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All businesses must maintain effective communication in order to be successful. Communication within businesses usually has to flow from upper levels to lower levels and vice versa. When communication flows from lower to upper levels, this is known as upward communication. Often times, upward communication will involve information from general employees to managers, from managers to general managers, and then from general managers to CEOs or store owners. This type of communication, when executed effectively, enables lower-level business employees to inform upper management employees of available reports, concerns, customer complaints, questions, and more.
Through upward communication, many lower-level employees provide upper-level employees with regular reports and updates. In order for this type of communication to be effective, only significant updates are reported, as many managers do not have time to receive basic updates. Regular updates and reports usually include whether or not lower level employees have completed their assigned tasks. When a lower=level employee has not completed his or her assigned tasks, within the regular update, he or she typically provides the reasons as to why the assigned task has not been successfully finished. Most managers will prefer for their employees to provide a “no change” status update when no significant changes have taken place.
Upward communication is often used as a way for employees to inform management of concerns and customer complaints. To effectively communicate these types of problems, employees usually include possible solutions. Most times, employees find it better to upwardly communicate these problems in a private setting unless the matters at hand are a group concern.
Many employees also use upward communication to ask questions, such as for a pay raise. Some employees, however, find that using upward communication to ask for things is very difficult. Any time an employee uses this form of communication style to ask for something, he or she should prepare in advance for what is going to be said, as well as for not getting what is being requested.
Managers often benefit from employees that execute effective upward communication, but many feel some lower-level employees take advantage of this type of communication style. Through upward communication, an upper-level employee sometimes becomes overwhelmed with concerns and questions that can be handled by lower-level employees. Many managers set rules as to how this type of communication style should work in their organization. These rules often require lower-level employees to provide regular updates, not to require deadlines from upper management, and to only upwardly communicate concerns and problems that cannot be resolved by anyone but upper management.
I've seen examples of both downward and upward communication at my company, and even a lot of horizontal communication between co-workers. It seems like downward communication results in more changes in the workplace than upward communication. Let's just say I've seen more people fired because of downward communication than promoted because of upward communication.
The other thing I've noticed is that upward communication, like filing a customer complaint form or a request for additional funding, takes a lot longer to reach the ultimate recipient than downward communication, like lay-off plans or terminations, take to reach the rank and file workers.
It seems to me that downward communication gets more detailed as it moves from upper management to employees on the floor. The CEO might just say "We need to increase sales", but the vice-president will tell the manager "You need to expand the advertising campaign and negotiate a better wholesale price with the suppliers." By the time the downward communication reaches the sales staff, it's usually a long list of things that need to be done by the end of the week.
Upward communications, on the other hand, seem to start out complicated and become simpler as they move up the chain. An employee in the returns department might notice a lot of customer complaints about a particular product and write a detailed report about it to her supervisor. By the time it reaches the top, the messsage is usually "People don't like the new widget".
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