Communications 6/10/2020

In the Game of Telephone, HR Communications Always Lose

Ever played the child’s game called “telephone,” where a phrase is whispered down a line of friends to see how the phrase morphs in the end? In communications, cascading messages down the management chain is a well-accepted corporate communication strategy. It can also be an effective HR communication approach.

As long as you control the message and tailor it down the line.

Sending the same email or flyer to every employee is a recipe for miscommunication. And communicating that message with all levels of management at the same time can catch them off guard when the questions start.

  • What should you cascade? It’s different for each management level, so it should be tailored. A plant manager won’t need to tell employees about the data behind a policy decision — that’s a message reserved for executives. On the flipside, an executive won’t need messaging to help motivate workers on the factory floor — that’s the plant manager’s job.
  • When should you send information? That’s fairly simple: staggered, starting with the highest level of management that needs to know. This gives everyone time to absorb the information, ask questions, and prepare to cascade their own messaging down the line.
  • Read on and we’ll walk you through an example. Plus, you can check out our template for crafting messages you might need to cascade down the employee chain.

An Example: Communicating News They Won’t Want to Hear


“Spread true rumors.” That’s the advice of author Patrick Lencioni, who says the rumor mill is the most pervasive communication channel in most companies.


Let’s say you need to communicate a policy change that’s sure to be unpopular…like less paid vacation days. It’s critical that you get messaging out to several layers of management, so they can effectively talk to employees with accurate information. Give them time to talk before you send out any mass announcements.

A cascade approach might look like this:

  • Senior/Executive Managers (communicating to regional managers):
    Key message: Customers are returning after quarantine, and orders are picking up. We need to ensure uninterrupted business to maximize production.
    • We’re reducing the number of paid vacation days for the remainder of the year.
    • With fewer employees now, and workload increasing, this helps keep productivity high and ensures the company not only stays in business, but returns to profitability.

      Note: Supporting data would be included here, to share with regional managers.
  • Regional Managers (communicating to plant managers):
    Key message: Business is picking up again, and we need to keep our product moving to push the company toward recovery.
    • We’re reducing the number of paid vacation days for the rest of the year to make sure we have all hands on deck for production.
    • It will be an unpopular decision, but the recent layoffs are forcing yet more hard choices.
  • Plant Managers (communicating to team leads):
    Key message: Business is picking back up and we need everyone to do their part so we can push our products out the door and get the company financially healthy again.
    • Because of the recent layoffs, we have fewer hands on deck.
    • It wasn’t an easy decision, but we’ll be reducing the number of paid vacation days for the rest of the year.
    • This won’t be a positive message you’ll be delivering, but we’re giving you some tools that can make it easier.
  • Team Leads (communicating to direct reports):
    Key message: We all want to see the company make a comeback, and we’re all thankful to still have our jobs.
    • The recent layoffs were hard, and it leaves us with fewer people to do the work as orders start to pick up.
    • We need all hands on deck to keep products moving, while maintaining quality and safety standards.
    • It wasn’t an easy decision, and it won’t be popular, but we’re reducing the number of paid vacation days for the rest of the year.

      Note: Ideally, you would arm team leads with an FAQ that answers a list of anticipated questions. You could also supply them with a flyer/poster that tells employees where to find more information.

Now the mass communications can begin. We also recommend creating a feedback loop for employees at all levels (managers are employees, too, remember). Make sure there’s one place everyone can go for more information — your intranet, a detailed document, etc.

And, keeping the human in HR, give them someone to talk to…on the phone, via email, or in person.

We have a template to help you!

You don’t have to scratch your head thinking, because you don’t have to start from scratch.

Let us know where we should send your template.

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