I’m talking about that mid management level in the organisation where, habitually, the cascade process breaks down as evidenced by employee surveys and the like.
The big question is WHY do they get stuck at this point? Is it:
– because top down messages have already travelled some time and distance from the
source by this point and have lost their immediacy and relevance?
– or because middle managers do not really understand their role in the comms chain?
– or, and I think this is the most likely reason for the stall, because they are not confident in
their role as mouthpieces for the business?
In the words of Nicola Cull – Director of Communications and Change Management at professional services firm Towers Watson – in her introduction to the Towers Watson biennial global study: Clear Direction in a Complex World: 2011 – 2012 Change and Communication ROI Study Report:
“The best companies are not afraid of change. The most effective communication and change management relies on the hard work of creating clear, relevant, measurable programmes that drive results. And these companies recognise that managers are the most effective median through which to communicate company messages, but must be given the tools and mandate with which to do so.”
I couldn’t agree more and these last points are becoming even more important with the growing prominence of social media channels. No matter how much we (corporate communicators) might try to ignore or downplay its significance, social media really is a game changer. My ‘bible’ in this area – The Now Revolution by Jeff Baer – talks about “…the emerging reality of having to do business in a world that is immediate and synchronous..” and goes on to dissect company culture into “…two key elements: your businesses’ underlying intent and the people you bring together to carry it out”. He makes the point that your employees “should have the freedom and trust to help you evolve your business and infuse your intent with everything they do. And your leaders need to understand and embrace the difference between being a player and a coach.”
The book is an inspiration and a guide for anyone who wants to understand how the new communication channels and behaviours are impacting our business as usual and how to make sense of it all.
What is very clear though, is that if the middle management communication barrier was a problem yesterday, it will be a bigger problem tomorrow because the very employees who aren’t receiving corporate messages via the cascade now, are precisely those who are likely to be already familiar with and using these new channels and, in the absence of any guidance or input, who knows what they might be saying?
You might hope that commonsense and a healthy sense of ambition would provide sufficient constraint but you shouldn’t underestimate the impulsiveness, naivety and, indeed, the lack of corporate loyalty that characterises Gen Y and Gen Z (click here for a quick summary of different generations and their characteristics) as they share thoughts and feelings with anyone who cares to ‘listen’.
Today, more than ever, we need to have a message cascade that reaches, engages and influences all employees, enabling them to become informed advocates for the business.