When (Not) to Survey and the Role of Third Parties

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Q: I am a survivor of a merger of four regional airlines in Canada. As the sole body in charge of employee communications for an organization with 6,000 employees based in dozens of communities from coast to coast, I’m feeling just a tad overwhelmed. I have been tasked with a number of challenges, not the least of which is conducting an internal communications audit.

My question is this… is there ever a wrong time to conduct a communications audit? I mean the organization structure is yet to be finalized and employees are leaving the company or moving into new areas on a daily basis. Results are bound to be skewed by a significant number of people who will not be around in two months. As well, the prevailing gloom and doom brought on by months of uncertainty and stress is likely to abate somewhat as the dust begins to settle.

Another big question… by nature, should not an audit be performed by an impartial third party instead of the very people (person) who produce(s) internal communications? Any advice or hints on how to begin, where to look for these answers, and audit resources would be much appreciated.

Flying without a copilot

A: Dear Flying,

First, let me say I really empathize with you. I’ve been in similar situations, and it’s rarely very satisfying, but it does provide for lots of good experiences to trade on later! Yes, many parts of a communication audit should be done by an outsider for maximum objectivity and candor, such as executive interviews, employee focus groups etc. Sometimes the third party also brings expertise in things like developing questionnaires and interpreting survey results where the issue isn’t so much objectivity as it is experience in knowing what to ask and how to analyze what’s meaningful and what is just so much oise.

On the other hand, there are a lot of measures that you CAN conduct yourself (assuming you have the spare time!) because the measures are objective by definition. For example, you could conduct a content analysis to see what types of information you have been covering in a publication or your intranet site and how well that compares with your organization’s objectives, geographies, business units, etc. You could also install software on a web site that measures many aspects of user usage.

As far as the right time to measure, it depends on what you’re measuring. If you want to find out how satisfied employees are overall with communication, they’re probably at a low point now. That means it’s the perfect time to measure if you want to establish a low baseline now to show how much improvement you make in the future. It’s the wrong time if you want to show why you should get a big pay increase right now.

However, most communication audits identify not just satisfaction, but actual patterns of current and preferred communication. That information could be invaluable right now to make sure everyone is getting what they need, the way they need it, as soon as possible to help the company get profitable again quickly. Also, I don’t know about Canadian tax laws, but in the US, many types of research related to a merger are tax deductible under very favorable conditions if they are conducted within a short time of the merger.

For more information on where to start, you might want to look at some of the other Qs & As in this section on communication audits. Best of luck, and may you have a strong tail wind!

Angela D. Sinickas