Gone are the days of the CEO being the only source of truth.
With the modern workforce filled with diverse, engaged and highly intelligent employees, there’s no shortage of value passed around.
Wise CEOs know that if you’re not tapping into the knowledge that every single one of your team possesses, you’re missing out on amazing ideas and feedback.
Enter: the bottom-up approach, an employee-centric management style.
In this article, we’re going to look at:
- What a bottom-up approach management approach is
- Why companies use this approach
- The advantages/disadvantages of it
- How you can implement the approach to manage your teams more effectively
- If a bottom-up approach right for your business
Without further ado, let’s jump straight in!
What is a Bottom-Up Management Approach?
A bottom-up approach is a way of making corporate decisions that starts from the bottom of the hierarchy, rather than at the top.
In practice, this means that the CEO or head of the department won’t be the one making all decisions (that’s called a top-down approach).
Instead, you focus on the needs of the customers and gather feedback from employees closest to the customer, who are often the lowest in a traditional management hierarchy.
Why Do Organizations Use a Bottom-Up Management Approach?
Top-down management has its advantages. Everyone knows who calls the shots, and if everything is in order, employees can complete their work without having to make big decisions themselves.
However, there are problems with a top-down approach.
Top-down management ignores the skills, talents, and experiences that lower-level employees have, which can lead to suboptimal decision-making.
Additionally, if the boss doesn’t have a clear idea of what the project involves, but still has the final word, then the whole project could fail.
It’s important to note that just because a company wants to try a bottom-up approach, it doesn’t mean that they need to eliminate their hierarchy.
In fact, in most cases, the hierarchy will remain similar.
What changes is the approach to making decisions.
Those lower in the hierarchy will have more input into decision-making, and those at the top will be able to look to their employees for advice, information, and decision-making abilities.
There are multiple reasons why you should consider implementing a bottom-up approach in your company.
Let’s take a look at some reasons below:
What Are the Benefits of a Bottom-Up Management Approach?
1. Increased Collaboration
According to a study conducted at Queen’s University, 39% of employees believe there is a lack of collaboration in their workplace.
A bottom-up approach helps improve employee collaboration as everyone will be involved in the decision-making process and have input into how things are done.
Communication will be two-way, and employees will feel empowered to share new ideas with their managers.
There is now a wide range of collaboration tools available to teams to facilitate easy collaboration, so adjusting to a bottom-up approach can be a smooth process.
This results in people being more closely involved with their work and being more committed to the projects that they’re working on.
2. Improved Employee Motivation
Statistics reveal that 89% of companies assume that their staff leave due to reasons such as a higher salary, but only 12% of people end up earning more from their next company.
Having more responsibility and opportunities to contribute, as advocated in a bottom-up approach, will help your team stay motivated and identify the best way to work on their projects.
3. Better Alignment
If you’re continually receiving new projects from your boss, but they never discuss it with you, you’re never going to be on the same page as them.
Results will never quite match your boss’s expectations, as they never discussed the project with you to ensure you fully understood it or had a chance to provide constructive feedback.
In fact, only 14% of employees feel confident that they’re aligned with the company strategy.
A bottom-up approach can help change that. Projects or ideas are collaboratively decided on, and employees will feel more closely aligned with the company strategy and their supervisors’ expectations.
This means they can go ahead and execute, confident that their work provides value to their team and company.
4. Faster Innovation
Innovation rarely comes from one person’s ideas. Instead, it happens through talking, idea-sharing, and executing on those ideas.
When employees are empowered to make decisions thanks to a bottom-up approach, internal changes and innovation can happen faster than ever.
Rather than wait for top-level management to come up with new ideas, employees will feel involved in the innovation process and actively contribute to improving products, services, and procedures.
5. Increased Trust Between Higher and Lower Level Employees
A bottom-up approach requires upper management to realize that their employees have unique knowledge, and they should be allowed to leverage it.
As employees realize that their bosses value and trust their decision-making abilities, the levels of trust will be higher.
Once employees realize that their bosses are just people like them, they’re going to trust them more- David DeSteno
With trust in place, ideas can be quickly shared between upper management and lower-level employees, and feedback can be provided in honest ways, without fear of judgment.
6. Leverage Cross-Company Knowledge
Another key benefit of a bottom-up approach in a company is that there won’t be a reliance on one person being the only source of knowledge. If that person takes a day off, suddenly there’s no one there to answer questions.
With a bottom-up approach, everyone in the company becomes an essential source of knowledge, in the areas where they specialize.
Disadvantages of a Bottom-Up Management Approach
As you would expect, there are aspects of the bottom-up approach to company management that have their drawbacks.
Lengthier Decision Making Process
In a bottom-up approach, decisions take longer.
Top-level managers or the CEO won’t make a decision and then inform their team.
Instead, more people are involved, and naturally, the process will take longer.
If there aren’t any changes to the speed of decision-making, it’s likely that your bottom-up approach isn’t genuinely bottom-up.
Should You Switch to a Bottom-Up Approach?
A bottom-up approach may not work for every company.
Someone always has the final say to ensure projects match the direction a company is moving in. Your team needs to be aware of that.
If your work is time-sensitive, then a top-down approach may help you get things completed on time and without complications.
A bottom-up approach would end up slowing projects down as more people can provide input.
As more companies use a flat organizational structure, bottom-up approaches are becoming more popular.
Individuals and teams can quickly make improvements and suggest new projects that they’re confident are in line with company goals, rather than waiting for someone in the upper-management team to suggest it.
If you’re not comfortable with the new knowledge that a bottom-up approach will bring out of your employees, then you could consider having some projects managed in a top-down way, and others with a bottom-up approach to see which works more effectively.
If you’re looking to improve employee motivation, discover new ideas, and enhance the rate of innovation in your company, then a bottom-up approach to management might be for you.
It flips the traditional management model upside down but doesn’t eliminate managers from the process.
You can combine it with a top-down hierarchy, as long as you ensure employees are empowered to share their opinions and ideas with the team without the fear of unnecessary repercussions.