Cascading information through an organization is an art. If the CEO of your company wanted a one-inch, round, blue dot on every bathroom door in every building, how long would it take to communicate those instructions, and what would the outcome be?
I am sure many of you are picturing the doors with no dot, the doors with a purple dot, the dot the size of a basketball and the dot the size of a pen mark. Yes, the problem of passing along details correctly is as old as the children’s game of telephone, where each player whispers information, one to another, around the circle. At the end, you find out how much the message changed from the first gamer to the last in line.
At the top of the communication chain, ideas can be discussed for weeks on end as issues are clarified and the players assemble a strong solution. Then, it’s time to take action. Everyone involved thus far understands all the background and clearly understands why action is required. So, let’s just schedule a 10-minute conference call and tell everyone. I watched this disaster unfold recently and was reminded of a few rules for effectively disseminating information.
If it took weeks for the first group to understand the issues, it’s highly unlikely the entire organization will get it in a quick call or email. So what are you to do when you need quick action?
The front-line staff would rather communicate with their immediate supervisors than any other level of management. This is particularly true during uncertain times. Employees may start to distrust ‘corporate mouthpieces,’ and they turn to their managers for interpretation. Line managers are the best qualified to understand employees’ personal circumstances and can tailor information to suit their teams. They are the people the staff are most comfortable approaching with questions and feedback.
So how can we improve the cascade of information via managers?
1) Advance warning
It is difficult for managers to provide communications if they receive information at the same time as their team. Advance warning, at least for important internal communications, allows them to consider the impact, ask questions and prepare answers to questions their team members are likely to ask.
2) Never lose sight of the ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor
We are self-interested creatures. I may have invented the most amazing gadget ever, but unless I get you emotionally involved, you are unlikely to listen to my message about it. On the other hand, if I can show you how my gadget will revolutionize your life, add dollars to your wallet, free up your time, fix your smelly feet…Do I have your attention now?
3) Communication is a two-way process
Employee communications should NOT be one-way information dumps. Capturing feedback is critically important. If it does not seem that you are listening and acting on what you are told, why should people bother telling you?
Communication is an art. Even when planning is done well, it’s possible for team members to misinterpret information. Each message is an opportunity to learn how to improve in the future.
photo by Katrina Snaps