Using Communication Audits to Teach Organizational Communication to Students and Employees

By Scott, Craig R.; Shaw, Sandra Pride et al. | Business Communication Quarterly, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Using Communication Audits to Teach Organizational Communication to Students and Employees


Scott, Craig R., Shaw, Sandra Pride, Timmerman, C. Erik, Frank, Volker, Laura, Quinn, Business Communication Quarterly


Communication audits serve well as educational tools for both student auditors and employees of organizations. To use audits, teachers need to gain access to organizations, especially through internal audit departments; negotiate the exchange of essentially free audit findings for a learning experience and research data; and secure commitment from top management, other organizational members, and student auditors. To administer the audit itself, teachers should start with a pilot audit followed by full assessment, conduct a two-phase process of data collection and analysis that includes questionnaires and interviews, and report findings in a timely and effective manner. The promises of the approach outweigh its inevitable perils.

Keywords: Communication audit, organizational communication, business education, assessment, best practices

MANY ORGANIZATIONAL PRACTITIONERS, researchers, and teachers are familiar with the communication audit as both a process and an assessment tool used to gauge an organization's communication effectiveness. Despite continued interest from organizations, academic scholars concerned with business and communication have in recent years paid relatively little attention to communication audits--an outcome fueled, in part, by the interpretive turn in related fields (see Putnam & Pacanowski, 1983) and a focus on more theoretical and less applied concerns (see Mumby & Stohl, 1996). Consequently, also rare are discussions concerning how the communication audit can be used to teach the importance of communication in the business setting to both students of organizational communication and employees of various organizations. Although a handful of valuable articles describes how the communication audit can be used in various courses (see Conaway, 1994; Shelby & Reinsch, 1996; Zom, 1989), we still lack sufficient knowledge about using audits for educational purposes to encourage more widespread utilization of this practice. Given the challenge of offering students opportunities in which they can conceptualize the dynamics and complexities of organizations (Putnam & Ford, 1990), the communication audit experience might serve as one of the most valuable pedagogical tools available to us as educators.

In this article we elaborate upon what we see as several of the most effective practices used in our audit experiences at a state government agency in the southwestern United States. Rather than providing assignments, books, and course syllabi for formally integrating the communication audit into the curriculum, we merely report on a set of successful practices relevant to formal and informal instruction in an attempt to emphasize how the audit can be used to educate both students and employees. We focus our efforts in this direction with the knowledge that the educational value of the communication audit process for both of these groups depends heavily on the practices used in conducting the audit itself. It is our hope that, amid what may be somewhat familiar territory to those who regularly conduct communication audits or teach business communication courses, we can offer several new avenues of valuable insight.

Communication Audits

An audit is defined as "a process of exploring, examining, monitoring, or evaluating something" (Downs, 1988, p. 3), and a communication audit focuses on communicative practices. As one professional consultant (Kopec, 1982) explains, the communication audit is a complete analysis of an organization's communications--internal and/or external--designed to "take a picture" of communication needs, policies, practices, and capabilities, and to uncover necessary data to allow top management to make informed, economical decisions about future objectives of the organization's communication. (p. 24)

In general, a communication audit may measure interpersonal communication, management/employee communication, public relations activity, effectiveness of information technology, and overall organizational communication effectiveness (Ellis, Barker, Potter, & Pridgeon, 1993).

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Using Communication Audits to Teach Organizational Communication to Students and Employees
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