Internal organizational communication is critical. As strategic communicators, we may think that a company’s external audiences are key but, in reality, it is the internal audience that should be top priority.
An organization’s internal audience creates powerful and credible word-of-mouth messaging. Further, employees are an organization’s most effective brand ambassadors. Their perceptions, support, and loyalty are critical for long-term success.
In organizations that continue to operate under more traditional “top-down” and hierarchical structures, managing internal communication can be challenging. The presence of multiple management layers also creates multiple layers of filtering, processing, and editing. Also consider that each management layer will tend to frame communications based on departmental – or even personal – agendas. Anyone who has tried to move an idea from conception through tiers of decision-makers understands the need for clear, streamlined communication practices.
As the current business environment is trending toward flatter, more efficient structures, internal communication efforts are often easier and more effective. In these environments, leaders communicate directly to employees, without filtering by department heads, managers, and supervisors. This greatly enhances leader transparency, and helps to ensure message acceptance and understanding.
With that said, it’s important, in every type of organization, to assess both the efficacy of internal communication efforts and employee perceptions of the organization, its offerings, and its leadership.
One of the most informative methods for evaluating leadership effectiveness is the 360-degree assessment, a multi-rater tool typically completed by the leader’s coworkers.
Numerous companies provide 360-degree assessments. The selection of these instruments is best left to the HR director or I/O consultant; however, when the senior communications
executive is privy to assessment results and employee opinions, s/he can take proactive steps to ensure that internal perceptions, morale, and engagement remain positive. Here are a few links to several 360-degree instruments:
Other types of internal communication assessments include:
- Surveys: Surveys can easily be distributed through the company’s intranet, or a service provider such as Survey Monkey. Surveys provide a relatively simple and easy method for culling quantitative data. This site provides a comparison of the top online survey sites for 2017.
- Focus groups: Focus groups can net more in-depth feedback regarding specific organizational questions or issues. However, employees may not feel comfortable sharing their opinions in front of peers. This is a particular risk that may outweigh the benefits. Focus groups require trained, experienced facilitators, a well-planned format, and clear objectives. For more information on this type of qualitative research, see http://bit.ly/2kdGjbu and http://www.eiu.edu/ihec/Krueger-FocusGroupInterviews.pdf. And, if you’re interested in obtaining facilitator training, there are several companies that provide this education. Here is a link to one of the larger training providers: http://www.burkeinstitute.com/SeminarDescription/Detail/Q01
- Interviews: One-on-one interviews provide the opportunity for deep, focused discussion which can provide the interviewer with valuable insights and ideas. Here again, employees may not feel completely at-ease sharing their thoughts and feelings, so it’s best to use a third party interviewer to conduct these meetings.
- Polls: Polls are a fast, informal method for gathering employee feedback. They can be administered through the company intranet, via email, or the company’s Facebook page.
The following resource provides a wealth of additional information on the importance and practice of assessing internal communication: https://www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/arewethereyet.pdf
Before commencing any communication campaign, careful strategy and planning must be conducted, and this should always begin with a thorough assessment of the internal audience.
Debra Davenport Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.
About the Author
Debra Davenport is the president and CEO of Davenport Public Relations, a full-service firm with offices in Phoenix and Los Angeles. She is a faculty member with Purdue’s Brian Lamb School of Communication where she teaches in the MS in Communication program.
*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.
Downs, C. and Adrian, A. (2012). Assessing Organizational Communication: Strategic Communication Audits. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN1-59385-010-7