Communication seems to be the hardest word: Part 2 (bottom-up)

Axel Schiphof

Good ol’ top-down communication has an oft-overlooked sibling: bottom-up communication. Traditional models of hierarchy mean most, if not all, attention is given to top-down communication – after all, these are the messages that have always been valued as being ‘from those in the know’. But ultimately, the success of your organization depends on input from the grassroots as much as from the top. More specifically, there are five areas in which a thorough embedding of bottom-up communication drastically enhances your organization’s effectiveness.

Communication seems to be the hardest word: Part 2 (bottom-up)

Communication seems to be the hardest word: Part 1 


1. Customer needs

Leaders who are most in tune with their customers’ needs are those who truly value what their customer-facing employees experience in the field, day in day out. After all, they hear firsthand what customers expect, how your products/services do or don’t deliver on those needs. You cannot afford to not listen to these experiences, or better yet to gather and analyze them systemically so that you can adjust your product development accordingly.

2. Feedback enables innovation

Ask any employee in any department what suggestion they have to do things smarter, quicker or more efficiently and you’ll likely get not one but three examples right off the cuff. These are incredibly valuable ideas you have inside your organization right this second that don’t require expensive consultants or major investments. All it takes is for you to ask your people what your organization could innovate, improve or , take their input seriously and make things better. No matter how old or young your business model, there is untapped potential there – unleash it!

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3. Input creates buy-in for organization-wide change

Odds are your organization is changing. Some of the changes will come from the outside and need to be managed, whereas others are your own doing. Either way, your efforts will be better off if they have your employees’ buy-in. If not, they’ll nod yes when listening to you during the all-staff meeting but shake their head no as soon as you leave the room. Thankfully, there’s a simple solution: involve your employees. Ask them to create solutions with you. Organize focus groups around specific topics before you make your plans, or present draft plans to employees to get their feedback. Interview in-house experts, send out surveys – just don’t let it be something you and yours cook up in the ivory tower.

4. Community creation

Not all organizations sell intrinsically inspiring products, or have a brand name that’s instantly known around the globe. The ease with which you can bind customers is proportional to the ease with which (future) employees are able to identify with your organizational purpose.

Most of us, however, need to make do with what we have. Just look at Effectory – we honestly believe our work is crucial to improving organizations globally, but employee surveys are not inherently sexy. Without the cool factor, we need to strengthen our internal community in a different way. Involving your people is just the way to do that – not only will asking employees for their ideas yield better decisions, it will simultaneously strengthen the community that they’re part of. After all, involving them means they’re not left on the outside looking in, but at the heart of what you’re doing – and in turn your customers will notice (and appreciate) their engagement.

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5. Feedback for those in charge

Does your board or management team consist of mostly fragile egos? Skip this step and focus on the first four areas ;). If you can handle the brutal truth, read on.

How your employees view you, and other c-suite leaders and middle managers has a crucial influence on how successful your management team will be. Regardless of how great your plans and ideas are, how they perceive you and your team as people impacts how they respond to your ideas. Do they value and trust their leaders? Do they believe the organization is in the right hands with you at the wheel? Employee feedback can pose some scary questions indeed. 

Working in a manager-free organization where my colleagues assess how I do my job, I know how scary it can be to ask for feedback. In fact, we each receive an email reading: ‘Your employee feedback report is ready’ three times a year. I can tell you, those are the quietest moments in our generally buzzing offices. So, yes, feedback can be intimidating for those who believe in it wholeheartedly.

If you’re in charge of your team, department or organization a honest employee feedback from those who can actually help you achieve your goals is invaluable. You have to be brave enough to prioritize it and then you need a proper strategy in place to gather it.   

I recieved great responses to the first part of this article on the do’s and don’ts of top-down communication – thanks! I hope this one is useful for you as well – please don’t hesitate to drop me a line or find me on LinkedIn.  

How to gather feedback from your employees

The step-by-step guide to creating your employee engagement survey.