A Guide to Understanding Upward Communication

A Guide to Understanding Upward Communication

Communication should always be considered a key priority when it comes to business management.

If communication is handled correctly, all employees will be aware of the overall business strategy and how their job role relates to business success.

Communication is a core facet that shares information from c-suite executives to those working in frontline or junior roles. But unfortunately, too many businesses focus solely on a downward trajectory.

They focus on how information can be disseminated from the top without questioning what senior teams could be learning from their entry-level and middle-management teams.

In some instances, those working in sectors with frontline workers (for example, retail or healthcare) may find that their public-facing staff are aware of issues that senior management teams hadn't considered.

Therefore, it's crucial to implement a system that allows communication to flow upward and downward.

What Is Upward Communication?

Businesses with strong upward communication have facilities that enable even the most junior staff to submit their feedback and suggestions to their line managers.

By facilitating communication upward, businesses can listen to feedback from the ground up and learn from different perspectives.

They can also use upward communication to confirm that all employees understand and correctly interpret the downward messages.

What Are the Advantages of Upward Communication?

There are many advantages to implementing effective upward communication strategies into your business.

Let's take a closer look at some of the key business benefits.

It creates an inclusive working culture whereby all employees feel that their thoughts and opinions are valued and listened to.

Great employers make their teams feel welcome, regardless of their position within the managerial hierarchy.

Senior management teams need to realize that great ideas can come from anywhere and that sometimes, having a different perspective means that different ideas and opportunities can be identified.

For example, suppose your business is striving to implement an effective diversity and inclusion policy.

In that case, upward communication is a great way of ensuring that everyone is free to offer suggestions, regardless of their qualifications, age, race, gender, religion, etc. Everyone is listened to equally.

By facilitating continuous feedback, senior management teams can listen to what lower-level staff think of their plans.

Often, higher-level management may make suggestions and recommendations based on optimum time performances without realizing the variety of factors that could negatively influence those performances.

Let's take the retail sector as an example.

Some stores implement stringent checkout processes.

For example, they expect cashiers to scan a certain number of items per second, and if those members of staff do not meet those timescales, they are expected to explain why. But what happens when you introduce outside forces?

Perhaps you have a slow-paying customer or a shopper who specifically asks you to slow down?

By implementing upward communication, shop workers could feed this back to their line managers and ask the senior teams to reassess their expectations to create a more realistic, achievable target.

Similarly, the continuous feedback culture is a great way to make all employees feel trusted and respected and that their opinions matter.

Upward communication is also a great way to detect any problems before escalating and turning them into a major issue.

As per the retail example we mentioned above, frontline workers are often aware of problems and potential issues before senior management teams are.

If businesses listen closely to what their employees tell them, they can implement effective solutions to protect their reputations.

Let's imagine that a shop worker has noticed that a particular product keeps being returned due to a manufacturing issue. If the shop worker can alert their senior advisors, the quality control teams can assess the product to check for quality issues.

They can then implement a product recall if the item is found to be defective, or withdraw the item from general sale. But without the initial upward communication, the business may have been unaware that there had been an issue.

If your company relies on strict compliance processes, you must realize that upward communication is vital for whistle-blowing and fraud detection.

You must make it easy for your staff to have direct access to the senior management team if you have verifiable proof of your compliance procedures.

A Guide to Understanding Upward Communication
A Guide to Understanding Upward Communication

How to Implement Upward Communication Into Your Business

You may be wondering how you can ensure that there is seamless upward communication in your business.

After all, you're so used to issuing memos and providing updates straight from your senior teams. It can seem overwhelming to suddenly figure out how to handle an upward trajectory as well.

It would help if you considered how to manage the upward communication effectively. How can you implement processes that will allow you to incorporate this feedback into your ongoing strategies? After all, there's no point in collating thoughts and opinions if you aren't going to act on them.

Suggestion Boxes

The quickest and easiest solution is to implement suggestion boxes throughout your business premises.

This requires little effort and minimal investment but can be an effective channel because employees have an element of anonymity.

Staff can submit their feedback straight to senior teams with little worry of consequences because the feedback could be anonymized.

This can be seen as a positive because the staff are more likely to be honest, but it also means that you may find it harder to rectify if one individual has a real problem.

Open Forums

Open forums are another simple way to encourage upward communication. But these must take place regularly and are open to all workers to attend.

Whether you choose to implement company-wide meetings or more tailored focus groups with representatives from different departments, your forums are a great way to spark conversations and generate in-depth feedback.

In addition, taking a few hours out of your schedule to meet face-to-face with your employees can give you a stronger understanding of their perspectives.

As a result, you can develop stronger working relationships and gain more strategic insights into what your workers really think about your business.

Staff Consultations

If you are planning on launching a new policy or business strategy or are even getting ready to expand into new areas of business growth, you should always consult with your staff.

Taking the time to implement feedback sessions or employee feedback surveys means that you can find out their personal feelings and whether there is anything you should be working on before the policy launch date.

You may be surprised to realize that your staff have a knowledge of commercial awareness.

From this, you can adapt and change your strategies, making sure that you are more likely to succeed from the beginning.

Performance Reviews

A more formal way to implement upward communication is to incorporate it into your performance reviews.

As more businesses are moving away from the traditional annual review into a quarterly or monthly process, you can use this as an opportunity to learn what you are doing well.

You can discover what employees want from you as an employer and find ways to ensure that everyone has the tools and resources that they want and need.

Implementing upward communication in performance reviews is also an effective way of improving your managerial skills. Managers can hear directly from their teams about what they can be doing to work more effectively.

How Can You Promote Upward Communication in Your Business?

Once you've made a conscious decision to implement upward communication, how can you encourage your employees to take advantage of their opportunities? If this is something brand new to your business, your staff may be skeptical.

They may be wary that it is simply a 'gimmick' and reluctant to get involved, especially if it's a complete 360 turnaround from previous management directives.

Therefore, if you start this as a brand-new policy, you need to actively promote your new communications policies throughout the company.

It's not enough to simply say to your staff that feedback is encouraged. You need to lead by example.

Entry-level and frontline workers won't feel that this is something for them. Therefore, managers of all levels must make a conscious effort to turn upward communication into a seamless strategy.

Tip 1 – Maintain an Open-Door Policy

It's important that you actively promote your open-door policy, where employees are made to feel welcome.

You want to show that you are seeking their opinions and ask for their input on various projects.

The more you can reach out to people, the more comfortable they will feel when talking openly and honestly with you.

During the first few months, you may find it hard to hear constructive feedback from staff, especially if it's not positive.

But you must listen to what is being said and act on it.

If you seemingly ignore or dismiss any employee feedback (good or bad), you will gain an unwitting reputation as a dishonest or untrustworthy employer.

Tip 2 – Check In Regularly With Your Employees

It is important to remember that upward communication isn't a once-a-year, tick-box exercise. It would help if you talked to your staff continually, perhaps even monthly, to find out any grievances.

This can be hugely beneficial to your business – if a staff member has a good idea, you want to know about it as soon as possible.

Similarly, if a staff member wants to take part in a training workshop, they should let you know so you can book the course quickly, rather than waiting until their next performance review.

Management neglecting to pay attention to staff is one of the most common reasons why individuals choose to resign.

You could retain your staff and save thousands of dollars in recruitment campaigns by continually checking in with your team.

Tip 3 – Show Recognition for Valuable Contributions

The most effective way to promote your upward communication policy is to visibly reward and recognize those who have made a valuable contribution.

Whether it's by spotting an issue with a product or service, coming up with a potential new business area, or suggesting a piece of software that could improve efficiencies, you must thank and reward your employees.

The more often you show that you act on feedback and listen to suggestions, the more it will become second nature to your team.

Final Thoughts

Upward communication is vital for businesses to gain a reputation as being great employers. Companies need to think strategically about their communication – it's not good enough to have a downward directive.

You must be able to communicate upward, as well as sideways (inter-departmental communications).

Failure to do so could cause your business to stagnate. Other firms could outperform you and spot new areas of business growth must faster.

You could also find that your failure to listen to staff could create bad feelings and cause individuals to leave and work for your competitors.

It is quick and easy to implement upward communications. However, the trick is to be consistent and to reward and recognize contributions from others.

It's not something that can be given lip service to. You need to ingrain it throughout every facet of your business.

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