The information cascade doesn’t work.

Leaders in organisations fondly imagine that the information cascade works as a method of internal communication.

It doesn’t.

When they have a message to impart, senior executives think they can tell their direct reports who will pass it on to their own teams and so on down the hierarchy.

But one weak link and the chain breaks.

When I worked in corporate life, I had one boss who hardly ever bothered to pass on information because he didn’t think we needed to know. I had another boss who held weekly briefing meetings where people rarely listened because of the way the data was shared. When I held weekly meetings with my own team, they used to sing the ‘Jackanory’ theme tune at the start, because they knew I’d be telling them lots of stories.


Many companies think they can stick a sign on a noticeboard to communicate a message, and that everyone will read it.

They won’t.

Most people pass by without even noticing the notice on the noticeboard.

In my local gym, there’s a big display outside the fitness studio showing all the class times, but people still ask Reception what’s on and when.


Governments think they can change behaviour with awareness-raising campaigns.

They can’t.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) are concerned that the average time spent walking or cycling fell to 11 minutes a day in 2007 compared with 12.9 minutes a day ten years previously. They hope to reverse this trend and encourage walking and cycling for short distances by introducing signage to promote walking and cycling (among other initiatives).

Do you think it will work? I don’t.


Clients sometimes come to me with unrealistic expectations. They want me to grow their business with just a letter or a leaflet or a website. Recently, the business-owner of a startup asked me to produce a brochure for her that would win a certain number of clients in a short amount of time.

“OK, I can do it,” I said. “But it won’t work.”

She really needs a new name and logo first (hers was meaningless and unprofessional). Then she needs a decent website, because her target customers will check her out online (hers was homemade and amateur). She also needs testimonials from satisfied clients, because what other people say about her is more convincing than anything she says herself.

After that, I can produce a brochure that presents the uniqueness of her brand and service offering, that makes her stand out from the rest, and is written in language her target market will respond to.

I can help a client grow their business, but it might need a letter and a leaflet and a website.

Most often, the marketing communications I produce don’t generate sales directly; they generate leads. It’s up to the client to convert those into sales (their success will depend on the product, the price, and other variables outside my control).

Usually, the objective is not to sell off the page; it’s to get an appointment so they can sell face-to-face.

Effective communication only happens when you know what you are trying to achieve, and match the channel/s of communication to your audience.

Read part 2 of this article to find out more.

This article was originally written for Fresh Business Thinking

photo credit: Oregon Waterfall 1 via photopin (license)

1 Comment

Secrets of effective communication (part 2) | · January 14, 2016 at 2:22 pm

[…] So now we’re back to internal communications (see part 1 of this article). […]

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