As our nonprofits grow, how do we keep the right amount of information flowing throughout the organization? The “information cascade” was the theme of a session at the 2014 Independent Sector conference. A number of thoughtful “C-Suite” executives (managers reporting to the CEO) shared their ideas to promote open communications among staff members. Here are a couple of ideas that particularly resonated with me or sparked my thinking.
Don’t rely only on the formal hierarchy to reliably transmit your message. Chances are, your managers will vary in their ability to accurately transmit corporate messages to all their direct reports, resulting in information haves and have nots. Multiple channels will help keep staff informed and understanding how their work and that of their colleagues connects to the organization’s mission.
Is there someone within your organization who is responsible for internal communication? It may be good to formally assign this role or at least to identify champions to ensure regular communications are happening. I think it can be powerful for the executive to take some responsibility for this, such as a weekly email to all staff (and perhaps board members) with highlights from the week’s events. Regular updates like this can help communicate the executive’s priorities and set the tone for the organization, while also promoting transparency. They are also a natural place for recognizing significant staff contributions. Executives can also create opportunities for executive-staff interaction such as open coffee hours with the CEO or rotating opportunities for line staff to have lunch with the CEO.
One panelist talked about reducing the mystique around the management team meetings. This is a familiar issue in the organizations where I have served as an interim executive. Because the meeting is not open to all, staff members who are not in the meeting become anxious about what is being talked about (while staff who are in the meeting are anxious about surviving yet another boring meeting). One conference participant’s solution? His organization began video broadcasts of the management team meetings on the agency’s intranet, quickly demonstrating to staff members that most of the discussion was focused on relatively mundane operational problem-solving. This is probably not feasible on an ongoing basis at most organizations, but some share the meeting agenda and/or notes. Another excellent strategy to guide managers in bringing information back to their staff is to summarize the main messages at the end of the meeting, and discuss how to frame any difficult issues in a constructive manner.
Breaking down silos and encouraging cross-departmental teams are also valuable ways to keep information flowing through an organization. Identifying management team issues that could benefit from a larger group discussion at the all-staff meeting also engages staff and informs your decision-making.
Whatever strategies you engage, be prepared to revisit this perennial issue on a regular basis, mixing up your outreach and information sharing methods to ensure that staff feel connected and informed.