Management: Bottom Up and Top Down

Top down management is characterised by a small number of people recruited, promoted or hired to develop a ‘strategy’ that will hopefully lead to progress.

The ‘strategy’ is usually accompanied by a ‘plan’, where costed elements are prioritised and scheduled for delivery in the full expectation that things will, as a result of the implementation of the plan, get better.

The strategy and its associated plans are usually supported with evidence and feasibility studies showing just why this is the right course of action, and how benefits will accrue.

Top down management is also characterised by:

  • delegation down a chain of command to manage implementation
  • fierce discussions about the correct allocation of scarce resources
  • disputes about chosen methodologies and the viability of alternatives
  • piloting and subsequent rolling out of schemes and plans
  • attempts, with varying degrees of honesty and legitimacy to encourage participation in the top down planning process – phrases like consultation and engagement are used liberally.

Bottom Up Management

Bottom Up Management is characterised by people using their own power to develop their own self interest. Self interest is not selfishness but means ‘self amongst others’.  It is about establishing our role and identity in the organisation. Usually the best way to develop ones own self interest is to look after the self interests of others.  Effectively managing the polarities of looking after self and looking after others is at the heart of the healthy and successful organisation.

Sometimes bottom up management is also characterised by groups of people coming together when they have shared self interests.  In bottom up development this coming together around common cause requires little engineering. It just happens.

Bottom up management is characterised by:

  • People working in their own self interests in the way that they see fit
  • People looking for  the resources (help, money, time) that they need to make progress
  • People pondering their options and taking decisions rather than awaiting instructions from above
  • People coming together around common causes – forming associations and organising in order to increase their power to make something happen.
Bottom up is the only way to really get large numbers of people engaged in their own development and developing agency in their own lives and organisations. Bottom up is about participation and engagement.

Bottom Up AND Top Down

Both bottom up and top down processes are necessary.

Top down to plan and provide the structure and resources required and bottom up to allow individuals and groups to use it effectively.

But few organisations and managers succeed in keeping top down and bottom up in balance.

Management today is challenging because we are, I believe, in the midst of a seismic shift from top down management towards a much more bottom up approach. Very few managers are equipped with either the skill sets or the systems that they need to manage this shift.

If that sounds like something that might benefit you then please do sign up or get in touch via comments or the contact form.

Mike Chitty

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