Critical upward communication: ten commandments for improving strategy and decision making.
Critical upward communication improves decision making in organisations. Without it, senior management teams become out of touch with the mood of their people, and underestimate or miss emerging problems in their marketplace. They are more likely to produce strategies that are misaligned with the perceptions of their employees. The possibility of successful strategic implementation is therefore dramatically reduced. This suggests that two way communication and critical feedback is vital to organisational success. The problem is that most of us are suspicious of any feedback to the effect that our behaviour, decisions or most cherished beliefs are in error. We react instinctively against it – what has been called the automatic vigilance effect. Moreover, most of us are also reluctant to transmit critical information, recognising that the hostile reaction of recipients may endanger our standing in their eyes, and possibly damage our careers. We therefore exaggerate how much we agree with the opinions of people who have a higher status than us – the ingratiation effect. This causes managers to form inaccurate impressions of the climate within their organisations, with dangerous strategic consequences. This article explores the problems that these dynamics create for companies. It examines the benefits that can be obtained from institutionalising more critical upward feedback into an organisation’s communication systems. I propose ‘ten commandments’ that can help organisations to reorient themselves in this direction.