Evaluating internal communication

July 15, 2008

Stats for this blog reveal that my two most popular posts are ones about internal communication. “Turning employees into ambassadors” and “Tips for a creating a great internal newsletter” are posts that consistently get a lot of views. There’s obviously great interest in this area so I thought I’d share a few ideas about how to evaluate internal communication. I’m not an research expert but there are some basic evaluation strategies I’ve used (both as an in-house communications professional and as a consultant) that have been helpful.

Why measure?

  • To see if, in general, employees believe they have enough information to perform their duties well.
  • To figure out the areas where improvements in communication are needed.
  • To establish a baseline measurement so that when you do make a change in communication you can see if it made an improvement, remained the same or made things worse.

No budget for research

It would be nice if we all had the resources to hire a research firm. Few non-profits and small business owners do. That doesn’t mean that evaluation is impossible or that unless it’s done by a professional researcher it has no value. With a bit of thought and a small amount of time, even organizations with small budgets can carry out some basic research that can be meaningful.

How are you communicating now?

First, make a list of how employees get company information presently such as:

  • Staff meetings
  • Memos and letters
  • Email
  • Employee newsletter
  • Staff supervision sessions
  • Intranet site
  • Media releases/news reports (shouldn’t be a line of internal communication but hey, it happens)
  • Word-of-mouth (aka office gossip/rumours)
  • Suggestion box or other feedback mechanisms

What to measure

Once you’ve got your list, examine what you want to find out. You may want to know how employees get the bulk of their information, whether some groups of employees prefer some methods to others, whether employees feel they have adequate methods to voice their own concerns, suggestions and opinions. Are there certain topics/issues that are not being communicated well?

From here you can begin to shape some questions and themes you’d like to discuss or get feedback about from employees.

How to measure

There are a number of ways to carry out basic evaluation.

Focus Group – Probably the easiest and least costly option is to gather 10-12 people (perhaps a few different groups if you’re a larger organization or the whole staff if you’re small) and ask them some structured questions based on the above with someone recording the answers. This method has some pros and cons. It’s great for getting more in-depth comments but some people might not feel as free to speak their minds in a group or want to be identified with their comments at all.

Survey – The tech-age has made doing a survey very easy. There are a number of online, free or very inexpensive survey tools that are easy to use and execute. The one I’ve used with great success is SurveyMonkey. Others are Zoomerang and SurveyGizmo. These tools allow you to easily design professional looking surveys and will collate the results for you. Having collated results manually in the past, this feature rocks!

Note that it’s worth consulting resources on survey and focus group design to avoid pitfalls such as asking leading questions.

Polling – This is more of an ongoing evaluation strategy. Rather than one big survey, you can target your questions into a daily, weekly or monthly poll. There are a number of polling widgets that you can insert into your intranet site. One I found online is Quibblo which seems to have received some positive reviews. Polls are great because they are easy for employees to fill out (only one or two questions) and everyone loves to review the poll results–perhaps generating further discussion. This can be a great ongoing tool to keep you apprised of how corporate messages are being understood and can quickly reveal communication gaps.

Evaluate often

Evaluating all aspects of internal communication once a year with a great big survey is not the best way to engage employees. The survey will likely be too long resulting in fewer employees choosing to complete it. Also, smaller, more frequent surveys or polls are more likely to get thoughtful feedback as they are more focused.

Don’t overlook informal feedback as well. Talking to a group of employees in the lunch room or by the water cooler or hosting informal small gatherings to get general feedback about communication can work well too.

Report back!

One aspect of evaluation that is sometimes overlooked is reporting results back to employees. By neglecting to do this, you are helping to ensure that participation rates on your next survey or poll are lower. People want to hear what you learned from them collectively. In addition, you should report what steps your organization is going to take to improve areas based on the feedback from employees. Make reference to the employee feedback once you actually make the change as well. This will send the message that employee feedback actually does result in improvements.

How does your organization evaluate internal communication? Tell me about it by submitting a comment below.

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3 Responses to “Evaluating internal communication”

  1. mary palmer Says:

    really helpful information

  2. messagecom Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Ben. Glad this post was helpful!

  3. Ben Says:

    Very interesting post. I’m looking at trying to evaluate and improve upon the internal communication of a company I am to be joining soon. There didn’t seem to be many books, articles, blog or general websites with this sort of information.

    I’d had the idea of using focus groups but had no idea how to begin planning what to ask, etc.

    I also like the idea of embracing intranets and new, yet fairly basic, technology. Brilliant starting point for me, thanks.

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