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Posted April 21, 2013

How Cascading Information Creates Consistency

By Quint Studer

At Studer Group, we do extensive research with America's top healthcare organizations to harvest best practices, identify opportunities for improvement and provide the tools and tactics that organizations implement to drive clinical outcomes. One of our assessments, the Straight A Leadership Assessment, asks leaders a series of questions to create better alignment and accountability. The cumulative results of these assessments show one area that is consistently listed as an opportunity for improvement: communication. In fact, it was mentioned so frequently that it prompted this Outcome Driven Communication Series.

Communication will only become aligned and consistent if you start with the senior team. Information can then be cascaded down to direct reports and so forth. What we've found, however, is that each leader has a different way of communicating important messages to their staff. Below I have listed what I believe are the three easy steps to effectively cascade information across the entire organization.

Step One: Designate one member of the senior team to question communication that will be cascaded to the organization.
At every senior leader meeting, assign one person to be in charge of questioning how the information discussed will be communicated across the organization. This person is responsible for asking a series of questions after the team discusses a specific topic. Let's say the team decides that they want to have an employee appreciation luncheon. The person designated at this meeting to question communication would then ask four standard questions.

  • "Who is responsible for communicating this news to staff?"
  • "What should the communication include?"
  • "When should this announcement be communicated?"
  • "How will we communicate this announcement?"

Before you move onto the next topic, make sure every question is answered and the team agrees on the answer. This is an easy way to create alignment and consistency in the messages delivered to staff.

Step Two: Do an audit on when leaders are communicating.
This is an exercise I do frequently with senior leaders. Ask each leader to share how and when they communicate important messages with their direct reports. You'll be surprised at the inconsistencies you find just at the senior table. Some hold monthly department meetings. Some hold weekly huddles. And some may only send emails. After you list all of the separate ways, then as a team you can decide on the most effective way to communicate the message. This creates standardization across the organization to ensure that a consistent message is delivered.

Step Three: Standardize how messages are communicated with staff.
Let's say the team decides that a 30 minute meeting with their direct reports immediately following the senior leader meeting is most effective. The content is fresh, the message is timely and you reduce the opportunity to get busy and forget. Each leader then communicates the same message to their team. There is no question about when or what is communicated because everyone will hear the same, consistent message. You can even request a team meeting with all staff members in the same room if the message is important enough to do so. This way, there's no guessing if staff are available or pulling them off task because they already have this time blocked on their schedules.

Another way to ensure that a consistent message is communicated is to capture bullet points during meetings and share them with the team. The same person that questions the "who, what, when and how" can list the answers to those questions and provide them in a bulleted list to all leaders. That way, there is no confusion or question as to what is being communicated. Leaders can even distribute that bulleted list in hard copies during the meeting so staff can reference it later if they need to.

If you follow these few simple changes, you will find that so many things you thought were communication issues will go away. In fact, you'll find you can spend less time on communication because you are already working on and addressing the right things. By following each of these steps, you can quickly create alignment and consistency, not only in the messages discussed in your meetings, but in the messages received across the organization.

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