Advantages & Disadvantages of the Bottom-Up Approach

The bottom-up approach supplements the knowledge and experience of management with the input of employees on the front lines. Benefits of the bottom-up approach include wide-lens perspective and high employee morale. Disadvantages include a lack of cohesion and potential clashes of egos.

Your employees are the eyes and ears of your company. They see first hand how your customers react to your products and services, and they endure the fallout when your systems are ineffective. Listening to their voices isn't just good for morale – it also makes good business sense. The bottom-up approach to management relies on input from all levels of an organization.

Benefits of the Bottom-Up Approach

  • Using your resources. You're already paying your staff to come to work and do their jobs, so you might as well also take advantage of the insights they glean from being immersed in day-to-day operations. They see and hear things to which you don't have access when you're holed up in your office. These insights help to provide a holistic and comprehensive basis for company decision making.

  • Boosting morale. Like everyone else, your employees will value feeling valued. A bottom-up approach acknowledges that their insights and input can help make your company a better business. Listening to their voices encourages them to continually look for better ways to work and to develop strategies for improving operations.

  • Flexibility. A business that uses a bottom-up approach is well positioned to adapt when unpredictable circumstances occur. If only managers know how to solve a problem, then that problem cannot be solved if no manager is present. However, if employees are empowered to also make management decisions when needed, your company can make the most of opportunities and proactively address issues.

Disadvantages of the Bottom-Up Approach

  • Lack of cohesion. When decisions are being made at multiple levels, your business runs the risk of operating without a clear strategy. You may receive quality input from multiple sources, but employees may be operating without checking in with one another. They may be duplicating tasks or even working toward conflicting objectives.

  • Lack of experience. Although employees often see and hear things that managers do not, managers often have training and experience that allow them to consider the bigger picture. A bottom-up management approach introduces the risk that workers will try untested ideas without the broad perspective and knowledge necessary to do so effectively.

  • Ego strife. When multiple employees are empowered to make decisions and propose changes, your business runs the risk of having egos clash when staff members disagree. This can cause disharmony that affects your workplace environment. It can also interfere with work flow and productivity.

Advantages of Bottom-Up Planning

In project management, a bottom-up approach is often used to create a game plan that integrates the perspectives of the entire team. This process can be cumbersome and time consuming, but if you allocate the necessary resources and work with team members to ensure that conflicts and disagreements are resolved constructively, you'll likely end up with a strategy that is deep, thoughtful and effective.

In addition, employees who have had input in a big-picture plan will be especially invested in seeing that plan succeed. They will keep missions and goals in mind when executing short-term tasks, acting in service of the project's overall mission. They will take care to complete steps on schedule and will communicate with team members to address difficulties and fill gaps.

Leveraging the Advantages

Your company's ability to make the most of a bottom-up approach to management or planning will depend on how well you implement the strategies that are likely to make this approach successful.

  • Training. Instead of simply turning employees loose and expecting them to make good decisions, provide training that gives them the tools and information to make the best decisions possible.

  • Communication. Set up systems to allow employees to communicate with each other in real time so they can avoid duplicating tasks and enlist additional input when making tricky decisions.

References

About the Author

Devra Gartenstein founded her first food business in 1987. In 2013 she transformed her most recent venture, a farmers market concession and catering company, into a worker-owned cooperative. She does one-on-one mentoring and consulting focused on entrepreneurship and practical business skills.