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Barriers in internal communication cascade during change period

Majority of company communication goes to line managers, whose task is to filter it and decide which information to pass on to their employees. Although, communication cascade scheme is simple and intuitive, there might be some bumps on its straight path, which hinder effective top-down communication.

Mid-level managers play a key role in internal communication processes; it is their responsibility to provide their team members with not only task-related instructions, but also relevant company information and pass it on down the organizational structure. Sometimes, however, the message that finally reaches the employees has a different meaning than the sender – CEO or other senior executives, intended it. Communication cascading might resemble playing Chinese whispers – the final information reaching receivers is distorted, sometimes changed intentionally, or even disappears at all. Here are some behaviors that obstruct top-down communication.

Withholding information

Managing is the art of balancing many goals, often contradictory and conflicting at the level of organization members’ individual interests. The clash of different business approaches is clearly visible in the communication area. Withholding information is a popular behavior aiming at, among others, delaying introduction of changes perceived as unfavorable. It could be best described on an example of a company, which decided to modify its incentive system – in the opinion of its employees – to worse. Introduced rules were perceived as unfavorable – bonuses in the new system depended on reached margins, and not, as it was earlier, on sales level. Line managers were aware of the negative moods in their teams and were reluctant to communicate painful changes. Withholding information and playing on time gave them opportunity to offset the negative employee reactions and postpone difficult conversations. These are common cases in communication management practice that make the information cascading process become flawed, especially during periods of transformation.

Stalling for time

There is certain inertia in the way large and complex organizations operate. Experienced employees know it and are able to recognize the moments in which it is worth for them to play for time. While companies are introducing multiple changes it happens that before the change information reaches all interested parties, another modification is already being introduced. In the face of unbeneficial change, employees, including managerial staff, intentionally remain passive, avoiding any activities and communication supporting the implementation. They use long decision-making process, which also creates space for office politics. An example may be a change in the expenses acceptance procedure experienced by one of the organizations. Before agreed modifications were introduced into IT systems, following the approval process, employees who lose some of their authorization rights, have time to lobby for regaining their prerogatives. It is the crucial moment between making a decision, implementing it, and communicating the change to the organization. Timely communication helps keep the change process transparent.

Sabotage

Counteracting changes in some cases can take the form of an active diversion. One of the companies decided to introduce IVR, which allows redirection of incoming telephone calls directly to the relevant departments. The goal of the change was to reduce the number of reception staff; its employees already received a proposal to move to other departments of the company. Resistance to change turned into attempts to entirely block incoming calls. However, the small sabotage was unsuccessful – IVR was implemented, and the employees happily started working in other departments, no one suspected that resistance to change could stop such a simple project.

How to deal with barriers in the information cascading process?

The described situations are not really about managing the internal communication itself, but about managing and implementing changes. Communication is an important element of change management, with a general task to provide transformation process participants with the necessary information. It should explain transition premises; describe stages of implementation; and present arguments proving change advisability and validity. Good communication in the transformation period should result in reduced resistance to change, faster adaptation to new conditions, maintaining employee commitment and their involvement in change implementation. Communication only in the short term can create a false organizational reality – even the best internal communication will not help poorly handled transformation process.

 


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