Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up Management
Effective working styles come in all different shapes and sizes; it’s no secret that every employee works differently. And this stretches to effective management. Effective management is vital to organizational success. But how this looks can differ dramatically, and what works for people can differ too.
When it comes to managerial styles, there are two main methods, both of which perhaps illustrate the two extremes of management: top-down and bottom-up. We’re not saying that these are the only ways in which you can be a manager; in fact, as a manager you’ll probably use both in tandem, and find a happy medium with cross-functional management. But how do these differ, what works well within each, and how can you incorporate these styles into your management? Let’s take a look.
What is top-down management style?
Top-down management is largely considered the traditional approach to management – a hierarchical method where decision-making occurs at the very top and filters down to lower-level employees. It could be considered ‘autocratic’ leadership. Things like directives, goals, and strategies are decided at the top and, in a command-like manner, are communicated to employees so that tasks can be carried out.
Some key characteristics include:
A clear chain of command: Under top-down management, roles and hierarchies are clearly defined, and each employee will have a direct manager to report to.
Limited employee involvement in planning: The decision-making and project planning process occurs at management level, which means that lower-level employees have little say in company-wide decisions. Instead, once plans have been created, tasks will be communicated to employees for implementation.
Tighter supervision: Managers are responsible for making sure that their employees achieve certain KPIs and adhere to standards and procedures.
The advantages and disadvantages of top-down management
Of course, there are a whole host of advantages and disadvantages to managerial styles, and these differ between what works for some and what works for others. But to highlight a few for top-down management:
Clear, well-organized process of management
Efficient implementation process of goals aligned to an overall strategy
The potential for employee disengagement and feeling unvalued
Less creativity in the planning process
Lack of employee autonomy
What is bottom-up management style?
Bottom-up management style, also known as decentralization, is an organizational approach where the lower-level employees have a lot more say and decision-making capabilities. Decisions are made largely off the back of employee feedback. In this way, employees at various levels can contribute to the company, increasing a sense of empowerment and boosting engagement.
Some key characteristics include:
Information sharing: Because the approach focuses more heavily on encouraging communication at all levels, information sharing is a large aspect of bottom-up management. Company-wide decisions draw heavily on the input of employees. Employees gain a better understanding of the company, whilst sharing issues that they regularly see which senior leaders might not.
Continued learning & development: Bottom-up management can often encourage a culture of learning and development. Employees can gain insight into management processes and therefore understand their goals. As a consequence, they may feel more inclined to develop new skills, deepen their industry knowledge, or otherwise participate in learning opportunities.
Creativity & innovation: This method benefits from a diverse workforce with different opinions and perspectives communicating and collating ideas, which is far more likely to boost creativity and innovation.
The advantages and disadvantages of bottom-up management
Let’s highlight a few of the pros and cons of bottom-up management:
More empowered employees who understand the company
Increased engagement and staff retention
Greater creativity and innovation
It can become disorganized
Needs a basis of trust and transparency for information sharing to work
Concerns and ideas of employees might not fit the company-wide goals
Which style is right for your company?
So, you’re trying to find the right management style for your company? It’s good to start by looking at your company now and the industry you’re in. For example, a well-established company in a more traditional industry with stricter guidelines, regulations, and so on might also be better suited to a more traditional management approach. However, if you want to encourage a growth mindset with employees – perhaps you’re a start-up looking for innovation and creativity – the bottom-up style could work better for you.
How can I implement these management styles?
Like with most strategies in the workplace, there is no one way of implementing a top-down or bottom-up management style. A top-down management style is often ingrained in workplaces from the start, so implementing a bottom-up management style is where things might be trickier. We’ve put together a few suggestions to help smooth the change:
Ensure that management take the time to set meetings with teams, departments, and employees where everyone can freely share ideas. Instigating this as a company will help employees feel more comfortable voicing their thoughts, concerns, and feedback.
Strive for a transparent workplace culture. Start from the top with leadership and management being open and honest about the company, its goals, future plans, and challenges.
Discuss inclusive working and learning styles to better understand your company, and make employees feel valued.
When problems and challenges do arise, face them as a team – discuss with your employees the issues and encourage feedback as to how these challenges can be overcome.
Thinking of changing your workplace management style? Looking to boost your employee or workplace development? Or, simply looking to invest in management coaching? Head to EZRA to find out what digital coaching can do for you.