SOUTH WEST LONDON — They say it’s broken. But I am not convinced it ever really worked. The company cascade is like the Lost City of Atlantis… or the missing Beach Boys album. Many people think it’s out there, but disappointment is the most likely outcome.
Here’s how the theory goes:
• You start at the top with a message.
• You give it to a few people.
• They give it to a few people.
• And soon enough the whole business has heard.
Not only have they heard, but they’ve received a compelling, first-hand account of something important.
It can’t fail. And what a compelling idea. So simple, so… unlikely to deliver the results you are seeking.
The problem with cascades is that, in spite of some great theory and massive stores of ‘best practice’, they rarely do what people want them to do.
There are two problems: Expectations and implementation.
The expectations for cascades tend to assume that a message will make it through the business. And that the message will arrive in one piece. And that people will know what to do with it. And — perhaps most wildly optimistic of all — that it will change people’s behaviour.
Those expectations are not bad things. It would be great to have any system that could do that. But they are simply unrealistic.
The same often happens with the implementation. We tend to believe that a compelling bit of prose, or an arresting headline will ensure that a message arrives at its intended location. An unfortunately that’s unrealistic too. Cascades tend to focus on reporting facts, to avoid misinterpretation. And facts, unfortunately, are not what drive people to change their behaviour. Behaviour is driven by understanding and appreciation of information.
To get that you need to explain information, provide context and ensure understanding. Few cascades can do that.
It’s a shame really. Because an employee cascade is a very enticing prospect.
Unfortunately what we want the cascade to do it simply more than it can.