Research shows that the primary reason chief executives and senior administrators fail is not from a lack of skills or abilities, but rather from not being aware of information that could negatively impact their organization. People at the decision-making level need to hear the voice of truth from those closest to the problem who deal with the customers and thus in the best position to recommend solutions.
The Upward Voice refers to communications directed to someone in the organization’s hierarchy with the authority to take action. Moving information up the chain of command begins by the formation of problem solving teams consisting of Doers from all organizational levels that are known to be reliable and trustworthy.
In order for The Upward Voice to be loud enough to be heard when it reaches the top level decision makers, lower level participants must first be assured that they are not putting themselves at risk of retaliation for speaking out and that they are not wasting their time voicing their concerns and proposing solutions.
Without The Upward Voice in place to clarify expectations and neutralize negativity an organization is opening the door to frequent communications calamities between the upper and lower levels.
Establishing The Upward Voice
- Phase 1 — Climate Setting: Management calls the meeting and provides assurance that no reprimands will be given to anyone who voices complaints or shares negative information.
- Phase 2 — Information Collecting: Doers form topic-teams to list those variances or blockages that are hampering organizational performance and productivity.
- Phase 3 — Information Sharing: Management reviews the lists from each topic-team. A spokesperson may be assigned to help clarify topic-team statements.
- Phase 4 — Priority Setting: Management and topic-teams rank order those items that need further exploration. Topic-teams come back with suggestions for action.
- Phase 5 — Action Planning: Management and topic-teams each make a list of what they will take action on, including timetables and resource allocations.
- Phase 6 — Follow-up: Management and topic-teams meet to develop action plans based on commitments made in Phase 5. The results are reported in Phase 7.
- Phase 7 — Progress Review: All participants reconvene regularly to report progress, settle disputes, develop plans, and share emerging issues.
Successful organizations have come to understand and appreciate the benefits of having Doers join in The Upward Voice. Positive outcomes include increased open communications, disclosure of personal and departmental conflicts, improved leader/follower relations, and higher levels of productivity from non-performers and underachievers.