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Top-Down vs. Open Communication - How Thinking Differently Can Lead to Great Businesses

A 5 Part Series - Part 1

It is time for the beliefs about business to catch up with the way great companies operate and how they view their role in the world today. Traditionally, the purpose of business is to make money right? That narrow notion however, molds the actions of most corporations, constraining them to focus on things like maximizing short-term profits. Now, don’t get me wrong, great companies work to make money, of course, but in their choices of how to do so, they think about building enduring institutions, investing in the future while also being intimately aware of the need to build people and society. For companies to serve a purpose far greater, they must expand their investments to include things like employee empowerment, values-based leadership, and contributions to society. I will describe five old ways of thinking and how great companies can think and do a bit differently, altering corporate behavior, giving them an extreme advantage. They include the following:

  • Top-Down Communication vs. Open Communication

  • Skill Over Behavior vs. Behavior Over Skill

  • Enrich Shareholders vs. Enrich Lives

  • Rigid Working Schedule/At Your Desk vs. Flexible/Mobile

  • Employees = Liabilities vs. Employees = Assets

In part 1 of this 5 part series, the focus will center on Top-Down Communication vs. Open Communication. Let us get started… Open communication is a concept that most companies claim to embrace and value, but very few achieve. Many companies incorrectly classify frequent top-down communication as open communication, and while this is a start, it isn’t going to lead to company greatness. The days of top-secret board-level meetings in which information and final decisions are disseminated via siloed team meetings are over; well, they are over for the companies that get it. I want to be clear that structures and hierarchy are necessary and have many advantages, however open communication is still possible and absolutely required. Each organization looks a little different of course and based on the size, and various factors, the specifics will differ, however fostering open communication is possible by way of integration within the company culture. This can be accomplished through the proper engagement of staff. High engagement is possible when employees care deeply about their work, they believe in the ultimate vision of the organization and have the ability to bring their strengths to their work. When this happens, there are overwhelmingly positive outcomes; higher productivity, stronger retention, and increased profitability, just to name a few. None of this is possible however unless those employees feel like the company they work for cares about them, truly values their work and ideas, and has their best interests in mind. And with millennials making up such a large portion of the workforce, this is more important than ever. Millennials are achievement-oriented, have high expectations of their employers, are not afraid to question authority, and want to be a part of meaningful work. Companies must acknowledge this along with the basic human need of all to feel recognized and valued. To drive engagement, and to be great, companies need to change their mindset and the way in which they operate to facilitate the sharing of knowledge among all across the organization. Remember, the goal is to ensure employees are engaged and individuals being heard is one way to do that. When decisions are made at a higher level and simply communicated and/or the work required as a result is delegated, there is no buy-in, there is no collaboration, there is no engagement. This is not always possible, and some decisions simply need to be made, however, can you imagine the power of opening up specific conversations across the organization to gain new insights, ideas, and ultimately help individuals feel their value? Collaboration tools, committees, and working groups can all help to facilitate open communication versus the top-down that most are so familiar with and enable engagement to become a part of the culture. Is driving new user growth a priority, developing new product features, or increasing efficiency within workflows? If so, developing channels to utilize via online collaboration tools, and/or the establishment of committees for individuals to share ideas and propose solutions, whether they are intended to support the entire company in smaller organizations, or large groups within, when it comes to large organizations, will aid in this effort. Can you imagine the strength of ideas that could result from the combined minds, in addition to the engagement levels based upon the opportunity to add value and play a larger role? Top-down communication does not enable this, open communication does, and it has the opportunity to set organizations apart from the rest. And ultimately, engagement is not possible without trust. Like with any relationship, it is built upon a foundation of trust. Trust grows over time and is based on individuals making and keeping commitments, as well as being vulnerable with one another, and it can be built by demonstrating honesty, openness, and transparency. Furthermore, it is strengthened through warmth and stewardship and the ability to truly listen, to demonstrate empathy, show positive attention, and to focus on others. It is important to meet the sharing of ideas, insights, solutions, and concerns that were previously discussed with positive reinforcement, and an open mind. It is critical to practice what you preach as individuals cannot be expected to behave in a way that others within the organization or leadership itself does not adhere to. Trust is not built overnight therefore ensuring that it is a part of the culture in an effort to facilitate open communication is key. Above all, it is about “walking the talk” and demonstrating through authentic actions. While proper top-down communication is always required, incorporating open communication into organizational culture is more important than ever and has the opportunity to launch strong companies into greatness.

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