How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Upward communication in organizations is the process whereby individuals get heard by
The simplest way that information filters up the organization is when the managers ask questions. When asked for information, people will give answers. Responses can be gained in everyday conversation or in formal situations, from meetings to staff surveys.
A critical task here is in asking the right questions to get the desired answers. It is very easy for questions to be misunderstood and as a result the answers be biased, either to provide what is thought is wanted or to protect the individual from harm.
People in the front line of the organization who deal with customers and operate processes every day know a lot more about what is going on here than more senior managers. Yet it can be surprising how infrequently such people are asked for this information.
Asking them in the right way can lead to very helpful information which can be used to set strategy and redesign processes. In particular if you can engage them in the design process, this can lead to optimally effective systems, happier customers and greater profits.
Information is also needed about what people have done, how they have performed against the objectives that the organization has set them and maybe what involvement they have had in specific issues.
Performance of other people may also be reported, from informal opinions or complaints to formal systems such as '360 degree' systems where a person's performance is evaluated by their peers and subordinates as well as by their manager.
As this is a subject whereby people are rewarded and punished, many are very careful about what they say and their responses are likely to be shaped by their previous experiences, in particular if they were negative.
There are also formal methods for escalating specific problems up the organization.
Problems and issues
Sometimes problems occur for individuals that they cannot resolve themselves, perhaps needing additional authority or more people to become involved. In such cases the person contacts their manager, who may escalate the issue further up the tree, depending on the expertise or authority required to resolve it.
Grievances and concerns
People may also formally escalate personal issues, such as where they are being harassed by others or where they have seen inequality biases at work.
Where the person's manager is a part of the problem, then it is important to have another route, such as getting to the manager's manager or engaging the assistance of an HR person or trade union representative.
A common problem with upward communication is filtering. If there is a risk of punishment of some kind then people will paint communications with a rosy glow, toning down the bad bits or saying all is well when in fact it is not.
Another problem is in managers really listening to their employees, who may be seen as annoying disturbances more than valuable providers of information.
And then there is the question of what happens as a consequence of information provided. If it seems that nothing has happened then the employee may well not bother next time. And if they are punished, even with an irritated reception, then they will be more careful in what they say in future.