“Any problem, big or small, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn’t listening” – Emma Thompson
Every organization, whatever its size, need to do a communication audit regularly. We are already familiar with audits – from compliance to financial audit – but we rarely conduct a communication audit.
Communication is crucial to organizational success and can’t be ignored. Often employees are left in the dark, not knowing about higher management’s decision or whether changes are coming. This situation can be a ground for negative rumors to spread around like wildfire. With a communication audit, we can evaluate the current state of communication and compose a strategy for improvement.
Back in 2016, we had a privilege to conduct a communication audit for a community learning center in Jakarta, Indonesia. A community learning center is a non-formal education institution initiated by and for the community. Governed by the community to improve people’s quality of life through learning. Most community learning center provides three basic educational services; package A through C, which equivalent to elementary, junior high, and high school education.
Before we continue with the communication audit process, we need to understand the bigger problem with education and community learning center in Indonesia. Unequal access to education is still a major problem in Indonesia, even in big cities like Jakarta. The main cause is poverty, lack of interest in higher education, inadequate facilities, and disability. Employment opportunities will most likely be limited and, as a result, almost all with low levels of education will end up as blue collar workers. Also, this situation often leads to social problems and a high number of crimes.
Managing a community learning center requires passion, self-reliance, and cooperation. Our auditee was established in 2004 and never had a communication audit until 2016. With more than 10 years’ experience, the community learning center should’ve become an independent and sustainable institution. However, our auditee still faced several major communication problems within the institute.
Yulia Dianova offers 5 easy steps of communication audit that you can follow for your first audit: (read the complete version here)
- Analyze the communication channels distributed to your audiences
- Interview your employees, from top management to staffs. You can also use surveys and focus groups to get feedback from employees.
- Ask how external audiences view your organization
- Combine all data into a SWOT analysis
- Make changes
There are dozens of steps to conduct a communication audit out there, you can choose which one more suitable to your needs.
For our community learning center case, we adopted Hargie and Tourish three phases of communication audit, namely:
- The diagnostic phase
In this phase, we collect information from various resources. Data and information were collected in two stages. First, interviews were conducted with the community learning center founder, manager, alumnus, and staffs. Other than that, we also observed secondary data from brochures to posters. Lastly, we conducted a focus group discussion involving the managers and staff. The aim was to find out the level of understanding of the institution’s vision and mission statement. All data were interpreted into symptoms and problems before we submitted our suggested solutions.
- The prescriptive phase
The second phase includes giving recommendations about management structure, changes in several key communication areas, and how to build an internal communication system.
- The accountability phase
Known as the functional aspect of the audit process. In the third phase, specific individuals should be in charge for different aspects of internal communication. If any problems arise, someone is specifically tasked with ensuring these are swiftly dealt with.
During the diagnostic phase, we revealed several problems. The primary problem is there is almost no connection between the center’s vision and their mission statement. A mission statement is supposed to capture the overriding purpose of an organization in line with the values and stakeholders’ expectations. The Indonesian government has released a measurement metrics for a successful community learning center: high community participation, impact on society, quality and relevance of the program, also sustainability. Out of the four, community participation and sustainability were not captured in the mission statement.
The second problem, the community learning center had revised their vision in 2015, however, the new vision hasn’t been shared with the teachers and students. This problem will have an impact on employee’s and student’s engagement and sense-of-belonging. In addition, the center’s values of familiarity, empathy, and teamwork were not communicated in daily operations. The center also didn’t have induction programs for new teachers, which is a good start to introduce the institute’s values.
Another problem, several teachers were not using syllabus in class. It wasn’t because the teachers were not aware of their obligations, but rather there was an absence of a strong control from the managers. There was a lack of socialization to instill discipline among teachers and students as it is conducted using oral communication only.
In brief, we categorized problems faced by the community learning center as:
- Unclear mission statement
- Information deficit
- Powerful negative rumors
- Poor upward communication
- Poor communication channels
- Unproductive meetings
We then suggested the following recommendations for our auditee:
- Improving the vision and mission, as well as the goals and objectives. The mission statement must cover four measurements of a successful community learning center. Also, the vision and mission statement must be shared regularly to increase awareness and engagement from employees. As we know, a vision statement describes the preferred future if our organization achieves its mission. While the mission statement is important since it defines the business, and allows us to differentiate our self from competitors.
- Improving the rules and determine the most appropriate mode of communication among employees. Applying rules can also be as a tool to guarantee quality control and programs.
- Build a reward and punishment system suitable for teachers, managers, staff, and students.
- Publishing branding campaigns and increasing the use of online media for fundraising purposes. Community learning center must learn not to rely solely on the government budget, instead, they can achieve financial independence from other funding resources.
Eight months after the communication audit process, we had the chance to evaluate the audit process. They rewrite the vision and mission statement, also they changed the head of school. With the change of management, the center’s also undergoing a major transformation. Rules, reward, and punishment system was built but hasn’t fully implemented yet. However, no branding campaigns planned in the center’s short-term goal.
Most organizations communicate poorly with their internal staffs, whether they realized it or not, which can lead to unhappy employees, which can hurt your reputation in the long run. By auditing how you communicate regularly, you can determine if your communication tools are working well, scan possible troubles and boost your communication performance.
Hargie, O., & Tourish, D. (2003) How Are We Doing? Measuring and Monitoring Organisational Communication. In D. Tourish and O. Hargie (Eds.), Key Issues in Organizational Communication. London: Routledge.
The academic version of this article published in the Pertanika Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities vol 24 no 1 2016.
A writer | researcher | lecturer who also a tech-addict and internet-junkie