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Communications Audits Overview

In today's rapidly changing, technology-driven environment, organizational communicators are challenged to be more flexible, responsive and innovative in meeting both the immediate communication needs of the organization and anticipating future needs. A GuideStar Research communications audit helps you address this critical, dual challenge.

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Quality relationships within groups and between groups, based on trust, commitment and common purpose, bind people together and motivate them to achieve their goals. A communications audit is akin to a medical checkup or financial audit. It is a thorough and systematic examination to determine what is functioning well and what is not. It often provides guidance and direction on how communications can be improved.

Our communications Audits present an objective report on the effectiveness of your internal and external communications. An audit can be widely focused, covering all stakeholder groups, or more narrowly focused on one or more groups such as customers, employees, investors, the community, etc. It can also be limited to one or more specific communication programs.

In large part, the challenge falls to corporate communications to create the kind of cathartic leader/manager-led communications experiences that can generate collaboration and motivation within and between groups. This is an often-neglected or overlooked area of opportunity for internal communications groups; one that is vital to the success of the organization and one that can be measured in a communications audit. Its primary purpose is to determine the degree to which communications with specific groups are effective, useful and valuable in supporting and advancing the organization's strategic objectives. Findings of an audit may result in minor or major changes in communications strategies and in the ways in which communications are planned and implemented.

Audit methods, completion time and costs vary depending upon the audit's scope and the organization. Before undertaking your audit, we'll assess your unique communications needs, goals and climate as well as your organization's unique culture, history, dynamics and competitive and financial environments.

The audit process unfolds in several stages:

1. Planning and Design
The planning and design stage defines the audit's scope and goals, populations involved, communications and channels to be audited, audit methods to be used, timeframe and budget. The audit plan is often developed through interviews, discussions and collaboration with a variety of senior managers and the auditor or audit team.

2. Research and Measurement
Research and measurement begins with informal exploratory research and often moves to formal, scientific methods of gathering information. The two informal, exploratory research methods used most often are in-depth interviews and focus groups. The formal, scientific measurement method used most often for primary source research is a survey. Analysis of existing databases (prior surveys, etc.) is sometimes used to add further dimension and trend information to the audit findings. This is known as secondary source research and tracking or benchmarking, in the case of benchmark data.

Depending on the audit's goals and design, research and measurement of some or all of the following may be involved: face-to-face communications and the grapevine; flow patterns among individuals, departments, divisions and leadership; publications in print, video and audio plus other audiovisuals; large group meetings and events; memos and written communications; leadership and manager-led communications; electronic communications such as e-mail, voice-mail, online bulletin boards, intranets; and feedback systems.

In addition to communications media, patterns, flow, channels, and technologies, a communications audit examines content clarity and effectiveness; information needs of individuals, work groups, departments and divisions; non-verbal communications and corporate culture issues; and communication impacts on motivation and performance.

We give significant attention to the Core-7 Communications Measurement Dimensions, those areas upon which people can be most affected by communications: their knowledge, understanding and perceptions; opinions, attitudes and beliefs; issues, concerns and feelings; needs and preferences; abilities; intentions; and behaviors.

Leadership/manager-led communications have become increasingly important in affecting people's understanding, perceptions, attitudes, intentions, collaboration and behavior in organizations and groups. Measuring the quality of these interpersonal communication experiences is a critical dimension in a successful communications audit.

GuideStar, in collaboration with Dr. Howard V. Perlmutter, Emeritus Professor of the Wharton School of Management, University of Pennsylvania, has pioneered the development of a unique set of measures, Deep DialogSM, for analyzing the quality and productivity of collaborative relationships that are essential to a group's or organization's success.

Leadership/Manager-Led Communications
One of the most critical dimensions of organizational communications, which must be assessed, is the effectiveness of leadership/manager-led communications, the "human communications system" within an organization. This can be generally defined as "meetings," the transfer of information and interactive dialog between leaders and managers, and represents the nervous system of an organization.

An inventory of how often, where, with whom and for what purpose meetings are held needs to be acquired for leadership-led management conferences, divisional meetings, functional area meetings, work group meetings, and one-on-one meetings. The effectiveness of these meetings and the competence of the meeting leaders needs to be assessed to determine whether the "meeting nervous system" is working well in informing, focusing and motivating a majority of people in the organization.

Cascading meeting events containing important strategic information combined with ongoing meetings in which people get current information, clarify information and dialog with their supervisors at all levels has been found to be the most powerful medium to keep an organization strategically on track.

Deep DialogSM Collaborative Communications Measures
Interpersonal collaborative communications must be healthy and productive for groups to function successfully within themselves, with other groups and with other organizations.

Project teams, functional areas within organizations, joint-ventures, research alliances, sales and service organizations, distribution networks and other groups all need healthy, productive collaboration in order to succeed in reaching their goals.

Deep DialogSM is a powerful tool for measuring and diagnosing the quality, health and productivity of collaborative relationships within groups and between groups and organizations; i.e., customers, employees, project teams, alliance partners, network partners, etc.

Deep Dialog is a set of 12 questions that measure the quality and presence of drivers and deficits in a relationship. Originally developed by Dr. Howard V. Perlmutter, Emeritus Professor of the Wharton School of Management, University of Pennsylvania, Deep Dialog measures have been proven to be scientifically valid by GuideStar Research using data from many surveys conducted over the past five years with tens of thousands of global business professionals.

By comparing the Deep Dialog scores of a group or organization in a relationship with another group with the scores of survey respondents in GuideStar's Deep Dialog Normative Database, a clear and accurate diagnosis of the relationship can be accomplished quickly that will reveal the degree of health in the relationship.

Deep Dialog scores are highly accurate in predicting the degree of success and failure within project teams, customer relationships, employee relationships, joint ventures, mergers and other critical relationships and endeavors.

By conducting Deep Dialog Audits on a periodic basis, teams, groups and organizations can improve their chances for success and reduce their chances of failure significantly. Because Deep Dialog Audits are relatively inexpensive and can be conducted quickly online with team members, customer and employee groups, distributor networks, alliance partners, etc., it is diagnostic tool that every organization should consider when assessing the quality of their communications.

3. Analysis and Reporting
The final phase is analysis and reporting. After examining all the information gathered in the research and measurement phase, an analysis is conducted to determine how well the communications satisfy the needs of the organization and the stakeholder groups today and how well these communications will serve changing needs in the operational future (1-2 years).

Conduct of a communications audit is usually performed by outside consultants because of their professional experience, expertise and objectivity. In addition, an independent third party's guarantee of confidentiality often produces a higher level of trust from employees and other stakeholders in in-depth interviews, focus groups and surveys. This often produces more open, candid, real world information than that which can be acquired by in-house research efforts. This is especially true when an organization is in the process of transformation.

When to Perform an Audit
Though it is always advisable to audit an individual communication's effectiveness on an ongoing basis as an integral part of the Communications Cycle, broader Audits are essential when an organization is undergoing change. Some examples include: merger or acquisition; reduction of personnel; new functions or business lines undertaken; external circumstances forcing changes; and acquisition of new technology, especially if it is information or communications technology.

Audit Benefits
A well-done communications audit will produce a clear understanding of how communications are really working and the degree to which they are satisfying needs. From this flows a number of opportunities; improved productivity and competitive advantage, better use of existing and future communications and information technology, more efficient use of time, discovery of hidden information resources, improved morale and a more vibrant corporate culture among others.

 

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