3 Reasons Your Company Should Adopt a Bottom-Up Approach to Planning

Aug 9, 2022
Reading time: 12 min

Do your executives call all the shots? If so, it might be time to switch up your management approach.

Just take it from Navy Captain L. David Marquet, who turned the USS Sante Fe from the worst-ranking submarine for morale, performance, and retention to #1. His secret? Delegating to and empowering the right people.

In other words, when you flip your management model from top-down to bottom-up, you entrust your people to think, plan, and act. This strategy not only affects the “now” (by increasing engagement, retention, and innovation), but also helps create future leaders for your organization.

What is a Bottom-Up Approach?

A bottom-up approach is when company decisions start from those near the bottom of your org chart: low-to-mid-level employees.

Organizations that use a bottom-up planning style want employees to have a voice in problem-solving and strategy, and therefore welcome feedback (the good, bad, and ugly) throughout the decision-making process.

If you’re looking to transition to this management approach, you’ll need to focus on ways to amplify your people’s voices. To do so, you’ll need help from your middle managers.

Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up Management Approach

When using a top-down management approach, those at the top of your organization – specifically, the CEO and C-suite – identify issues and make the decisions. Leadership has long favored top-down planning to determine budget, staffing, and org structure because you can make decisions quickly and align teams as necessary.

Unfortunately, top-down planning can result in inaccurate forecasting and poor employee engagement due to the lack of employee feedback and input during the decision-making process.

Alternatively, bottom-up planning invites employees to offer suggestions and help plan from the get-go, providing immense value to your organization. For example, employee input can help identify training needs so leadership can design professional development that is more impactful and effective. They can also tell you what benefits they really want (goodbye oat milk, hello no-meeting-Fridays).

When you’re looking at top-down vs. bottom-up management styles, head to your org chart. With it, it’s easy to visualize the hierarchy of your organization and the stakeholders within each approach.

Considering implementing (or doubling-down) on a bottom-up management approach? Read below to discover three benefits to doing so.

3 Benefits of Adopting a Bottom-Up Management Approach

Bottom-up planning benefits your company because it involves managers and their teams from the start. With the right technology and insights, your people can create data-driven plans that not only consider the unique needs of their specific department, but also encourage support and buy-in for overall company goals.

1. You’ll Develop a More-Informed Strategy

Managers play an essential part in the execution of company strategy, initiatives, and vision. After all, they’re the ones interacting with employees on a daily basis. They understand how to communicate with their teams in a way that garners support for senior leadership. Now imagine how much more invested managers would be if they were given the opportunity to help create that strategy.

In fact, a Bain & Company survey found that 79% of managers agreed that leaders must trust and empower their people, and that’s exactly what a bottom-up approach to planning does: It increases manager feedback, morale, and engagement. Simply put, managers feel their input is valued when they are given more agency in making important decisions.

Interestingly, companies that involve more than just senior leadership in strategy and planning see better results than companies that entrust strategy to a centralized group. That’s because a traditional top-down planning model often reflects senior leadership’s limited understanding of what teams or departments need. This kind of approach can lead to unrealistic planning goals, like a low budget or inaccurate headcount, that can end up putting a strain on teams and their resources.

Involving managers therefore invites diverse perspectives and creativity, helping senior leadership avoid a “one size fits all” approach when planning for teams with varying needs and structures. Managers will also have the most insight into how to turn strategy into action.

Ultimately, think of managers as your go-between. They have a wealth of insight from their teams, and they can marry that insight with the needs and goals of the company, as communicated by senior leadership. Because of their constant interaction with their team, your managers are a crucial partner in planning, organizing, and executing strategies and initiatives.

2. Managers Can Provide Context on Your People Data

Managers’ daily observations make them uniquely qualified to offer innovative and growth-minded solutions that support your entire company. That’s because, since they directly supervise around 80% of your total workforce, they understand what’s going on in the day-to-day of your employees and company.

That constant communication and collaboration allows managers to provide additional context to your company’s data reports. For example, if Sarah discovers one of her direct reports is experiencing a family crisis, it’d make sense to witness lagging engagement. However, if Sarah looks at her team metrics and sees low engagement across the board, then there’s something bigger at play.

And that’s one reason why investing in a people operations platform (that has manager tools) is critical for your organization’s health: your managers are better able to identify their people’s needs.

Therefore, equipping your managers with the right technology will:

  • Create more meaningful 1:1s. Preconfigured 1:1 questions help capture qualitative feedback so you know how employees really feel. Additionally, constant communication with direct reports can help managers spot skills gaps and determine necessary professional development for their people.
  • Simplify performance and compensation reviews. With the right settings, managers are able to see employment history, current progress plans, and salary bands, which helps streamline the decision-making process come review time.
  • Use data to design team decisions. Decisions should never be gut-reactions. When your managers have access to team data, they can make decisions confidently about their people.
  • Contribute to DEIB efforts. Managers can visualize their team’s current makeup by gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and more. These visualizations make it easier for managers to identify gaps and opportunities in hiring, pay equity, and promotions. And taking advantage of the historical data, both leadership and managers can track DEIB efforts over time. It’s a simple but effective way to hold your company accountable to employees and candidates.
ChartHop ENPS Data Reports example

With ChartHop, you can slice and dice your data to help managers gain insights about their team and your company.

In short, managers can provide both qualitative and quantitative feedback to leadership to help create thorough, data-driven goals.

3. You Will Have More Buy-In for Company-Wide Initiatives

When you plan from the bottom up, you use ideas from people who experience pain points different from your C-suite. This feedback from your “boots on the ground” employees will help create stronger, more specific initiatives to meet their needs.

Furthermore, requesting and respecting honest feedback creates a psychologically safe environment for your employees. When people’s thoughts are encouraged, managers and other leaders gather key insights and useful information to make the best decisions. And when they’re able to make decisions based on employee input and experiences, those decisions are people-focused and better supported by your workforce.

Since these efforts will be for your people – and from your people – employees are much more likely to buy into company-wide initiatives. Listening to your employees will also lead to a more positive company culture, boost morale, and establish a sense of belonging.

Ways to Collect Employee Feedback

You know that listening to and acting on employee feedback creates a stronger company culture and promotes buy-in. So how do you collect it?

Besides having managers meet with their direct reports in regular 1:1s, consider:

  • Establishing 360 reviews. 360 reviews allow employees to review peers as well as direct managers. Adding these reviews to your management approach allows you to gather specific feedback anonymously. Therefore, reviews become a valuable tool to grow employees, either through individual, team, or company-wide development opportunities.
  • Analyzing your people data. Your data will help you determine if a problem is a company-wide, department, or individual issue. Looking at your numbers will therefore help you plan and execute your initiatives accordingly.
  • Gathering feedback via surveys. Gathering feedback outside of performance cycles lets you identify ways to boost morale and address concerns faster.

Leaders can view their people data through a variety of filters to help support decisions. This example shows employee engagement by department, age, and more.

Stay People-Focused with Bottom-Up Planning

As companies continue to prioritize their people, leaders should re-examine their management approach. If you’re currently using a top-down approach, analyze how it’s affecting your workforce and whether your employee engagement and manager morale are as strong as you’d like. If you choose to switch to a bottom-up approach, you’ll not only help leaders stay more-informed, but also ensure their data-backed initiatives create a significant impact by involving their employees in the planning process.

Alternatively, if you’re already using bottom-up planning, consider if you’re capitalizing on the benefits listed above. Are your managers helping leadership stay connected to the “right now”? Are they seen as strategic business partners in helping plan for the long-term? And how are you generating feedback from employees?

While your approach to planning may not seem like a top priority, it clearly affects multiple aspects of your business. Take the time to dive in and analyze whether a bottom-up approach is right for you. By doing so, you’ll continue to invest in your people by acknowledging their feedback now and empowering them to be effective leaders in the future.

Your managers can make or break your company. So how do you know if yours are effective? Read HR’s Essential Guide to Assessing Manager Effectiveness to discover how.

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