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Cascading Leadership Communications: Getting it Right Without the Pitfalls


 — September 5th, 2023

Cascading Leadership Communications: Getting it Right Without the Pitfalls

For internal communication professionals navigating the intricate web of disseminating crucial messages, the approach of "cascading communication" has emerged as a powerful tool.

And while cascading communications isn’t as easy as merely passing on a message to the influencers within your business and expecting it to land well, job done, research by the Edelman Trust underscores the significance of leveraging and managing the cascade channel well.

The report reveals that employees trust their peers and manager above any other source of information within their organization, driving enhanced engagement and employee experience when comms come through such routes. 

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This blog aims to showcase how you get your communication cascades working effectively, help you on the path to mastering this dark art, and sidestep common pitfalls as you go.

There’s no disputing that senior leaders play a vital role in setting and communicating the strategic direction of the organization and providing a unified vision. However, given the Edelman research, a combination of top-down communication and influencer-driven "cascade" communication can create a better employee experience, and a more effective approach that fosters an inclusive and trust-fuelled organizational culture.

Here are X elements you need to consider to cascade your comms effectively without the pitfalls:

1. Know your why. Get clear on the context and reason why you need to communicate in the first place. Understand the problem you’re trying to solve to ensure you can explain the "why" to your communication networkers and influencers from the get-go.  Without sound rationale for adding what could be perceived as more "noise" to the organization, nobody will be convinced this is a valuable and worthwhile exercise to undertake, let alone being able to convince others to support your cascade.

2. Understand the flow of communications. Understand how communication truly flows around and across your organization. I’m not talking about how you’d like it to flow through your well-managed, corporate channels, but how word actually gets spread around your organization—as trustworthy, valuable sources of information, not gossip or rumour, I may add!

Think about who connects with groups of people on a regular basis as part of their role, e.g. Line Managers, Supervisors, HR representatives, Project Managers, Communities of Practice leads, and Subject Matter Experts.  These groups of people are your influencers and connectors and who you need to build relationships with in order to develop your cascade.

Seek to understand who connects with whom, how, and when.  The more you understand their communication challenges and needs, and the opportunities to leverage from a comms perspective, the more effective and trustworthy your cascade will be.

3. Nurture your influencers. Like the train-the-trainer approach, an effective communication cascade must "communicate with the communicators".

Essentially, this means getting and keeping your key influencers—as identified in point 2—onboard. Be sure your influencers understand the value and benefits it will bring them by being part of the cascade process so that it’s not seen as just another task for them to do on top of everything else. 

Instead, ensure they can see and feel how it helps increase their profile and visibility, and build trust, credibility, knowledge, communication, and influencing skills. By being part of the comms cascade, and doing it well, they’ll enhance the employee experience and organizational culture in a really positive way. 

Then it’s about being clear on what you need them to know and do and why, understanding their needs and challenges, and vice versa.  Make their role as communicators in your comms cascade as useful and valuable as possible with briefings, support sessions, training, communication toolkits, key message packs, templates, and more.

Tailor the "support pack" you pull together based on their feedback too, so it hits the mark for them and their audience. And don’t forget to acknowledge and show appreciation for their support. For the cascade to be effective it has to be a win-win for all those involved.

4. Tailor-made delivery. The beauty of getting your influencers onboard and trusting them to cascade the communications means that communications should come across in a more relatable, relevant, and personalized way to employees. 

Give your influencers the content and templates they need, as well as the guidance and non-negotiables, to ensure they’re on message and remain aligned with your strategic goals and objectives. 

Then encourage and allow them to tailor their approach within those guiderails, on how and when they deliver the communications to acknowledge the unique needs and roles of your employees. 

This plays to the influencers communication strengths, capitalizes on the opportunities and channels they have to communicate wider, and ensures they feel a sense of autonomy.   Since they understand the dynamics, perspectives, and needs of their colleagues, trust them to deliver in ways that best suit their audiences.

Maximize feedback loops. Cascading communication through influential channels encourages a more open and interactive dialogue. Employees often feel more comfortable expressing their questions, concerns, and feedback to the people they know and trust most. 

Your influencers will likely act as intermediaries, creating a feedback loop that can be advantageous for internal communicators and employees alike.  Ensure you have a clear process in place that enables any feedback to get back to you, and for you to keep your influencers updated with what’s been changed as a consequence. 

With ears to the ground, the honest truth comes forth helping you refine messages, clarify misunderstandings, and ensure that any employee concerns are adequately and speedily addressed.

It's important to note that while cascading communication through influential channels has its benefits, it should not replace top-down communication entirely. Yet, when the two angles of communication dovetail and are done well, you really have an influential and impactful communication formula.

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