The term ‘communication cascade’ conjures up images in my mind of colleagues and employees or, as I like to call us, people, walking in to their workplace and water being splashed down on them from a great height. Only me? Ok, well perhaps you haven’t given the term much thought as I have but it’s something that’s on my mind a lot as I’m often asked to help our customers ‘cascade’ a message. The problem with a traditional cascade, however, is its leaky nature with meaning seeping out at every level once you tell managers to simply pass on a message.
Similarly, to looking after a baby, communication is simple (feeding it, helping it sleep and getting somebody to think, feel or do something differently respectively) but rarely is either easy.
We’re more cynical and savvy consumers of communication than ever. We question the message, its need, its meaning, its source, its truth. So how can we expect the old-fashioned cascade to do its thing without a revamp in line with consumers’ expectations?
Here’s some food for thought:
1) Forget cascade and think waterwheel.
Check for meaning, work out what gets lost, repeat communication regularly and keep sharing themes back to the top. Talk to people about the strengths and limitations of a cascade.
2) Equip managers with more than a slide deck.
Sure, they might need that too but give them tools to help them have proper conversations with their teams, not just a deck with talking points because, guess what they might do? At its worst they’ll forward that directly to their teams because they’re busy people. We must help them to understand that an FYI email with an attachment is, quite simply, false economy.
3) Train managers in communication skills.
Understanding and caring about their role as a communicator is one thing but do they have the skills? Can they inspire and engage? Can they challenge and support?
4) Simplify everything.
Make messages memorable and meaningful. Cut the complexity and speak plainly, even if you’re talking about complex business strategy. I tend to go with brevity over complete clarity or the message won’t stick. Complete clarity should come from other resources - more detailed follow-up conversations, everyday working practice and through digital channels…
5) Use digital to mop up leaks.
Technology will never replace a proper conversation but, used wisely, digital content can help fill the gaps that managers miss. If you’re announcing a big change, for example, use face to face as your primary mechanism but pepper the cascade with digital opportunities for Q&A, additional resources and even bite-size communication skill sessions for leaders. Better still, use digital to gather and theme feedback to measure the impact of your cascade. In others words, to listen!