This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Information flow from the lower levels of a hierarchy to the upper levels. Definition HIERARCHY Pyramid-like ranking of ideas, individuals, items, etc., where every level (except the top and the bottom ones) has one higher and one lower neighbor. Higher level means greater authority, importance, and influence
The Seven Rules of Upward Communication
As more and more organizations rely on their teams to manage themselves, so the need for upward communication becomes ever more crucial. Reporting upwards is a skill in itself; follow these golden rules to keep the people at the top in the picture. Bit by bit, your workplace is changing. As the old industries disappear, and along with them, control styles of management, so new structures and new systems are taking their place. Where once the manager sat atop the pyramid, and issued commands to the team below, today there is every chance that it is the team that sits astride the pyramid and issues information to the manager below. Today, it is teams that have the information and knowledge. It is the teams that know how the business's customers feel. And teams that can manage by themselves.
In today's information age, communication is multi-directional and purposeful...it goes anywhere and goes where it's needed
All this means a re-think on the traditional nature of communication. Where once the predominant flow of communication was from the top downwards, in a one-way flow, in today's information age, communication is multi-directional and purposeful. It goes anywhere and goes where it is needed.
That can be up or down, horizontally across, and all ways diagonally. And one of the key skills of this kind of communication is Upward Reporting.
This skill requires: knowing how to get and keep the ear of your boss; reporting in a timely fashion; knowing what he or she needs to hear; being short and accurate; balancing problems with solutions; and being willing to be questioned and crossexamined.
How to keep the boss informed
To illustrate Upward Reporting, here is a set of rules posted by a manager to a selfmanaging team on how she wants to be kept informed. "When you report up the way, please remember... Rule 1: Keep me regularly informed; I hate nasty surprises. Rule 2: Don't deadline me. I know it's been done to you, but please give me some time to think. Rule 3: Only bring matters that you really can't resolve. Anything else will just go back to you. Rule 4: Don't leave out the bad points because you want to look good: tell me it all. Rule 5: Give me at least three options for every problem. I prefer to choose and it's quicker. Rule 6: Do your homework before you come; I don't want you to have to go away and look something up. Rule 7: Remember that this is how you'll want your staff to report to you when you're in my position!" Communication is, and always has been, the glue that binds an organization together. Just because the predominant direction of that communication may have shifted from top-down to bottom-up, doesn't mean it is any less important. Learn how to properly report up and you'll master the new regime.
Direction of communication The methods used to communicate ideas to a specific audience will be influenced across two major dimensions and subconsiderations: a. The direction of communication
Downward Upward Horizontal Cross sectional Grapevine (clusters)
b. Flow and channels
Simultaneous Serial Cliques or barriers [ Back to index of contents ]
Downward communication Downward communication involves the flow of information from higher authority to lower authority. Though externally driven, (that is, the communication flow either is the result of, or is aimed at, a customer/client focus), downward communication can become internally focused. The table below lists the types and methods of downward communication. Table 1 Types and methods of downward communication Types of information communicated downward (Katz & Kahn 1966) Methods of transmitting from superiors to subordinates (Pace & Faules, 1983:100) Oral Written Written followed by oral Oral followed by written
How to do a job The rationale for doing a job Organizational policies and practices Employee performance The mission of the organisation
Of the four methods of downward communication, research shows that oral, and oral accompanied by written are most effective. Written information, memos and bulletin boards are less effective (Level, 1972:19-25). This has substantially altered with the introduction of advanced communication media such as e-mail or networked offices. Obviously, frontline managers need to communicate what is necessary to enable the subordinate to function efficiently and effectively in the workplace. A lot of information received or originated by the manager may not be necessary to this outcome. The manager is thus required to be selective in communicating information downward. However, what is important is that the subordinate has the opportunity to communicate with the manager to request additional information as required.
Media Rich (Success) Face to Face Interactive TV-high speed connections (two way) Video-Voice / Data Channel (one way) Telephone E-mail Personal written correspondence Formal written message Public speaking Data Reports Broadcast e-mails / reports
Low Media Richness (Less Successful) Figure 5 Range and success of channels and forms of communication [ Back to index of contents ] Upward communication Upward communication involves the communication of information from subordinates to supervisors. This type of communication is used to:
Provide valuable information for decision-making; Provide clues about the acceptance and absorption by subordinates of previous downward communication; Permit grievances to surface; Create loyalty (co-orientation) by encouraging ideas and suggestions; Strengthen involvement in the organisation. However, upward communication seems difficult to obtain in many organisations. Some possible reasons include: The tendency for employees to conceal their thoughts; The feeling among employees that supervisors and managers are not interested in employee problems; A lack of rewards for employee upward communication; The feeling among employees that supervisors and managers are inaccessible and unresponsive to what employees say (Sharma, 1979:35-41); Fear among subordinates to communicate directly with superiors.
In each of these reasons a lack of shared meaning is apparent: that is, a perception by subordinates that supervisors do not belong in their rhetorical community and perhaps a desire by some supervisors to keep it that way. How can upward communication be encouraged? There are seven principles that have generally influence management communication (Planty & Machaver 1952:304-318). Principles of Upward Communication
Upward communication must be planned (methods identified). Upward communication must operate continuously. Upward communication must use routine channels (steps). Upward communication must stress sensitivity and genuine reception of ideas from lower levels. Upward communication must involve objective listening. Upward communication must be responded to by action. Upward communication must use a variety of media and methods to promote the flow of information.
The importance of creating a climate of trust is often promoted as a means of overcoming difficulties in upward communication. This can be translated as shared meaning, or at least a climate of shared experiences which promotes open communication between managers and other staff (See later sections below). [ Back to index of contents ] Horizontal communication Horizontal communication involves the sharing of information among peers within the same work group: that is, at the same level of authority. Horizontal communication reinforces purpose within the group or level at which the communication occurs. Table 2 Reasons for and methods of horizontal communication Reasons for sharing information among peers in a workgroup Co-ordinate work assignments Plan activities Solve problems Clarify Negotiate Develop interpersonal support Maintain common effort (group cohesiveness) [ Back to index of contents ] Cross-sectional communication Cross-sectional communication refers to the flow across levels and groups of an organisation. It occurs when members of one set, for example, the engineering section, need to gain or disseminate information to one or more other sets, for example, the budget section and the training section. Cross-sectional communication is based less on superior-subordinate relations and more on the need for access at any level. Thus, a manager who needs to order special equipment may speak quite thankfully to a purchasing clerk to facilitate the acquisition of that equipment. Sometimes rules apply as to who can communicate crosssectionally with whom. Unfortunately developing shared meaning or purpose often is not developed in cross-sectional communication as on-going links are rarely developed and if they are, more formal methods of vertical communication are adopted thereby creating downward communication flow. [ Back to index of contents ] Cluster communication (grapevine) The grapevine involves a more personal flow of information than the other flow paths. Information flowing on the grapevine is 70 to 95 per cent accurate. Davis and O'Connor note: People tend to think the grapevine is less accurate than it really is because its errors are more dramatic and consequently more impressed on memory than the day-to-day routine accuracy (Davis & O'Connor, 1977: 63). The grapevine serves to co-orient immediate participants predominantly on a one to one relationship. Each participant is a tentacle of the grapevine passing information to someone else. Methods of sharing information
Coffee breaks Notes Committees Telephone Social activities
The grapevine assists the co-orientation of members of the organisation beyond their group reference: that is, the grapevine provides an opportunity for transferring information across informal networks throughout the organisation, which may explain its speed and success. Direction may vary across complex factors. What is important is that frontline managers recognise the strengths and weaknesses of these directional flows. Further, managers must recognise that their communication can travel in any direction (like water) and be used in any way that the recipient perceives appropriate. Management communication is better served by many connecting directional flows than a single trickle because recipients will punctuate and connect and thereby cross-check information from and in a range of communities. This provides increased opportunity for the effective receipt of the message via shared meaning. [ Back to index of contents ] Channels and Flow The manager in the knowledge age must communicate information in a manner that enhances the flow of purpose driven information and 'open' channels for targeted information exchange. They must re-examine routines, exploit new options, and develop new tools, procedures and approaches thereby institutionalising responsiveness. In this sense, the manager in the knowledge age must have the capacity to mobilise employees to receive, respond and effect change. When we look at the words used to describe knowledge and traditional management, we gain an idea of the communicative tasks involved in each. Table 3 Traditional versus the knowledge manager Knowledge Vision Empowerment Transition Agility Integrated planning Creativity Innovation Life skills Change Mobilise and energise Traditional Maintenance Job descriptions Position in the hierarchy Policy and procedure Operational planning Department Work Job skills Employment
It is therefore critical that modern mangers understanding how communication will flow between individuals and across jobs or functional areas. Communication in an organisation may flow in one of three ways: simultaneously, serially or a combination of both. The style of communication and how the audiences action communication will be influenced by which channel or flow is selected. Organizational communication may be thought of as a 'happening' - an experience that started before you entered the process and continues after you make an exit. To begin communicating means that you are aware that the experience is happening. As an event, communication always has something that precedes it and something that follows it. You step into the process not knowing very precisely what came before or what will take place after and being somewhat vague about what is actually taking place at the moment (Pace & Faules, 1983:133). In this section, we shall look specifically at simultaneous and serial flows and then examine the role cliques play in communicating within an organisation. While the first two represent organisation-wide flow of communication, the last actually involves a compartmentalised communication flow. Put another way, while the first two can help enhance the development of a holistic organisational culture, the last can actually serve as a deterrent. [ Back to index of contents ] Simultaneous communication flow Simultaneous communication occurs both in a one to one situation and when many people receive information simultaneously
from one source: for example, at a meeting, broadcast data exchange (ie. corporate TV, e-mails to all on a network) via a newsletter, a memo or an announcement. Telecommunications can ensure that a message is transmitted across the world to be simultaneously received by millions. The speed and reach of modern communication ensures that simultaneous information is one of the most efficient flows of communication. This is illustrated in the diagram below.
Figure 6 Simultaneous communication flow
Simultaneous communication ensures that the information being imparted is accurate and not subject to distortion by those who might otherwise spread it. However, simultaneous communication cannot account for receiver distortion. Thus, it is important to have created, or create, an environment of shared meaning for the simultaneous flow of communication especially when many people receive the message simultaneously. This is sometimes achieved by formatting information in a manner acceptable to the receiver (eg. comic book style for low literacy recipients, graphs and charts for reinforcement, multi-media presentation for sustained interest, etc.). However, formatting alone will not necessarily overcome receiver distortion. The environment must be carefully nurtured to build a culture that enables understanding on key issues that will, in turn, be reinforced by subsequent communication. [ Back to index of contents ] Serial communication flow A considerable amount of organisational communication is delivered by a chain-of-command: that is, serially. Hierarchically structured organisations make most of their decisions on the basis of information resulting from serial communication. Messages received are integrated into a body of information to be transmitted to the next level. Information is moulded or tailored to suit the needs of the next person or group in the serial chain. Farace notes that the integration of information at each level and position in the serial chain includes interpretation, reconciling conflicting reports, discarding information, and applying weights to information from different sources (Farace, 1980:166). This can mean groups or teams only deal with information relevant to them, not the whole organisation. The figure below illustrates this concept.
Figure 7 Serial communication flow
The patterns of serial communication define the communication flow in terms of blockages, dams and diversions. The very nature of a corporate culture may impose limitations on who can talk to whom. Communication then becomes a source of authority and power when it is distributed serially. Persons in central positions can limit the flow of information if they choose. They can also build networks to disseminate information which builds power by including or excluding others from the communication flow. In such situations, meaning and/or purpose may be enhanced or eroded. To be included in the serial chain may build meaning for some; while excluding others may erode the effectiveness of the communication. Serial communication can give rise to a 'comfort zone' predicated upon understanding by team members that the information they receive through serial communication channels is all they need to access (ie. through e-mails, bulletins, newsletters etc.). [ Back to index of contents ] Cliques and rhetorical communities Cliques are groups of people who tend to work in close proximity and communicate more than fifty per cent of their communications with each other. They frequently consist of individuals who have both formal and positional reasons for making contacts as well as interpersonal and informal reasons (Pace & Faules, 1983:138). That is, clique members reinforce clique beliefs and their difference through their communication and language. This can cause barriers to participation in normal communication channels or predispose the group to develop into a 'parallel' community. A parallel community or so-called rhetorical community consists of people who participate in a rhetorical vision (Bormann, 1983:115). Rhetorical communities parallel the language and meaning in the wider organisation (or group) but believe their own identity and communication channels are more important (Falk, 1997). Such groups may share a rhetoric or sense of meaning based on an inside joke, an admiration of a past (or present) person, a common sense of disadvantage, a language or belief system, or shared experiences. A clique vision may involve a common consciousness about good, bad, proper, improper, and aspirations as applicable to the group. Rhetorical communities typically:
will have agreed procedures for problem-solving; build their own symbols and language sets; ensure learning patterns reinforce behaviour within their community; rely on both formal and informal channels to exchange information; and question power structures that challenge their shared meaning.
A number of British/Imperial-style bureaucracies and large corporations communicate in cliques, either simultaneously or serially, and thus the communication flow is not organisational-wide but compartmentalised. This makes it difficult to develop a holistic corporate culture. In this sense, cliques may be viewed as competing sub-cultures. What is interesting to our study of frontline management communication is that people play different roles in the transmission of communication relevant to cliques. There are 6 typical roles : Isolates Bridge Liaison Gatekeeper Opinion Leader Cosmopolite
Isolates Isolates have minimal or no contact with persons outside their clique in communication terms. They are typically:
insecure in self-concepts less motivated to achieve less willing to interact with others young and inexperienced within the system not in a position of power more inclined to withhold information dissatisfied with the system (Goldhaber, 1979).
Note here the lack of attunement to collective purpose that alienates isolates from the mainstream corporate culture. This should demonstrate the value of induction processes which remove isolate traits from susceptible employees and of developing management practices that involve them more in the mainstream of operations (job rotation, mentor guidance etc.). Bridge The bridge forms inter-clique or inter-group contacts. Farace contends that when contact between cliques is handled by bridges, distortion of messages increases because a bridge is susceptible to message decay and distortion (Farace, Monge & Russell, 1977). The bridge is inevitably a serial receiver of information but may be a simultaneous transmitter. The role of the bridge as observed by Farace helps explain why units or sections within a corporation respond differently to identical information. Liaison The liaison is not a member of a clique but is the transmitter of communication between cliques. Most research suggests that the liaison is important for the effective functioning of an organisation being in a position to expedite communication flow (or hinder it). A liaison might commonly be referred to as a 'networker': that is, a person who networks widely but is not a member of a particular clique. In modern organisations this often includes IT network managers who actually build communication and information transfer systems. Liaisons are perceived as having a greater number of communication contacts than others, more control over the communication flow, more influence in the power structure, and are more competent at their organisational activities.
The liaison might provide managers with a method to facilitate shared meaning. The liaison is apparent and acceptable to all cliques and in consequence provides opportunity for the consistent dissemination of information. Management may well encourage the liaison role to facilitate transfer of information across groups. Gatekeeper A gatekeeper controls a strategic point in the communication flow, choosing to open or close the gate to facilitate or hinder the passage of information. In serial communication, every link in the chain represents a gatekeeper . The gatekeeper can be a manager able to communicate information to enhance communication flow across teams and in order to enhance the corporate culture. A gatekeeper opposed to management may communicate a distorted message. Opinion Leader An opinion leader guides opinion and influences people in their decisions. Opinion leaders are mostly invisible: that is, they covertly guide opinion and their position of power is unquestioned. They usually exert influence and are in the mainstream norm of the majority of other organisational members. They can be detrimental to communication flow if their opinion is inappropriate to the well-being of the organisation (possibly behind the times), and beneficial to the organisation especially influencing change because they provide a reference point with which the mainstream of people can identify. The opinion leader will play a real role in defining purpose. Cosmopolite A cosmopolite is not linked to any one clique but belongs to everyone. The cosmopolite forms contacts outside the organisation (government agencies, clubs, associations) and tends to travel. The cosmopolite channels new information into the organisation from outside. Many cosmopolites are unable to communicate effectively because the corporate culture is not imbued with the on-going change which predominantly they herald. They draw meaning from multiple sources outside the organisation and can therefore graft new ideas and knowledge onto the existing culture. This may include a society of professionals, consultants in general, or a reference group of peers from other organisations. As frontline managers, it is essential that we are aware of the types of communication flow that prevail in our organisations. The communication flow provides us with some parameters for assessing the impediments to and facilitation of workplace relations within a work group.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.