Communicate Upward

Communicate 1As managers, we need to encourage each of our employees to keep us informed about what is really going on in our companies, both the good and the bad.  We need to be kept in the loop about the larger issues, possible challenges, and problems that our employees are facing.

This upward communication does not happen enough for several reasons.

First, most of our employees just assume that we know about everything happening in our companies.

This is a far cry from reality.  Managers know from experience that the person in the corner office is inevitably the last one to know about what is going on.  As executives, we should all have a placard on our desks with the quote:

“If you think I know, I don’t.”

Second, upward communication does not happen because no one likes to tell the boss bad news fearing that it makes them look incompetent in their supervisor’s eyes.

But, it is far better to tell a boss about an issue earlier rather than later when it has snowballed into a larger problem.

Third, most employees think that they can resolve the situation themselves without telling their boss.

 In many cases, that could be true.  But, it never hurts to have a supervisor provide advice.  Further, once the supervisor knows about the issue or problem, they can bring in additional resources from around the company to solve the issue before it mushrooms into a major problem.

Simply put, upward communication needs to happen.

Communicate 2The best way to communicate upward is as follows:

  • Explain the problem or issue
  • Explain what our plan is to solve the problem or address the issue.
    • This shows that we are proactively trying to resolve the problem.
  • Ask our supervisor for their advice on this matter.
    • Advice is the critical word.  It gets our boss invested in helping us solve the problem without transferring the “monkey” of the problem from our back onto our boss’s back.
  • Repeat on a regular basis so that our supervisor is always up to date.

Here is an example of effective upward communication:

“I am concerned that I have not been able to get a response from the customer about getting paid.  We now have $90,000 in accounts receivables with this customer that are over 60 days.   I have followed up consistently and gotten no answers.  And I have just elevated it to their corporate controller.  I just wanted to keep you in the loop.  And I welcome any advice or assistance you might have in getting this resolved?”


As business leaders, we hate surprises.  We especially hate surprise bad news that we are hearing about late.  So, we need to have everyone on our team communicate upward to ensure that we know about issues early and can gather the resources to address and resolve the problem.



About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
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