Importance of Top-Down Communication with Frontline Workers

The Importance of Top-Down Communication with Frontline Workers

The Importance of Top-Down Communication with Frontline Workers

Last updated on March 7, 2024 at 12:31 pm

In today’s workplace, you hear a lot about democratizing communication, amplifying the employee voice, and generally embracing the power of manager communication and bottom-up communication. And we don’t disagree. This is the direction employee communication should go. But it won’t replace top down communication with our frontline teams. This is a type of interaction that our non-desk workers are lacking, and it’s a key way to build trust and connect them to the mission. In this blog, we’ll talk more about what top down communication is and why it’s critical to get right.

What is Top Down Communication?

Top-down comms is also sometimes called the cascade of communication. Picture your org chart. Top down communication is when messages from the top of your company are strategically communicated down each level in the chain of command.

When I did internal comms at Chipotle, it looked like this:

  • A member of the C-Suite, often the CEO or COO, shared a message with the top level of restaurant leadership: Executive Team Directors.
  • The Executive Team Directors then had a call with their direct reports—Team Directors—where they conveyed the message, its importance, and the next steps.
  • The Team Directors then share that message with their direct reports: Field Leaders. 
  • Field Leaders then conveyed the message to all the General Managers of the restaurants they managed.
  • Then GMs had the task of sharing the message with their teams. 

top-down communication cascade example

While this may seem inefficient, this cascade model of communication is actually really important for large or complex changes/updates. Often, it’s best to give managers a heads-up on what’s happening with specific talking points and action items before the message is shared with everyone. We want managers at all levels of the business to be well-versed and on board with whatever the change is.

The biggest issues with this way of communicating are:

  • Messages can get lost in translation along the chain.
  • Some managers are worse at communicating and sharing all the details.
  • You rely on individuals not spreading misinformation.

These challenges are why we do recommend using targeted comms through an app and email to directly target the key messages to each group in the chain, rather than rely on them sharing the message and hoping it makes it to hourly employees intact.

Watch this video to learn more about what top-down communication is and why it’s critical to get right.

What is Top-Down Leadership?

To talk about top down communication we have to also talk about top-down leadership (also called top-down management). This top-down approach to management is when decisions are made at the highest level of the organization and then cascaded down to the other levels within the company.

In this leadership style, senior leaders or executives hold the primary decision-making authority and are responsible for setting strategic goals, defining objectives, and establishing overall direction for the organization. The decisions made by top-level management then guide the actions and initiatives of middle managers, supervisors, and employees throughout the company.

As you can see, that sounds very similar to top-down communication and that’s because it is. Top-down communication is a critical part of top-down management because how effectively messages are communicated will determine your success as a business.

It’s worth noting that top-down leadership is just one of the various leadership styles that can be observed in organizations. While it provides a clear chain of command and a centralized decision-making process, it also has its advantages and limitations. Some advantages of top-down leadership include:

  • Clarity and alignment
  • Efficiency and speed
  • Consistency and control

However, top-down leadership also has its limitations, including:

  • Limited employee input
  • Potential communication challenges
  • Rigid structures that can impede innovation

Why Top Down Communication Matters

Top-down internal communication is where most companies need to focus. Right now, many companies with frontline workers rely on the cascade of information. For example, the COO tells their executive leaders in the field a message, and they tell their direct reports, who tell their direct reports, all the way down to the hourly, frontline employee.

But we’ve all played the game of telephone. A lot can get lost in translation.


What Are the Advantages of Top-Down Communication?

The advantages of effective top-down communication include building trust with senior leadership, connecting employees to the company mission, and building culture and connection. But the key here is making sure it’s effective

Too often, top down comms are didactic and just orders being passed down the line. To tap into all the great benefits of communicating from the top, you need to share the why. Why is a message important? How will a change or initiative affect or help your frontline teams? Without understanding why something matters or the WIIFM (what’s in it for me?), your employees won’t feel as respected and you won’t succeed in improving trust and transparency.

How to Improve Top-Down Comms

The biggest challenge with communication that has to trickle from the top of the organization to the bottom is that not everyone along the chain has been trained in communication.

One of my favorite moments from PRSA Connect 2022 was when speaker Joni Kirk said, “You can’t expect a [fill in the blank] to be a communicator.” What she means is that, although most roles may require communication to be successful, most people who aren’t professional communicators don’t necessarily have the skills. And it’s up to us to teach them.

quote you can't expect a blank to be a communicator

Joni’s presentation focused on the group that can be the weakest link in the chain of communication: managers.

So, we need to strengthen the resources we give to our frontline managers. We need to give them tools that will help them communicate and be successful in their roles. And then we need to get the high-level, company-wide messages to everyone at the same time.

You might think you’re doing this right now, but if you rely heavily on email, intranet, and in-person meetings, you’re likely leaving out a big chunk of employees. This only becomes more complicated at companies that have multiple facilities, brands, or geographic locations.

But with theEMPLOYEEapp, we allow you to easily communicate from the top down to every employee and, through profiles—allowing you to have multiple content publishers across your company and build that message chain that eliminates the uncertainty in your message, all while retaining control over who has posting permissions, where they can post, and who they can share information with.

middle-out communication graphic

What is Bottom-Up Communication?

Over the last few years, the conversation around corporate communication has evolved. It’s not enough to just have a strong top-down communication strategy. Now, we need to consider bottom-up and middle-out communication approaches too.

Bottom-Up Communication is exactly what it sounds like. This is when companies tap into the employee voice and get feedback, suggestions, and stories from employees throughout the company. Rather than relying solely on top-level executives to dictate the flow of information, bottom-up communication empowers employees to contribute their ideas, perspectives, and experiences.

This approach recognizes that employees are not just passive recipients of information but are key stakeholders who possess valuable insights and knowledge about their work, teams, and the organization as a whole. By engaging in bottom-up communication, companies can leverage the collective intelligence and creativity of their workforce to drive innovation, improve processes, and enhance overall organizational performance.

What is Middle-Out Communication?

Middle-Out Communication is where you empower more of your mid-level managers to communicate regularly. This approach recognizes the pivotal role that middle managers play in bridging the gap between top-level executives and frontline employees.

Traditionally, communication within organizations has primarily been top-down, with executives disseminating information to lower-level employees. However, this approach often results in information being filtered, diluted, or misunderstood as it makes its way down the organizational hierarchy. Middle-out communication seeks to address this challenge by allowing mid-level managers to take a more active role in communication, leveraging their expertise, proximity to frontline employees, and understanding of day-to-day operations.

Our clients do this by giving their middle managers access to post content on their employee app to select users. This helps them take charge of formal recognition comms, day-to-day operations (they know best!), and other areas of expertise. And by enabling them to use a channel rather than just face-to-face, you can track how they’re doing and provide tips, training, and advice to continue improving their communication skills.

Interested in Learning More About theEMPLOYEEapp?

Are you ready to see how theEMPLOYEEapp can help you with your top-down, middle-out, and bottom-up communication strategies? 

With theEMPLOYEEapp, you can transform your top-down communication by:

  • Ensuring messages from the top are shared with all employees, at the same time, in the same way.
  • Streamlining message dissemination to save your internal comms team time.
  • Improving your ability to target and personalize messages to each employee audience (e.g. for managers vs. hourly employees).

Request a demo today and see theEMPLOYEEapp in action.



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