Good communication underpins a strong company culture and is essential for businesses to function effectively. A cascading communication system, also known as an information cascade, is an important method of conveying information in larger organizations and corporations.
As organizations grow and become more complex, a well-structured communication strategy is crucial in maintaining cohesion and clarity. To better understand how an information cascade works in a business setting, let's delve into its definition, benefits, and implementation.
What is an information cascade?
An information cascade, sometimes referred to as a communication cascade, is a systematic, top-down communication approach in which information is disseminated from higher-level management down through the various layers of the organization.
This hierarchical structure ensures that all employees receive the same message, enabling consistency and accuracy in the business's communication.
The theory is that leadership, middle management, and frontline employees are informed in a sequential manner. Messaging can also be tailored to be delivered to the correct parties or departments at the right time - and avoid irrelevant information being delivered.
This ensures that information and directives are effectively passed down from one layer of the organization to the next, maintaining a high level of understanding and uniformity.
In practical terms, the sharing of information usually begins with senior leaders or boardroom executives, who then pass information to senior management. Senior management will then be responsible for alerting middle managers who will cascade the information to the remaining employees at all levels - or for making the decisions about who needs to be party to the information.
This systematic reinforcement of management information through the ranks is known as the cascading effect.
How does a communication cascade work?
Delivering relevant and timely information flows requires a system to deliver information effectively.
Because the information passes through the various hierarchical levels of the company, we also need to be very careful to avoid the message being muddied as it nears the end of the funnel.
This means that extra care needs to be taken in ensuring messages are clear, accessible and correct at the point of delivery. As such, every strategic plan to deliver information needs employees to have access to the relevant information.
There are several modern tools to display the information:
Team meetings/face to face
The good old fashioned team meeting requires one of the most effective communication methods, and allows senior managers to deliver news professionally and effectively. This also allows discussion and feedback, which of course contributes to employee engagement.
Intranet and company portals
Many larger organizations will use an intranet, or a centralized and internal online portal where information is shared. While this can be a very effective way to keep employees at all levels informed of developments, it is limited by those who either don't have computer access, or who don't necessarily pay attention to the information.
Emails and communications tools
Regular email bulletins remain a popular choice for internal communications. And while this is a great way to ensure that everyone who needs information has access to it, the issues arise again with access and attention.
Many offices offer information via digital displays or digital signage, which is a great way to ensure that everyone can see important messages. And while this is an effective solution within the office or warehouse setting, information can still slip through the gap with remote or hybrid workers missing key information.
The good ol' fashioned notice board has served as a key location for information to pass from across the business to everyone else. Increasingly, bulletin boards are becoming digital, which can be a useful method of displaying multiple forms of information.
Town halls and business updates
Increasingly, larger businesses are adopting the town hall model. This is often a mandatory event, which can be remote, in-person or a mixture of the above, where the senior leadership will share major information and discuss plans with the broader workforce. Town hall meetings can be used for delivering news relating to the business, presenting a powerpoint presentation about key data or even recognizing the achievements of specific departments or individuals.
All of the above
Of course, with a communication cascade, you want to ensure that the right information reaches those who it needs to. And in many cases, this will mean using multiple methods of information delivery.
While one person might miss an email update, someone else might miss a meeting or be out of office when specific information is shared on the bulletin board.
Information cascades require the opportunity to share the same information across multiple channels, as well as to allow employees to clarify, query or offer feedback on the relevant information.
Why use communication cascades
In a large organization, it isn't always possible to connect directly with every department or organization on a regular basis. Sure, a monthly or quarterly meeting or business town hall is part of a good communication process and can be a great way to share significant news and updates.
However, on a more regular basis, CEOs or other top-of-the-funnel leaders cannot reach all employees in-person, or at once. This is what necessitates a cascade communication plan.
In addition, this method of information dissemination enables managers to take ownership of communication. Managers can't hide behind "it's a decision from the top."
In turn, this ownership spurs more consistency and accuracy in messaging.
Done correctly, the information cascade model encourages a direct and trusting relationship between employees, managers, and senior management. And as an extension of this, to receive information, employees must be receptive to their managers.
In turn, managers must prioritize alerting the entire organization hierarchy instead of letting information fall through the cracks.
33% of HR managers believe that a lack of open and honest communication has a negative impact on employee morale. In other words, if employees fail to receive honest and constant communication, engagement and job satisfaction can decline, leading to lowered productivity.
The reverse is also true. Informed employees are empowered employees. With honest, accurate, and consistent information, employees feel engaged. What's more, adding a feedback loop after information cascading encourages employees to contribute to the organization's growth through ideas and constructive criticism.
The alternatives to information cascading
When there is no information cascade to share relevant information, how else do people make their decisions? In a business setting, it will be one of these alternatives.
Typically, herd behavior and information cascade describe the phenomena by which people make decisions. In herd behavior, people make decisions based on what they observe the majority of people doing. In simpler terms, they copy the decisions others make because "many people making the same choice cannot be wrong."
Conversely, in an information cascade, people make decisions based on what the previous person does.
In a communication setting, herd behavior can be detrimental. Why? Because even though the majority choose a certain decision or solution, they can be wrong. So, instead of letting employees hear about major changes and decisions via a herd behavior type of communication (or hearsay), leaders should focus on creating a process to deliver consistent and accurate information on a regular basis.
This way, information comes from a trusted source, is factual, and the people who communicate it can take ownership at each stage.
In his book, Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers describes diffusion as the process by which innovation is communicated over time among the members of a social system through various communication channels.
So, there's the innovation which can be an object or idea, a channel (such as mass media), and a social system.
Unlike the information cascading model, the information diffusion model is not purely hierarchical. Instead, it's a mixture of social constructs, groups of people, and some instances of hierarchy.
People can decide to accept the innovation as individuals or collectively with others. In addition, the decision to adopt an innovation can be a result of authority or the decision of a chosen few.
Because there are no predefined hierarchical structures to help spread innovation, information may take longer before it is fully diffused to everyone.
Flat or fragmented organizations
Organizations with flatter structures have fewer levels of management, which can lead to more direct communication and quicker information sharing between employees.
Some businesses operate with departments which can operate autonomously from the rest of the company.
However, this isn't necessarily an option for larger organizations who need a cohesive method of communicating with their workforce. For example, a multinational construction firm might be able to let certain territories manage their own processes - but there might also be a need to share important messages such as changes to cybersecurity processes, or even information about office closures or other factors that could affect the entire workforce.
How to plan for cascading information
For the information cascade model to work well, you must have a well-oiled responsibility matrix that almost places communication in your organization on autopilot.
The following must all be clear within your organization for successful information cascading:
- Who will communicate the news to employees?
- What will they communicate?
- How will the information be delivered?
- How will the remainder of communication messaging be enacted?
To successfully cascade information in your workplace, you'll need to have the following four conditions:
1. Good relationships among teams
Workers may find sensitive communication from top management impersonal and doubly distasteful if it's bad news. Seeing a press release of your logistics company planning to fire half of its drivers can be shocking to staff. Communication from a direct manager, though painful, is unequivocally more personal and considerate.
A cascading communication model works well in organizations that are intentional at building good relationships among their teams, from top to middle management to the rest of the organization’s employees.
2. Clear messaging
Although cascading information is a powerful communication tool, it runs the risk of distorting the information as it goes down the different teams. Therefore, there is a need for clear messaging.
As a manager, you must be prepared to clearly deliver any message necessary to the employees who report to you. You also must be available for follow-up questions or be prepared to contact higher-level management on behalf of the other employee. The most important part of an information cascade is that employees can trust their managers; without this trust, the information cascade model will not work.
3. A working feedback process
Managers should anticipate any reactions, whether positive or negative, and funnel feedback upwards to top management.
Feedback doesn't necessarily mean that organizational decisions will change but gives an opportunity for workers to have their voice heard and offer valuable perspectives to top management.
An organization that promotes a two-way communication structure nurtures an engaged workforce that tends to be more productive. Employee satisfaction and retention increases when employees feel heard and valued by their employer.
4. Communicate organization goals within departments
It's the duty of line managers to effectively communicate organizational goals to all staff to avoid any possible communication breakdowns. Without effective communication of key objectives, goals, or even prioritizations, companies are at risk of losing out on crucial employee resources, as effective communication can lead to a near 30% increase in productivity.
It can be hard to push for change in your workplace, whether it’s structural or organizational. However, by creating an impactful, relatable, and functional communications strategy, your company will be taking the first steps towards a worthwhile corporate transformation.
How to improve communications with ScreenCloud
Ready to boost your communications method for increased employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity?
Use ScreenCloud’s digital signage solution to make sure all of your employees are in the loop, all the time. The use of digital signage has proven to be one of the most effective ways to communicate fast, effectively, securely, and across your various locations. This is why 9,000+ businesses use ScreenCloud as their preferred digital signage provider.
ScreenCloud works with a wide range of customers in different industries including education, events, fitness, hospitality, retail, and more.
To see how ScreenCloud can benefit your business, start a free trial today. All you need to do is sign up with your email and get a 14-day free trial.
You can also book a demo where you’ll see how to:
- Manage multiple screens across multiple locations
- Display business-critical information
- Use ScreenCloud's content management system
- Demonstrate the ROI of digital signage for your organization
What Does Cascading Information Mean?
What Is the Difference Between Herding and Information Cascade?
Why Is Cascading Information Important?
What Does Cascading Information Mean in Business?