ICQ10: Ten questions for internal communications 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 are a fundamental part of professional practice and pulse surveys have been a prominent feature during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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).
In this article, I explain how my AVID framework for good and ethical practice can be used as the basis for ongoing general internal communication survey questions.
The Alignment-Voice-Identification-Dialogue (AVID) framework 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 2,066 employee responses to a 120-question questionnaire, 27 interviews and nine focus groups. Because the questionnaire included questions about communication alongside questions about engagement and impact, it was possible to correlate communication to engagement and behavioural outcomes.
The AVID framework makes a clear distinction between the roles that line managers and senior managers have in internal communication. Employees prefer line managers or supervisors 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 of senior managers is to keep employees informed about important organisational matters, such as progress against current plans and proposed plans and changes (such as those required by the impact of the pandemic). The framework also emphasises employee voice (or listening) which is often simply defined as the ways that employees are given to have a say about what goes on.
In my PhD 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 organisational impact (what employees do to help the organisation achieve its objectives).
The results reinforced data from other studies and the AVID framework 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. This is important as ethical practice is highlighted as a key topic in the 2021 Journal of Communication Management Special Issue: Internal Communication during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
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 valid criticism above about focusing too much on channels, with a plethora of traditional and digital channels (which were used extensively during the pandemic) and employee apps now used, it is still important to know which channels employees find most helpful. 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 ask 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’. These insights can ensure you focus limited resources on the topics that employees are most interested in – but feel least informed about.
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 ‘good’ rating for line managers was 69 per cent and the average ‘good’ rating for senior managers was 51 per cent. But this can vary significantly 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. In research that I conducted in 2021 with colleagues, Mike Pounsford and Howard Krais, 33 percent of corporate communication managers stated their organisation invested in effective listening tools and 42 percent responded promptly to feedback. These results highlight the scope for improvement in listening to employees. 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 the ‘Who’s Listening?’ reports, including a full review of methods that can be used and good listening principles.
Questions eight, nine and ten are about organisational engagement and impact. Organisational engagement is different to work engagement. This is an important, and evolving, distinction in the employee engagement and experience fields. 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 sense of belonging.
The ICQ10 is an 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 outcome-focused approach based on critical aspects of internal communication can help practitioners to demonstrate the value to organisations in potentially increasing engagement and impact. 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.
In this recorded webinar, Kevin explains the ICQ10 internal communication survey in more detail.
Dr Kevin Ruck is the course leader for PR Academy’s CIPR Specialist Diploma: Internal Communication.