going forward; how people receive information and what kind of information they need; and what type of communication is presently occurring. The audit’s objectives identify communication effectiveness, communication gaps and barriers, and employee satisfaction with the communication system. Do your leaders and employees trust the communication system, and is the feedback quality good? How do employees rate the communication system’s value?

The internal communications audit drives the strategy to elevate employee engagement and promote positive employee relations. It’s similar to a SWOT analysis because it evaluates strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Following are some of the questions the audit seeks to answer.

  • How effective were past communications, and how were communications handled?
  • Who are the key users of the communication system, what information do they need, and what communication is preferred?
  • What are the projected communication needs?
  • What are the most effective communications tools in place now?
  • How do internal and external communications relate to each other?
  • Have employee concerns been expressed about communication?
  • What does the data indicate about system use and effectiveness?
  • Do key corporate messages support the company’s mission and values?
  • Which communication elements are not well-accessed, indicating a messaging problem? 

A communications audit is like a research project. There are several ways to gather information. Ideally, a neutral consultant conducts the audit so that anyone asked for information feels more comfortable answering questions. The ways to collect information include: 

  • Review of current communications – evaluate all existing communication channels, tech-based and written materials
  • Employee electronic surveys – ensures all employees have an opportunity to participate in the assessment and enables reaching specified groups of employees and management levels
  • Telephone interviews – in some situations, a telephone interview is appropriate
  • Face-to-face interviews – interviews can be held online and in-person
  • Review of relevant past data – review records of past employee suggestions or complaints about the communication system
  • Interview internal groups – interviewing Employee Resource Groups may add significant value to understanding how communication works in the organization
Free Internal Communications Checklist Guide

Relationship Between the Internal Communications Audit and Union Vulnerability

Employer brand, employee communications, and union vulnerability are tied together. There are many reasons to conduct an internal communications assessment, directly impacting how well your organization can make unions unnecessary. Developing sound employee communications systems is necessary for preventing union organizing because a sound system empowers employees and gives them a voice. 

Many triggers for deciding whether an internal communications assessment is necessary are related to change which increases vulnerability to unions unless the change is managed transparently and employees are given opportunities for feedback. Some reasons employers choose to perform an internal communications audit include the following.

  • Your organization is going through a crisis, and communication effectiveness must be improved as quickly as possible
  • Your organization has grown and become more complex, and the communication channels have not been adapted to fit the new structure
  • There is a change in executive management, and the new CEO wants to understand the existing internal communications and how they can be improved
  • Your leaders have learned that employees are unhappy with the lack of feedback opportunities and are discussing potential unionizing
  • The communication system is disjointed and needs a complete overhaul to meet the organization’s needs for future growth

Supporting worker voice is essential to all strategies to avoid unionizing in every industry, i.e., retail, manufacturing, healthcare, transportation and warehousing, food industry, hospitality, and any other industry you name.

The state of the workforce and workplace is in constant turmoil today. Gleb Tsipursky, CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts and author, recently discussed the stress that many employees are experiencing over being told they have to return to the office and aren’t permitted to work remotely anymore or as much as they were working remotely. He points to several examples of workers who went on strike or protested. He writes (in his opinion only):

By ignoring the benefits of remote work and forcing their employees back to the office, employers risk alienating their workers, and they may also be creating a situation where workers are more likely to unionize. This is because when employees feel that their needs are not being met, they are more likely to band together and form a union to protect their interests. Remote work enables worker power without the intermediate of a union–and employers who recognize this fact will be better positioned to succeed in the years ahead. As a manager, listening to your employees and working with them to create the best possible work environment is essential. By doing so, you can create a strong and vibrant workplace culture that will help you succeed in the long run. 

Whether or not you agree with requiring employees to return to the office full-time, the message is that leadership listening is important to remaining free of union organizing. Developing an internal communication system that enables listening to employees and providing feedback is critical to avoiding unionization, whether employees intend to join a traditional labor union or organize as an independent union. 

The labor unions attempt to make it seem that organizing is the only way employees can gain an employee voice, and that’s not true. An internal communications audit can help management identify the communication gaps contributing to union vulnerability. It doesn’t replace a union vulnerability assessment; it complements it. 

Getting Started on an Internal Communications Audit

Communication consultants Sarah Smith and other communication experts at IRI Consultants have expertise working with management to customize a communications assessment checklist that enables getting started on your own, advocating for an assessment with decision-makers, or working with consultants to conduct an internal communications audit. A checklist assures that the proper steps are taken to achieve goals, including collecting communications materials from all the communication channels, gathering feedback, conducting interviews with employees, and gathering metrics for evaluation, to name a few steps. 

Once the internal communication assessment is completed, it’s time to complete a phased action plan for change. “Share what you learned not only with leadership but also with the employees you interviewed,” says Sarah Smith, “An important attribute of strong internal communications is a culture of transparency and respectful accountability among all employees. Once you have your action plan, invite the employees you interviewed to review it and ask them to be partners in holding the organization accountable for implementing the action plan.” 

Once completed, the internal communication audit may be taken a step further by assessing external communications effectiveness and how it’s integrated with employer branding that begins internally. IRI designs communications assessments and campaigns that support organizational change, enhancing current communications to strengthen employee engagement and union organizing campaign responses. Contact IRI Consultants for assistance in meeting your organization’s internal communication needs.

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