7 steps to getting leaders’ buy-in on a comms audit

The big bosses who dole out money for projects need more than your say-so. Come armed with hard data and a solid business case, enlist a strategic ally, and be judicious about your timing.

If you’re like many communicators, you’d like to do a communication audit, but you can’t seem to persuade senior leaders to pull the trigger.

Here are some tips to get buy-in from your senior leaders and “sell” the benefits of a communication audit:

1. Identify your champion. Whose backing do you need to get the ball rolling? Who can give you the support and budget you need? Some senior leaders are better at being a champion or sponsor than others, and part of a project’s success lies in choosing the right ally. This person should be the highest-level person you are on good terms with and feel comfortable presenting the business case to. Even if this person is not the decision-maker, they can help steer you to the right person. Don’t be afraid to involve colleagues and mobilize allies to help persuade senior leaders. The more people on your side thinking it’s a good idea, the better.

2. Timing is everything. When you present your case is just as important as to whom. What is the lead time in your organization? When do budget discussions start? When does budget planning taking place? Budgets are often planned well in advance, so find out when would be the best time of year to make your case. Not only is the budget cycle critical, it’s also important to find the right moment to introduce your ideas, such as when organizational priorities shift, senior leaders leave or join the company, or top execs start to care about a communication-related topic or trend. That’s when you can position a communication audit to “catch the wave.”

3. Align your goals, and speak their language. As stated in the Harvard Business Review, studies show that senior executives dismiss good ideas “from below far too often, largely for this reason: If they don’t already perceive an idea’s relevance to organizational performance, they don’t deem it important enough to merit their attention.” Conducting a communication audit must be framed within your organization’s priorities. Once senior leaders understand how improved employee communication fits into the big picture, they’ll be more willing to put resources (read: money) behind evaluating it. How can communication help or support your organization in meeting its goals? Match the same language in your audit’s objectives to your organization’s goals and strategies.

4. Remember that money talks. Most senior leaders don’t deal with day-to-day operations, but rather they focus on strategy and the direction of the organization. Most of the time, this relates to profitability. When presenting the case for a communication audit, it’s always smart to put heavy emphasis on the bottom line: What is the financial impact? Focus on how an audit would save money by uncovering what’s working and what’s not. This helps you to streamline your efforts and put resources behind what’s effective, and to minimize, or even eliminate, what’s not. Top leaders want to see financial benefits. Yes, an investment is required up front for a communication audit, but there will be savings in the long run as communications become more efficient and effective. What organization doesn’t want to gain the maximum benefit from any investment?

5. Say, “Help me to help you.” Focus on how the audit will aid the person to whom you are presenting, and tailor it to match their goals, values and knowledge. How will it make their job easier? How will it benefit them otherwise? Understand their motivations. A few examples:

  • Is the person in charge of developing organizational strategy? An audit shows you are thinking strategically and can help build a strategic communication plan.
  • Is this person a senior leader who just received low communication ratings? A communication audit can help uncover how to correct the issues.
  • Is the person new to the job? An audit gauges the effectiveness of current communications, establishes a baseline and reveals where improvements are needed.
  • Does this person want you to take employee communications in a direction you disagree with, or to maintain the status quo? The audit results and employee feedback will help you argue the case for each communication program, initiative or tool based on hard evidence—objective data and facts—rather than on subjective views.
  • Ask: What are the biggest problems this person faces in their job? How can improved communication help solve these issues?

6. Be persistent. You might not prevail the first time you present your idea. Many communicators must make the case several times before getting the go-ahead—and the budget—for an audit. Always welcome feedback, and then incorporate those suggestions into your revised plan. The communicator who keeps asking for what they want and demonstrating their idea’s value will ultimately be the most persuasive.

7. Bring in an expert. Sometimes you need an outside expert to break through barriers. A third party often has greater latitude to challenge traditional thinking, think outside the box and present alternative viewpoints to your organization’s leaders. Plus, they know the ins and outs, as well as the myriad benefits, of conducting a communication audit.

Katrina Gill is an affiliate consultant for Ragan Consulting Group and the owner of Gill Research LLC, a full-service research firm specializing in communication audits.

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