Leadership

Top-Down or Bottom-Up Management: Which is Best for Your Business?

By Adrienne SmithDecember 7, 2017

Creating an effective management culture has countless positive effects on your organization. Employees will feel better connected to the business’ mission and goals. They’ll be more engaged, productive, and motivated — all of which encourages them to remain at your company longer. In fact, managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement.  

There are generally two approaches to effective organizational management: top-down and bottom-up. Top-down management is historically the common approach; direction is set by leadership and passed down to their teams. Bottom-up management is, unsurprisingly, the opposite: Direction is largely informed and set by employee feedback and funneled upwards.

Which style works best for your organization? We’ve outlined top-down and bottom-up management styles, so you can decide.

What is Top-Down Management?

Top-down management occurs when goals, projects, and tasks are determined among your organization’s senior leaders, usually independently of their teams. These goals, projects, and tasks are then communicated to their teams.

Pros: Top-down management is the most common approach to organizational management. You’ll find most employees are familiar with this style.

Senior leaders are often most closely connected to the business’s top-level goals. Top-down management ensures they set goals, projects, and tasks that align with the company’s mission and vision.

Cons: Employees may feel disconnected from your business’s mission and values, since they’re not involved in aligning goals to the business. This disconnect directly affects retention: 71% of Millennials who understand their company’s mission, for instance, plan to stay for at least one year.

Top-down management relies on the strength, focus, and thoughtfulness of your senior leaders. These leaders may not be equipped to set top-level goals effectively — or, with clarity, alignment, and feasibility in mind.

What is Bottom-Up Management?

Bottom-up management occurs when goals, projects, and tasks are informed largely by employee feedback. Employees are invited to participate in goal setting — sometimes simply with feedback, sometimes with a stake in the decision. These goals, projects, and tasks are then communicated by each team to senior leadership.

Pros: Employees across all levels and teams will feel engaged and involved — like their voice matters. And employees who feel heard are almost five times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.

Bottom-up management allows employees to set goals that are aligned with their strengths or areas of development. In doing so, employees can tackle their goals confidently.

Cons: Employees often don’t have full access to the top-level insights across your organization. As such, employees can’t identify and set goals that are truly aligned with the business’s mission and long-term vision.

The bottom-up management style isn’t as readily used as top-down management is. Employees may not have the ongoing support, education, and resources they need to navigate this approach successfully.

Which Management Style is Better for My Organization?

Every organization’s culture is unique and has varying levels of risk tolerance, openness to feedback, and levels of innovation. When deciding if a top-down or bottom-up management style is best suited for your organization, first review your company culture.

Consider answering the following questions:

  • Do employees feel connected to the business’ mission and vision?
  • Does leadership clearly and openly communicate with their teams?
  • How much ownership do employees have over their work ?
  • Is there a feedback-rich culture across all levels?
  • How is goal setting currently implemented?

Once you’ve done so, these answers may point to which management style is better suited for your business or team.

Or, perhaps, you don’t need to choose at all. Your organization may be best suited for a mix of both. Top-level business goals can be determined by senior leadership, perhaps with a round of feedback. Once these are decided and communicated down to teams, employees determine their personal goals with their managers in a bottom-up style. This mix of top-down and bottom-up management ensures that you’re securing the benefits of each style, while minimizing the possible repercussions.

Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith

About the Author

Adrienne is a writer, editor, and content marketer from New York. She's passionate about creating equal opportunity in the workplace.

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