One day at work, I asked my boss what I thought was an innocent question, “Hey, what time does the meeting start?” My boss replied, “DIDN’T you read the memo?” Yes, in fact I had. I had read all 7 memos sent that day, and each had a different time for when the meeting started — each made sure to bury those times in an endless mass of text. What could have been a 5-second informative response turned into 5-second condescending passive-aggressive non-answer.
Tax season is upon us and it’s not just the perfect time to do your own financial audit but a communications audit for your company. As a company’s leader, you keep a close eye on your external communications with customers, shareholders, and the public. But you should take an even closer look at how you communicate with your employees.
While I mostly write speeches for CEOs, I’ve began to notice that the same principles involved in speech writing also apply to communications within the company. Brevity, clarity, and organization, are needed in speeches just as much as they are in daily memos, emails, and meetings.
The first step in your audit should be to decide what information you want to gather. Your questions and focus should center on the following areas:
1. Quantity of communication: How many times per day are you talking to your employees? Per week? Per month? With each method of communication, how much is inside? Do your meetings go on for hours? Are emails 5 pages long if printed out?
2. Method of information: What do you use as the primary form of communication — meetings, emails, printed memos? What do your employees like better?
3. Ease of finding critical information: How do employees know what’s the most important vs. the least important in a memo or email? Do you highlight necessary deadlines or are they buried in the endless text of an email? Is the information in a memo or email actually valuable or are people just getting CC’d with irrelevant information?
Next, use the questions above and others you’ve generated to guide your data collection. Survey your employees and collect a sampling of your internal communication methods.
Depending on the size of your company, you can conduct your communications audit through written surveys, in-person interviews, or a mix between the two. For efficiency, a multiple choice survey with short-answer questions will do. If you want to go deeper, schedule one-on-one interviews with a representative sample of employees at your company.
In addition to surveys and interviews, go collect past memos, meeting agendas, emails, newsletters, speeches, and anything else that you’ve sent out to your employees in the past 6 months to a year. Look through this information and ask the same questions as above. Get other people involved for an outsider’s perspective.
Finally, create a report that not only lists the problems you discovered but how you are going to fix them. Often, surveys aren’t enough for employees to feel that they are being heard. Instead, you have to go one step further and show them that their concerns were heard and that you are taking concrete steps to addressing them.
You should do a communications audit once per year, but twice per year is preferable. After the first audit, you will have a report and a set of action items that you can track to keep everyone updated on how you are improving internal communications at your company. In the end, fewer meetings will be missed, more deadlines will be met, and the mood and culture of your company will ultimately improve.
Eddie Rice is a speech writer for executives, government officials, business leaders, and anyone in between. Find him on twitter: @eddierice84, subscribe to his newsletter, visit his site: www.customspeechwriting.com and when you’re ready to give your next speech, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org