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Ownership Training Through Bottom-Up Control & Management

Changing places, confused faces. That’s probably a standard reaction to a bottom-up management strategy if one’s never applied it in practice before.

Imagine you’re teaching a dog to perform a new skill on command. It is your responsibility to ensure the dog has the freedom to practice that skill, and that the command becomes the stimulus for the dog to associate the skill with.

If you try to exert absolute control over the dog as a totalitarian trainer, you’d scare the creature and the result would be inaction.

For the dog to learn the new skill, the control tower (you) must provide just enough ‘safe space’ for the dog to practice, and take ownership of its practice. Still, you're in control. This is where feedback and incentives come in, and that’s through bottom-up control.

The process of behavioral conditioning is similar in many life forms, including humans.

In our last post, we discussed capability development. This piece carries the topic through to shed light on control dynamics we often don’t recognize as a result of forceful top-down management.

Does Punishing Your Employees Encourage Ownership?

Ownership of one’s actions ties into will and incentive. When an overbearing management model dominates a workplace, employees actually suppress the will of workers without realizing it. In the aforementioned example of the dog, should the trainer punish the dog instead of incentivization and feedback, the dog would obey in fear.

Obeying in fear is far from willful action and ownership, yet many companies follow this model.

In a ‘professional setting,’ it’s highly unlikely for us to see physical punishment in 2021. That said, most punishment goes beyond physical, or even verbal. Today’s punishment happens under the hood because it can be done without direct contact.

Corporate punishment is called ‘top-down’ management. A one-sided, pre-stone-age management model that suppresses the creativity and drive of the individual.

How Does Bottom-Up Management Breed Ownership?

In modern corporate culture, organizations take an approach to maximize performance and loyalty by interacting with thousands of team members.

Innovative giants like Tesla and Google have the most effective teams because the flow of information doesn’t end in the inbox of a front-line worker. It travels right back through management to the original curator idea.

Managing a workforce from the ground up may seem like a surrender of power, though should it be planned and executed with finesse, results prove the contrary.

As we used the example of a ‘hallway of communication’ in the previous article, upper management must also open up such avenues for fusing and molding new insights. The concept is far simpler to grasp than an effective top-down, bottom-up strategy in action.

With the size of the company, the end-points of management also increase, which in turn increases the amount of feedback we receive in return. For a successful bottom-up strategy, management personal and executives must work together to create a mutually accessible feedback hub.

This hub needs the right tools so a goal-feedback-action-diagnosis cycle can function.

An Easy Bottom-Up Management Game You Can Try Today

Naturally, no company will build a sophisticated digital playground before putting a new management strategy into practice. While there are dozens of multi-functional software on the market, any manager or executive reading can apply a new approach on a small scale.

Most managers have the freedom to try the following technique within the teams they’re responsible for since no rules need to be broken. And the result? Additional insight to be passed on to those in charge, and new opportunities for rewards.

There are two essential tools needed:

  1. Medium of communication (with the ability to contact those who are managed)

  2. An excel sheet

How Do You Open Up Dialogue In Bottom-Up Management?

Here’s an example scenario.

Jonathan manages a team of twenty-five, of whom he chooses ten people for his bottom-up practice project. He creates a very basic spreadsheet (see this template) to open up an avenue of regular communication between himself and the ten people.

Note: Excel or Google Sheets is a great tool to create continuous dialogue. The most important aspect is how questions are phrased, and how the ‘dialogue project’ is communicated to those partaking. For honest responses, respect for the project supervisor (you) is necessary, and that is to be earned through how the project is structured for the benefit of the participants.

The process is simple. Jonathan applies the spreadsheet of questions in the form of a review, though instead of scoring or judging performance, his priority is to assist and solve. He repeats the process as many times as necessary.

The most important aspect of bottom-up management is dialogue and analysis. That said, the data collected from the analysis is ONLY applied for constructive feedback. The 'You did great here and can do even better by finding a way to...'

What If Leaders Are Unable To Give Constructive Feedback With A Bottom-Up Model In Place?

Where managers are unable to give constructive feedback, we face a leadership problem. Anyone is capable of leading, and anyone is capable of being response-able, given the right environment and training to match their natural ability.

The beauty of large organizations is the vastness of opportunity across various teams and sectors. Leaders of enterprises often fail to see the opportunity for growth, because they’re overwhelmed by volume.

The truth is, larger playgrounds have the potential to offer many more games from which we grow. The turning point lays in the hands of the playground architect. With the right games, all participants find a way to practice a desirable skill that the collective group needs for growth. By providing individuals with an opportunity to practice and own one’s craft, responsibility, and ownership are but a pleasant side-product.

How do we build the playground and provide the team of players with what they need?

We lead by example. We listen and respond.


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