In any business, one of the more common issues for entrepreneurs is that they have a difficult time getting useful information from the lower end of their hierarchy. This is usually down to a lack of what is known as upward communication, and is a regular complaint of those on the proverbial shop floor.
Indeed, this is a problem for those at both ends of the spectrum. As a business owner, restricting your pool of information to a small circle keeps diverse perspectives from influencing your decision making, and often does not give you the full picture of what is happening within your company.
Therefore, finding a way to keep everyone in your company in the loop is vital to running an effective operation. To illustrate this point further, we've taken a closer look at the importance of upward communication in modern business, and explored how you can improve your processes by providing universal access to management.
A Definition of Upward Communication
Generally speaking, upward communication is a process that ensures that there is a pathway for the lowest level employees to get their ideas to individuals in senior positions. Unlike downward communication, which distributes information the other way, upward communication often requires a conscious implementation to be effective. This is a result of the fact that most organisations are naturally structured to send directives down the chain of command – not carry them up to the top.
Therefore, to establish lines of communication that move from the lowest levels of your company to the top, you may have to try different strategies. Companywide meetings, regular performance reviews, and even a simple suggestion box may be the key to implementing new policies that ensure everyone has the opportunity to be heard. Either way, once you pick a method, it is crucial that you stick with it, so employees know that their avenue to the top is always clear.
The Importance of Upward Communication
The fact that many companies need to restructure some basic communication principles and reprioritise the flow of ideas means that implementing upward communication is not always easy. But the benefits to procedure, morale and innovation make it a worthwhile endeavour for all companies. Here are some of the specific benefits of a better flow of dialogue, and how your company can take advantage of them:
It Establishes a Stronger Workplace Culture
One of the more obvious effects of good upward communication is the development of a healthier company culture. When employees know that their ideas are being heard not just by those around them, but by those in positions to enact change, they take more ownership of the environment that they are a part of.
Alternatively, a strict, authoritarian workplace keeps employees from participating to their fullest extent. Relationships between employees and senior management can become strained, and employee retention can suffer as the most skilled employees leave to seek a more progressive environment.
Therefore, by promoting upward communication and establishing a structure that will facilitate it, you can develop a more positive environment that your employees will stick with.
It Enables Better Corporate Procedures
Upward communication can create improved workplace policies, too. A company that focuses too much on the opinions of senior employees is ignoring its blind spots, which can result in inefficient systems that end up costing the company money.
For example, we live in a world where technology is continuously evolving and creating opportunities for improved efficiency. Senior employees who have not been in the trenches, helping clients and selling products, may have an outdated idea of the best way to run a department, or be oblivious to developing trends that those on the ground are seeing first hand. If your company does not possess the capacity for upward communication, then you will never hear about the potential policy improvements that your marketers, sales teams, and customer support professionals are putting forward.
It Builds Trust Between Employees
When employees feel as though those above them will not hear their opinions, there is no opportunity for real trust to develop within your company. An effective system of upward communication changes this, and encourages employees to make real suggestions based on their honest assessment of what they see around them.
A company without mutual trust does not just have communication problems moving upwards, either: it also has issues in how communication is received down the line. For example, imagine that you want to implement structural changes or reshape certain ways of working that are different from anything you have tried before. Without any level of existing trust, your employees will have a hard time understanding why they should put their efforts into enacting change and may become demoralised.
With the trust that an upward flow of communication builds, you strengthen all the connections within your organisation, creating a more productive and synergised company.
It Highlights New Ideas Within Your Company
It's likely that, as an employer, you have hired many of your staff because they are innovative and forward-thinking. Yet this is pointless if you don't have a policy in place that enables their input. After all, why would you waste your time securing the best talent if you're not going to give them a platform to share their ideas?
We've already discussed how failing to listen to your employees can result in inefficient policies and poor retention, but a lack of upward communication can also result in something less quantifiable: missed opportunities. Your team are your industry experts, and if they have an idea, they need to be able to express it. After all, you never know where the propositions put forward will take your company; they might even change your entire business model.
It Creates a Structure for Feedback
Another key benefit of upward communication is the establishment of a solid feedback loop. Having a process in place for employees to provide feedback – both positive and negative – is vital for companies to measure the success of new initiatives and identify potential risks.
Of course, data plays a huge part in measuring the success of choices that you make for your business, but it doesn't always tell the whole story. For instance, sometimes, numbers can't explain why a new product – one that was market tested and supported by upper management – doesn't produce the sales that were expected. It can't always pinpoint why there may have been a disconnect between your advertising team and your clients; you can't understand where a process fell apart in a vacuum.
However, a more transparent internal feedback process can help to identify issues. Therefore, you should establish an upward communication solution to receive feedback from everyone in your organisation, so that you can make more informed decisions moving forward.
It Isolates Areas That Need Improvement
Finally, upward communication gives you a process through which you can identify areas of your organisation that need improvement – a key part of SWOT analysis. This can be a process for determining what you may need to work on yourself, areas of senior management that are having problems, or issues that are originating further down the line.
If you are unable to listen to what your employees – from all levels – are saying, it will be challenging to identify the sources of problems. A difficult middle manager could be keeping a team from achieving their goals, for instance, or an obtuse senior executive could be preventing valuable information from reaching you to mask their own departmental deficiencies.
Both you and your company need to have a certain degree of self-awareness to eliminate problems and make real improvements. An open and accessible upward communication channel will help you achieve this and make changes that will guide your company in the right direction.
Ultimately, upward communication is just one of the many methods you have at your disposal to improve processes at your company, but as a source process that enables real change, it is invaluable.
It's not just about putting an actionable structure in place, though; you also have to cultivate a culture within your organisation that encourages people to step forward and make suggestions. It's all well and good implementing a communication channel, but if your people are afraid or not engaged enough to use it, then the whole system will fail anyway. Therefore, you need to understand the importance of upward communication within a wider context, and put all the necessary components in place before it can begin to shape your company positively.
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