Communication Cascades and the Importance of Change Management
A Match Made in Communications Heaven
How often have we seen a robust communication strategy fail during its implementation? No matter how great the idea, how creative the approach, our best communication efforts are only as strong as their execution. A hallmark of solid execution is measurability, and the best way to create a framework for reporting the efficacy of a communications cascade is via change management.
Communication strategies are starting to integrate more and more with change management practices as leaders recognize the cross-functional support each team might have during a large transformation or organization re-design. That is, when we create a cohesive communications strategy, we can’t just stop once we have our editorial calendar, or when we’ve drafted an email and scheduled its release. That’s only half the battle. What happens when we send that email or distribute a large document kit is just as important (perhaps more so) than the content of our message. We all send and receive dozens or hundreds of emails a day. What’s to prevent that critical kickoff email from getting lost in the void?
It’s not just clicking the “urgent” exclamation point on a message in Outlook. We need to partner with our change management support teams to design and implement additional strategies for guiding and sustaining those messages and the behaviors they’re proposing. What does this look like?
Not Your Grandmother’s Cascade
A traditional communication cascade relies upon senior leaders (the top of the cascade) with passing along the information to their direct reports in a timely fashion. With the integration of change management into the cascade, we take this a step further. We’re providing those leaders (and all the subsequent “stops” on the cascade train) with role descriptions, ownership and accountabilities, and key actions that need to occur along the communication timeline.
How can we ensure our messaging reaches ‘boots on the ground’ and individual contributors? The creation of a dedicated channel for guiding the cascade can be a strong step towards making that communication land where it should.
For example, a project on which I recently provided communications expertise involved the rollout of a large communications toolkit. This toolkit would be providing some excellent resources to our site leaders and their teams, but how could we make sure the message wouldn’t just stop at the top? And how would this be different than other cultural initiatives that had failed in the past?
In the below infographic, you can see how a specific role at a site or on a team might be targeted. This person plays a critical role in maintaining business-as-usual operations while aligning efforts with the larger project plan. We then provide a step by step outline of the meeting cascade, since we’ve designed the communications strategy around facilitated meetings as the primary channel. We outline the overall goal of the individual meetings, as well as what actions the Site Project Leader can and should own.
One of these “Role Spotlights” can be created for each type of employee targeted during the cascade. We’ve covered each ‘stop’ on the cascade train and each type of ‘rider’ on the train (to carry the metaphor to fruition).
Importance of Feedback Loops
I mentioned measurability at the beginning of this post as a critical component for communication cascade success. There’s a plethora of ways to encourage and receive feedback on a communication stream, and while we don’t have the space to get into them all here, I’ll highlight a few:
- Dedicated email address
Consider setting up an email address that can serve as a listening post for any and all questions regarding your communication. The handle itself should tell users what it is (firstname.lastname@example.org, for example). Make sure there is staff availability to monitor the feedback. Depending on company and audience size, there could be a lot of it!
SurveyMonkey and JotForm are two great free resources with which to conduct robust employee surveys to gain feedback and input on a communication.
- Live Q&As
These can be great in smaller settings or a big town hall event. Take the results and create a FAQ that can serve as a project’s living document that moves and breathes as an organization navigates change.
In summary, a communication is only as effective as the people who we entrust to carry it out. A communication guide can be crucial for providing not just a welcome and initiate engagement, but establish clear directions on the timeline for its use (via site meetings) as well as the specific message’s actionable value.