ICQ10: Ten questions for internal comms surveys

About the author

Kevin is a co-founder of PR Academy and editor/co-author of Exploring Internal Communication published by Routledge. Kevin leads the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma course. PhD, MBA, BA Hons, PGCE, FCIPR, CMgr, MCMI.

Internal communication surveys and audits are a fundamental part of professional practice.

But what are the ‘right’ questions to ask? This depends on whether you are interested in outputs (such as opens, clicks, visits or likes), outcomes (changes in understanding) or impact (changes in behaviour).

Another important factor is the research and thinking behind the approach used; audits should always be based on robust academic research and theory.

In this article, I explain how my AVID model for good and ethical practice can be used as the basis for ten core internal communication survey questions for internal communication audits.

The Alignment-Voice-Identification-Dialogue (AVID) model evolved out of my PhD research that explored employee channel preferences, information interests, comms satisfaction levels and organisational engagement levels.

The study was based on 2066 employee responses to a 120-question questionnaire, 27 interviews and nine focus groups. Because the questionnaire included questions about communication alongside questions about engagement, it was possible to correlate communication to engagement and behavioural outcomes.

The AVID model makes a clear distinction between the roles that line managers and senior managers have in internal communication. Employees clearly stated that they preferred line managers to talk about local team related topics most of the time and then, only when appropriate, they should make the link between teamwork and overall organisational purpose and goals.

The role for senior managers is to keep employees informed about important organisational matters, such as progress against current plans and proposed plans and changes. The model also emphasises employee voice which is often simply defined as the opportunities that employees are given to have a say about what goes on.

In my research employee voice, senior manager communication and line manager communication were all correlated with organisational engagement (what employees think and feel about the organisation) and behaviour (what employees do to help the organisation achieve its objectives). The results reinforced data from other studies and the AVID model is, therefore, based on solid academic and practitioner research and thinking. It also incorporates a strong ethical dimension as it includes employee voice as a critical component.

To enable practitioners to test or audit internal communication and organisational engagement a simple ten internal communication question survey, the ICQ10, has been developed as a short form adaptation of the longer questionnaire used in the PhD study.

Before explaining this in more detail, it is worth highlighting that internal communication audits do have a reasonably long history. The first time the term ‘communication audit’ is thought to have been used is in 1954 when an audit was conducted to measure the accuracy and completeness of information transmitted between a company’s management and its engineering staff. What the researcher found was that the engineers felt surprisingly uninformed.

The International Communication Association (ICA) devoted considerable attention to the issue of communication audits in the 1970s. However, past (and many current) approaches to internal communication audits tend to focus too much on channels and the amount of information provided. And past audits rarely, if ever, correlated internal communication to engagement and behaviour. The ICQ10 addresses these points.

The first part of the ICQ10 focuses on channels and information. Despite the criticism above about focusing too much on channels, with a plethora of traditional and social media channels now used inside organisations it is still important to know which channels employees find most helpful. Data from my research and from other industry reports suggests that email briefings and face to face meetings remain the top two preferred channels for employees. It is how helpful other channels are for employees that guides practitioners to develop an effective channel matrix.

Questions two and three focus on the information that employees are interested in and asks employees how well informed they are on a range of topics. This enables practitioners to do a communication gap analysis. For example, employees in your organisation may report a 95 per cent interest in ‘plans for the future’ but report only a 20 per cent level of feeling informed about ‘plans for the future’.

Questions four and five are focused on communication ratings for senior managers and line managers. It is common to find that ratings for line manager communication are higher than for senior manager communication. In my research the average rating for line managers was 69 per cent and the average rating for senior managers was 51 per cent. But this can vary from organisation to organisation and it is important to establish the situation in your own organisation.

Questions six and seven are both about employee voice. Question six is about the opportunity employees are given to have a say about what goes on. Question seven is about the way that voice is treated. A Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) UK Working Lives report revealed that 42 percent of employees rated their organisation as good or very good at seeking views and 39 percent rated their organisation as good or very good at responding to suggestions. These results highlight the scope for improvement in employee voice in the UK. And it is the authenticity of responses that employees receive that is really important as that’s what makes them feel valued. There is more information about employee voice in this previous PR Place blog post.

Questions eight, nine and ten are about organisational engagement. Organisational engagement is different to work engagement. This is an important, and evolving, distinction in the employee engagement field. Work engagement is related to an employee’s job, their pay, rewards, recognition, career development and their team environment. Organisational engagement is the connection with the wider organisation and can be understood as cognitive, emotional and behavioural:

  • Cognitive engagement as the way that employees appraise their workplace climate
  • Emotional engagement stems from cognitive engagement and is about pride and trust
  • Behavioural engagement is the most overt form and is about what an employee does

These aspects are reflected in questions eight, nine and ten.

The ICQ10 is an employee-centric outcome focused approach to internal communication measurement. Although output measures such as opens, clicks, visits or likes can be useful they only take you to the first base of effective measurement and evaluation.

An outcomes focused approach based on critical aspects of internal communication can help practitioners to demonstrate the value to organisations in potentially increasing engagement and changing behaviours. The survey can, of course, also be combined with interviews and focus groups to provide a greater depth of understanding.

Using the ICQ10 as a dashboard for management reports is also an effective way of increasing credibility and recognition for internal communication as a strategic management occupation.

Here’s a recording of last week’s webinar on internal communication audits, as part of AMEC measurement month.


Dr Kevin Ruck is course leader for PR Academy’s CIPR courses on internal communication