Timeliness and inconsistency of messages often occur when communications are distributed via managers and teams rather than in a centralized and measured way. Discover how building an effective communication cascade could complement your internal comms plan.
What is a communication cascade
In contrast to a centralized internal comms plan – where information originating from a single point (typically the IC team or manager) is distributed to all employees via multiple channels – a communication cascade relies on managers personally passing information down an organizational structure.
When it works well, the head of a company may present significant news to senior management. This will often include the details of the news along with the benefits and challenges. They will then ask the managers to repeat the information to their respective teams. This process may then proceed further, with middle managers speaking to direct reports and so on.
This approach works well when there are good, direct relationships between team members and direct managers. When they hear about change communications or bad news especially, staff may find it easier to adjust to the new information because it comes from a trusted source rather than an impersonal email.
However, given the number of people in enterprises – and the importance of getting the details right – it is an approach that can falter.
Most CEOs cannot connect directly with every single person in the organization, and many managers may not pass on information in an accurate or timely way. So, if there is a desire to adopt this approach, an effective communication cascade plan is critical.
The best methods of creating a communication cascade
Different types of internal communication require different delivery methods. Topics such as office closures, moves, or mergers and acquisitions may benefit from direct communication from a business leader, whereas day-to-day issues are routinely delivered by managers. Needless to say, no matter what the information is, it still needs to be communicated clearly, correctly, and with the right level of impact.
When you’re working directly with a team, open channels of communication are important, but it’s also crucial that the information you received from above is the same information you relay to your people.
So, how do you implement a strategic communication cascade plan that means all information remains accurate, goes to the right people, is relevant and delivered in the right manner
In this blog, we’ll discuss the best ways to cascade information through the hierarchy of an organization, ensuring your business channels information in the most effective way possible.
How to implement a strategic plan for cascading information
Good communication begins with a plan, and when it comes to cascading information, there needs to be a focus on a change on objectives, accountabilities, and authorities — or more simply, who is saying what, to whom, and how.
1. Ask: What is the message
Some news can be complicated. If it’s regarding change, it may have lots of detail that need to be passed on accurately. If you don’t fully comprehend what you’re being told, ask questions, either to the CEO or with your peers and make sure you’re up to speed before communicating with your teams.
2. Consider how you keep on message
Even senior leaders can go off message. When you’re being informed of news and updates from the top, it’s always a good idea to sense check it yourself. Does it outline the change? Does it explain how and why the change will take place? Is it on message and devoid of unnecessary tangents? Make sure the news you’re hearing is prepped for your enquiring audience.
3. Check everyone is accounted for
Missing a level can cause problems. If a person or a group of people are missed out on the cascade, it causes confusion, trust issues and a loss of impetus. Therefore, it’s critical that everyone on every level is kept informed.
4. Appoint somebody to be responsible for the communication cascade
Of course, one of the main parts of the plan will be the actual information cascade itself. Creating the flow of communication is simple enough. But it’s also important that you implement management of the communication cascade and follow-up. It’s not a good idea to assume everyone will follow the plan. What if a manager doesn’t pass on the message or a section of workers are missed out? It’s important that someone is appointed to see the information pass through the organization without a hitch.
5. Enable a two-way communication cascade
While we’ve focused on how you communicate, it’s also worth noting the importance of two-way communication when relaying information to your team. People will have questions, raise concerns and want to participate in a conversation about the news – and this should be nurtured as it helps to understand what is being delivered, and also allows you to address any potential issues as a team. Allowing your team to participate in actioning the change allows them to take ownership and makes them feel valued.
When information is cascaded to employees, managers should be encouraged to make clear which channels employees can use to ask questions and raise their concerns. As the focus on employee voice and employee listening continues to grow, it’s also important to set up a feedback loop using employee surveys so that the organization can listen and improve.
An intranet with social features will also help to boost employee voice by allowing them to post questions and comments on company announcements.
Don’t forget to be responsive to questions and feedback. A prompt response is recommended where possible to ensure employees understand that they are heard, and that their opinions and concerns matter.
6. Ensure the content is relevant to the audience
The information provided by senior management to team members needs to be relevant to their respective roles within the organization. Prior to delivering any message to your team, carefully review its content and ensure that the information you convey is appropriate and tailored to your audience.
For managers responsible for multiple teams (or large teams where the information is only relevant to some members), a persona-based messaging strategy may be the most effective way to cascade the message. This can be facilitated with an intranet that allows you to build user groups for specific employee personas and deploy messaging to each persona across their most commonly-used comms channel, whether that is email, Teams, Slack, digital signage, or your employee app (via mobile notification).
7. Deliver news professionally
Unfortunately, you may be required to deliver news that you are not completely happy about. An organization can often have to roll out plans that negatively affect staff. In these situations, it is important to deliver the news factually and with confidence.
Be aware of your non-verbal cues, and avoid slumping, frowning and eye-rolling – your role as team leader means you should appear to be in control at all times, even if you don’t necessarily feel like it. Your position means people have trust and confidence in you so if you’re delivering news that could impinge on staff, you need to be able to provide the necessary support and guidance that they require.
When delivering written communications, following a few simple rules can help to ensure employees can digest information, and that they will actually want to read it in the first place. These include presenting lengthy text in a series of short digestible paragraphs, and break things up further with subheadings, images, and video where possible. The human brain is said to process visual information significantly faster than text, so keep this in mind when cascading complex data or new processes.
8. Have a communication channel for peers
Use your intranet software to form a private group, which can provide support and guidance to managers. They can meet online from wherever they are to discuss plans, share ideas and ask questions. If something isn’t clear, having a discussion with a peer regardless of location or time zone is a great way of gaining a better understanding of what is required.
9. Consider the most effective tools and channels to use
Make sure your managers have all the tools to deliver information. Whether it’s a bullet point list or a presentation slides – whatever helps enhance the communication should be made easily available. A great deal of having information understood is conveying it in the most effective way. Visuals like videos, graphs, or images can help improve the message, so it’s important to think about what kind of media to employ (if any) when you’re launching the information.
Consider the most effective way of disseminating this information to your managers, too. For example, using an intranet that enables multichannel communications, you can quickly get this information in front of each manager via the communication channel that they’re most active on rather than relying on them regularly checking cluttered email inboxes where the information can easily be overlooked.
A dedicated page or content area on your intranet that is set up so that only managers can view it is a highly effective way to keep all of the information in one place. The messages that notify managers about the information that requires cascading can link directly to this intranet content, ensuring managers have access to a single source of truth.
An intranet with a built-in CMS Editor will also allow whoever is distributing the information to managers to structure the information in a visually engaging way using drag-and-drop elements such as titles, text blocks, graphics, stock images, video, and more.
If the information that your managers need to cascade is shared with them via a traditional method such as email attachment, they can choose to put to create their own visually engaging messages for the employees they want to share it with and deploy the messages to those employees across the most effective channels, providing the managers have the correct publishing permissions for your intranet.
Creating a winning communication cascade
Ultimately, cascading communication is about working together as a network. This is why fragmented organizations exhibit poor communication: people are pulling in different directions and therefore creating a disordered message.
Cultural change requires conformity, consensus, and co-operation. It also requires strong leadership skills from those key players within the business. When you have these, you can start working on ensuring messages, news and change is communicated effectively. But the cascade doesn’t just rely on conveying the message, the hard work is managing the cultural change – reinforcing it to the point where each member of the organization fully understands the information and what is required of them.
Main image by Freepik