Communication Impact Surveys That Work


How do you maximize the return on your investment in employee communication? How do you demonstrate the value of communication to senior management? It’s simple: Apply your resources to the communication practices that have the biggest impact on business results.

Studies like Watson Wyatt’s Communication ROI Study™ have identified the practices that have the biggest impact on the bottom line. Independent research like this is useful. But how do you determine which practices drive results and how well they are working in your organization?

To answer these questions, you need to solicit feedback from your users and audience—your own employees. A communication impact survey is a tool that can provide the data you need.

Communication impact surveys allow companies to establish a baseline about the effectiveness of their communication practices and compare their results with global benchmarks. The scope of these surveys is limited to communication issues. Consequently, they ask fewer questions, take less time and are less costly to conduct than overall employee surveys.

What you learn from these surveys enables you to focus your time and money on the communication practices that deliver the best results for your business. The following guidelines will help you successfully navigate the survey process.

Ask the right questions
Figuring out which questions to ask takes time. Fortunately, you don’t have to start from scratch. Communicators for a global manufacturing and solutions company used the results of the Watson Wyatt Communication ROI Study to determine which communication practices to focus on in their companywide survey.

In thinking about the survey content, these communicators asked how they would use what they learned from each question to make a difference to the business. By starting with the end in mind, the team was able to craft 50 highly targeted questions that measured the effectiveness of practices that drive bottom-line results.

The survey provided quantitative data for building their strategic plan. Moreover, it created a new level of dialogue between senior leaders and communicators. That dialogue elevated the role of communicators in the organization, making them contributing partners to business success.

The effectiveness of your communication practices may differ by job level, country, business unit and other factors. As you develop your questions, keep these disparate audiences in mind. Include demographic questions that let you segment survey responses so you can gain insight into the specific needs of each audience.

Determine the scope
If surveying the entire workforce is not practical, consider sampling. Sampling can provide equally useful results without as much effort. The key is to choose participants carefully to ensure a statistically representative sample.

Sample size varies according to what you want to accomplish. For example, if your goal is to gain insight for developing a global strategy that allows you to reach the regional level—and perhaps even the local level—you’ll need a larger sample size.

If you can’t get funding for even a small survey, look for other ways to gather your data. Communicators at a regional health care system overcame this obstacle by partnering with a team that was conducting an overall employee survey. By embedding communication-related questions in the employee survey, they were able to collect data that helped them improve communication effectiveness as well as justify additional staffing for the communication function.

Select the data collection method
The method you choose to collect data affects survey design and the type of data you collect. Survey methods include online, print and telephone. Online surveys are less expensive and more flexible than paper-based surveys. Today’s online survey tools include branching and other capabilities that not only make responding to surveys easier and faster, but also gather more detailed data.

But online surveys aren’t suitable for all employee groups. People who work on a factory floor or in a retail environment, for example, may not have easy access to computers. For these groups, a paper-scannable survey administered in a group setting during work hours is a better approach.

Telephone surveys are also appropriate for these as well as other audiences. Responses can be collected using voice recognition or by having participants press numbers on the keypad—for example, “press 1 if you agree”—to respond to questions.

Encourage participation
Effective promotion is vital to getting a high survey response rate. You need a solid communication plan that clearly conveys the purpose of the survey and its importance to business success. Publicize the survey through multiple channels—articles in the company newsletter, the company intranet, traditional mail, e-mail and face-to-face meetings with key members of the workforce.

For global enterprises, translation into local languages is essential to ensure comprehension and participation. The global manufacturing and solutions company mentioned earlier translated its survey into 10 languages to ensure high response rates from employees in all of the organization’s locations.

Take action
The real work starts after the survey data are in. Comparison of your data to industry benchmarks, such as those provided by the Watson Wyatt Communication ROI Study and the Global WorkAttitudes Study, yields insight into how your company compares to industry peers. Further analysis shows what’s working and what’s not with respect to your internal communication programs. Leverage these valuable insights to enhance your communication strategy and tactics for the coming year—expanding tools and programs that are working and dropping those that aren’t.

Share the results with senior managers and employees. Demonstrate to leadership how the changes you’re making to your communication strategy support the organization’s business goals and objectives. Prove to employees that you are listening to them by making changes based on their input.

A well-designed and well-executed communication impact survey gives you the data you need to make decisions based on fact, not intuition. It can help in making the case for staffing based on significant and demonstrated return on investment. More important, it can help you dramatically improve communication effectiveness in your organization, setting the stage for improved financial performance.