Mar 17, 2020
How many times have you heard this during a meeting about a new initiative, or a change to something existing in your company? If you’re working in a company with more than 50 people, I’ll wager you’ve heard it hundreds and hundreds of times.
Typically—to ensure coverage across the business—the thinking, the dialog, the discussions, the negotiations get done in a conference room by senior managers representing the functions involved. So far so good?
Maybe. There are many good arguments regarding the benefits of having a vertical slice of the organization represented right from the start—German business bakes this into their organizational governance. This ensures that wisdom from all parts of the business—not just the leadership team—is brought to bear on the current topic(s).
We recognize that this might be a step too far for many. The internal hierarchy is powerful across U.S. business, and many draw strength and power from it. While “vertical slicing” at this stage can provide real value, it could be argued that it is not essential for high performance.
Which leads us back to the title of this piece: “We’ll cascade it down to the front line …” You may know it by another name: “trickle down communication,” “flow down”, “waterfall briefings.” Whatever it’s called, it means the same thing: We’re going to get this initiative/change out from this small group to the bigger population—who are usually the people who will experience the effects of the change.
How does your company do it? Email, physical handout, Instant Message posting, intranet, manager briefing, or some combination of the above? To some degree, it doesn’t really matter what channel you use, because the channel itself won’t stop your intention if you have your intention fully realized in the communication.
For example, people are always saying “don’t use email” for communications like this. They say email is a very effective way of sending large amounts of data to other people, but it’s a terrible format to have a conversation, or to understand and communicate nuance.
Clearly, it’s important to know what the channels can do and what they cannot do. However, we believe that it is more important to know what you are trying to accomplish with your communication.
People want to understand the context—the why—so they can get aligned with the direction and adapt their perspectives, if needed. People also want to appreciate the dialog that leads to the change, and to have an opportunity to have their say. Finally, people want time and space to review the change and how it impacts their day-to-day.
Take a look at your own company and reflect on the sheer number of initiatives and changes that didn’t work, or that partially succeeded. Assess the initiative overload impact. You’re likely to see the enormous waste in cost and time. More importantly, you’re likely to see the waste of your workers’ discretionary effort and goodwill.
This can seem like a lot to have to handle. You’re right. It is. Bottom line: If you want your team/workforce to embrace this new thing, you have to find a way to engage them as human beings.
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