Communicating on the long chain

Nov 26, 2010

Here’s a classic communication down a long chain:

Poor communication down a long chain

For a large organization, all these steps might be internal (C-suite to front-line employee), for a smaller business it might be combination of internal and external steps, involving sub-contractors and people or organizations in the supply chain.

Either way, the classic communication process is linear – it starts with the originator who communicates it to the next layer of management who communicates it to the next…and so on…until it reaches the final recipients.

Here’s a blinding flash of the obvious: This process doesn’t work.

Whether it’s the TSA trying to communicate new pat-down procedures or BP trying to communicate what exactly happened with an oil spill, this process fails, every time.

Why? Because there is no quality control – even if everyone in the chain is a great communicator, the message will still move through a series of chinese whispers, losing crucial elements of nuance and impact as it moves down the chain. And, God forbid (and as is statistically probable), even just one poor communicator in the chain will pollute the message entirely for everyone further down.

Making communication work down a long chain requires this process:

Good communication down a long chain

Here, the originator (and at least one other person further down the chain) doesn’t just make the initial communication, they also enter the chain several steps further down to perform quality control: to listen to what’s being said, reinforce it, amplify it, and if necessary, correct it.

This might mean going to an operations-level team meeting on a bleak Monday in December, or visiting the Michigan branch in May; you might have to actually brief the press yourself rather than leaving it to a flack, or call up a key supplier and explain a change in policy – whatever:

If you want a vital communication in a long chain to work, you can’t just set the ball rolling and hope.