Remember the ice cream theory of communication? (Click here). It’s a cascade of information flowing step-by-step to the target you want to influence. Say that you want to influence the trade press. You know that reporters will want to know what analysts think, so you brief analysts before you talk to reporters. Analysts will want to now what customers think, so you brief customers before analysts. And so on.
The ice cream theory also works with internal communications — especially when big changes are afoot. When an organization needs to launch big changes, it often puts the CEO on a video broadcast to all employees. Everybody hears it at the same time. What’s wrong with that? Well, frankly … nobody trusts the CEO. It’s not that the CEO is a bad person; it’s just that most employees don’t know him or her. Without a personal relationship, it’s hard to know whom to trust. It’s like sending a press release to a reporter without first preparing the rest of the ice cream cone. The reporter needs further confirmation. So do your employees.
Bain & Company develops this concept in two parts: 1) the sponsorship spine; 2) the communication cascade. The sponsorship spine is very similar to the ice cream cone. Ask yourself two questions: Who are we trying to influence? Whom do they trust? Let’s say you’re trying to influence Department Z. Whom do they trust? Well … it’s Mary, a long-term employee who is widely respected for her experience and wisdom. Mary may or may not be Department Z’s manager. Then ask another question: whom does Mary trust? Let’s say it’s Inga. Then, whom does Inga trust? Let’s say it’s Grover. Keep asking the whom-do-they-trust question until you’ve reached the executive suites. You’ve now established the sponsorship spine.
Once you’ve identified the spine, you can start the cascade. The key ideas are to start from the top, speak to people who know you and trust you, speak to them personally in face-to-face settings, and always invite feedback (and listen carefully to it). If you need to make adjustments based on the feedback, then do so. Then ask the people you’ve spoken with to cascade the message down one level. Repeat the process throughout the organization. Ultimately, everybody in the organization hears the message personally from someone they trust.
And what about the CEO? He or she can still play a role. My advice is that the CEO should speak after the cascade is complete. The CEO confirms and reinforces the message, but doesn’t introduce it. People hear the message from a trusted source and then have it verified by someone in authority. That reinforces the sponsor’s trustworthiness and speaks to both our emotional and our logical sides. That, in turn, helps the message sink in and prepares us for action.
You can find the full article from Bain & Company by clicking here.