If you played the children’s game telephone, you know how easy it is for messages to get distorted as they pass from person to person. Imagine then the devastating consequences if you were relaying company-critical information. Misunderstanding, falsehoods, and a breakdown in trust result from inaccurate communications. Information cascade is an essential part of the organizational communication toolkit. Executives use it to ensure consistent and accurate information flows throughout the organization. It’s a simple idea, but as with most things, success depends on effective implementation.
Here we share 15 top tips to help you improve information cascade in your business. However, before we launch into the tips, let’s agree on a definition.
What Does Information Cascade Mean?
Information cascade starts at the top. Together, the senior leadership team decides the critical messages to pass through the company’s layers of management. Executives are also responsible for agreeing on who should get the news and how it should be delivered.
The information cascade is usually reserved for company-critical issues. It could be office closures, internal restructures, mergers or acquisitions. Often the communication is complicated or sensitive, and so it’s crucial information shared is accurate and timely. Because it comes from the top, there’s more control over the content. Cascading information ensures it’s correct, relevant, and delivered at the right time.
Staff often prefer communicating with their immediate manager rather than a C-suite executive. After all, they have a personal relationship with their supervisor. The great advantage of the cascade is that although the message comes from the top, it’s delivered by line managers.
Supervisors know their team well and can help interpret what the decision means at the grassroots level. And your people will feel more comfortable asking questions and seeking clarification from their line manager.
Therefore, managers are an integral part of the process. They need to fully understand the message and communicate it clearly and effectively. Employees will want to know what the change means for them and their jobs. So, supervisors should be able to translate the information to the team level. And they need to be prepared with answers to questions.
So, how do you improve the information cascade in your business? The following ideas will help sharpen the process. And because managers are so critical, we also share tips to improve their skills.
15 Tips To Improve Information Cascade In Your Business
1. Success Starts With A Plan
Good communication always starts with a plan. Cascading information without thinking through the how, what, and where is likely to fall flat. In your plan, decide what types of communications are appropriate for the information cascade. As we have seen, most companies use it for company-critical information or to share news around change management.
2. Identify The Cascade Process
The next step is to decide on the mechanics. The process starts at the highest levels of management, with senior leaders identifying the information to be shared. Consider having information cascade topics as a standing agenda item for senior leadership team meetings. That way, it’s always on the executives’ radar.
Then think about how the information will cascade throughout the company. What channels will you use? There’s a variety to choose from, including the intranet, business IM, staff newsletters, and email. Make sure everyone is included, so don’t forget your remote or deskless workers. You want to ensure all your people are connected and in the loop.
If an individual or team is missed out of the cascade, it can cause serious problems. Confusion and trust issues will arise, so have backup systems in place to deal with any breakdowns.
3. Set Deadlines
Identify firm timeframes for the information cascade. After all, the whole point is that all stakeholders receive accurate, consistent messaging at about the same time. So, for example, senior leaders cascade the information to their direct reports within 48 hours. The direct reports pass the information on to their reports or team members within 48 hours. And the cascade continues until all staff have been reached.
4. Decide On The Message
You have already set some broad principles, and now it’s time to decide on the detail of your specific message. It’s up to executives to agree on what needs to be communicated, who is responsible, and how it will be delivered. Review the information to ensure it answers the how, what, and why questions your people need to have answered.
5. Ensure Managers Get A Heads Up
It’s difficult for line managers to be prepared if they receive the information at the same time as direct reports. Advance warning gives them space to consider the impact of the message on their team. Ensure your cascade follows a logical sequence through your company’s management hierarchy. That way, supervisors can prepare answers to questions the team may have.
6. Create Communications Channels For Managers
Make it easier for managers by creating specific communications channels. It could be a secure section on the intranet or a dedicated # channel on team chat. These channels can be used to cascade information and offer a platform for managers to discuss strategies. Supervisors are able to share plans and ideas, providing support to each other. This tool makes it much easier to deliver consistent messaging. Manager-specific channels are especially useful in hybrid workplaces when supervisors are not all in the same location.
7. Give Managers The Right Tools
Make sure managers have all they need to deliver the information cascade. It could be a PowerPoint presentation, infographic, or graph. Visual communication is often a more effective way to provide information than text alone. For your people, it will bring messages to life and helps clear up confusion.
8. Make The Cascade Two-Way
The cascade shouldn’t all be one-way traffic. Be sure to include mechanisms for workers to give feedback to senior executives. Doing so gives your people an internal voice and helps them feel valued and appreciated. When making big organizational changes, getting your workforce on board is vital. And this is one easily implemented way you can do just that.
9. Measure Your Impact
Review the effectiveness of your information cascade with regular staff surveys. Is the communication getting through to the right people at the right time? How good a job are managers doing at relaying and translating the messages? Regular surveys allow you to benchmark where you are at. And you can more easily track progress over time.
10. Share Best Practices Internally
Your survey data will help you pinpoint the top-performing managers. Use their knowledge and expertise to upskill others with explainer videos, webinars, or internal blogs. Sharing knowledge in this way helps managers understand how they can improve and raises the game across the board. You may also want to underline the critical importance of the information cascade by making it a manager performance measure in your review process.
Ways Managers Can Improve The Information Cascade
And because supervisors are the critical link in the information cascade, here are some manager-specific tips. The ideas we share here will ensure you are ready for the task.
11. Be Prepared
Set aside time to digest the communication. You need to make sure you fully understand the implications for your team. And no doubt, your people will have plenty of questions. Anticipate their concerns and rehearse your answers. Common queries are likely to include the following:
- Why has this decision been made?
- When will the new policy come in?
- What does it mean for the team’s work?
- Should we be worried about our jobs?
Consult with your fellow managers using the dedicated communications channel if you need to check any details. Or if you want fresh insights on the best way to deliver the news.
12. Be Specific
Provide as much detail as you can. Your direct reports will be concerned with how the message impacts them as individuals and a team. Honesty is essential for maintaining trust. So, if you don’t know the answer to a query, don’t try and wing it. Instead, offer to get back to the team with a detailed response when you have all the information.
13. Watch Your Non-Verbal Cues
Sometimes you will have to deliver a message that you disagree with. Perhaps the information will be unpopular with workers. Or it may be that some team members will be adversely affected by the information cascade’s news. Be careful about your delivery. Your body language can give away a lot about what you are feeling. Your people will pick on non-verbal cues, which may result in frustration, anxiety, and even panic taking hold of the team. Try to avoid eye-rolling, frowning, sighing, or slumping in your chair. Instead, be confident, calm, and direct. And always talk about senior management in a respectful way. The communication may not be what the team wants to hear, but your delivery dramatically impacts how it’s received.
14. Provide Opportunities For Venting But Not Debate
If the information cascade is controversial or unpopular, allowing team members space to vent their frustrations is essential. Letting off steam and sounding off is a vital step towards acceptance. Listen to any concerns. However, make it clear the decision has been made. And if a couple of employees are struggling to move on, set up one-on-one meetings to provide additional support.
15. Feedback To Your Manager
This final tip is perhaps the most important. Whether your team is positive or negative about the cascade, report back to your manager. Senior leaders need to understand what’s happening in the workforce and what staff are concerned about. The two-way communication aspect of the cascade ensures your organization continually improves the process. And it also means staff feel involved and take ownership of important decisions and changes.
Information Cascade: Quick Summary
- Information cascade is a valuable tool for sharing company-critical communications, such as mergers, closures, or restructures.
- The senior executive team decides on the objectives and content of the message. They are also responsible for ensuring it’s accurate and delivered to the right people in a way that speaks to the audience.
- Once the communication is agreed on, it then cascades down throughout the management layers within clearly defined time frames.
- Managers and supervisors are vital to the information cascade. Support yours to do their best job by sharing internal best practices. And offer continuing professional development in effective communications, so your managers are up to the task.
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