Through most of my career, I have received my messages from the top via cascaded comms.
Put simply, this is when messages from the very top of organisations are cascaded down through the hierarchy, usually one tier of management at a time, until everyone receives that message. As well as getting the messages to the whole company, this method also serves to empower each delivering manager by giving them the authority of the message.
Now, for much of my early career, when I was in positions that were receiving this message quite late on in its journey through the ranks, this method was employed as much by necessity as by design. To be frank, I’m old enough to have started work before there were intranets or company digital channels, at a time when there was no easy video messaging, no chat apps, no Smartphones…
There were printed (posted or faxed) missives and team meetings. Then there were electronic messages and team meetings. That was how you got your messages and that was how your manager exerted their authority and shared their “superior knowledge”.
The trouble was that what you actually got was your manager’s version of that message. (And who knows how many of those messages we didn’t get at all because that particular manager didn’t agree with it, or knew it would be hugely unpopular?)
And herein lies the problem with this method of top-down comms: the assumption (or blind faith) that each manager will deliver every message, exactly as it was written or intended, to the letter, and without embellishment, dilution or personal bias.
And, of course, if the message is cascaded with only the briefest of notes as scaffolding for the message, any such embellishments or biases will be carried forward (and potentially amplified) with each successive delivery. Getting your teams to sign the declaration that they have “attended the briefing on…” or that they “understand the message about…” is fairly meaningless if that message has been remixed and heavily edited since its inception, and/or has gone through a few personal or (un)conscious bias filters.
Fast forward to now, and technology has changed things beyond recognition for us all. And, when it comes to top-down messaging, for the better. When you can now have a comms strategy that includes digital channels to reach all of your people directly and in real time, why would you deliver your most important messages in any other way?
When you can now create snappy, engaging video content that sells your message with informative visuals and/or the personal touch of senior members’ face on screen, why would you not use this tool? When you can host regular digital content and track the receipt of that message to see who is (and isn’t) receiving, opening or viewing it, why wouldn’t you?
We know that Covid changed everything. We don’t yet know the full extent and longevity of these changes, but whether team meetings resume in-person, as remote entities, or as a hybrid version of the two, sharing carefully written and constructed internal comms digitally (as a part of those meetings) and tracking their progress through our businesses is going to be by far the safest bet.
Or you can rely on those special personally edited remixes from Manager X and new Ops Manager Y if you prefer. The choice is yours. (Which is ironic, as the recipients of those messages don’t have the choice and will get what they’re given!)