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Downward Communication

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Communication that flows from a higher level in an organisation to a lower level is a downward communication. In other words, communication from superiors to subordinates in a chain of command is a downward communication. 

In this article you will learn in detail all  about downward communication its-

Characteristics – 1.  Required to get things done 2. Required to prepare for changes 3. Required to build an effective working environment 4. Increase productivity of the organisation 5. Explain policies and procedures 6. Convey assessment of performance

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Advantages – 1.  Helps in maintaining the discipline 2. Employees always receive instruction 3. Controlling 4. Improve the relationship 5. Systematic delegation of authority

Disadvantages – 1. Promote one way or authoritative communication 2. More time consuming  3. Prove to distortions or misuse information and messages 4. May be filtered or manipulated

Merits – 1. Valuable for the organisation 2. Valuable for employees 3. Disciplined organisation 4. Involvement in organisation 6. Control 7. Planning

Benefits  – 1. Helps to explain to the subordinates the organizational plan 2. Helps to convey to the subordinates 3. Acts as a means to control the activities 4. Provides motivation

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Additionally learn of its types – 1. Job procedures/instructions 2. Feedback/motivation 3. Policies and practices

Methods – 1. Employee’s handbook 2. Written orders and instructions 3. Briefings 4. Bulletins and newsletters 5. Bulletin boards 6. Education & training 7. Counselling 8. Appraisal or evaluation 9. Motivation 10. Warning 11. Annual reports

 About its limitations – 1. One-way communication 2. Difference in values and perceptions 3. Mistrust 4. Inner conflicts of leadership 5. Resistance to authority

 And problems – 1. Distortion of message 2. Delays 3. Overloaded or under loaded message 4. Bureaucratic degeneration

Downward Communication

Downward communication provides direction and control. In this kind of communication, the information includes job plans, policies, and procedures. It is used to instruct employees so that managers can provide feedback regarding employee performance and instil in them the motivation to achieve the organisation’s goals.

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Downward communication occurs when information flows down the hierarchy from superiors to subordinates. Examples include circulars, emails, memos, etc. 

It originated in the assumption that the people operating at higher levels have the authority to communicate to the people at the lower levels. Hence this kind of communication exists especially in organisations with an authoritarian atmosphere. 

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Meaning of Downward Communication

Communication that flows from a higher level in an organisation to a lower level is a downward communication. In other words, communication from superiors to subordinates in a chain of command is a downward communication. Examples- Organisational publications, circulars, letters to employees, group meetings etc. 


Characteristics of Downward Communication

The characteristics of downward communication are as follows: 

1. It is required to get things done from the subordinates. 

2. It is required to prepare for changes. 

3. It is required to discourage misinformation and suspicion 

4. It is required to build an effective working environment. 

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5. To increase productivity of the organisation. 

6. To provide specific directions about some job. 

7. To explain policies and procedures. 

8. To convey assessment of performance. 

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9. To explain the rationale of the job and to increase morale of employees. 


Objectives of Downward Communication

Communication from a superior to a subordinate may be about orders or instructions, guidance, advice or solving problems. 

The following are the objectives of downward communication: 

  1. To give specific job instructions and directives. 
  2. To inform about organisational rules and regulations. 
  3. To apprise subordinates about their performance. 
  4. To highlight the link between the job, the employee’s performance and the organisation’s success. 
  5. To be supportive in their organisational and personal problems. 

Downward communication may be conveyed by writing or speaking. Writing could be in the form of letters, notice, memos, circulars, bulletins, posters and even annual reports. Oral downward communication could be by issuing orders and instructions, informing, educating or training through meetings. 

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Technology is frequently used for downward communication today. It is easy to telephone a subordinate and easier still to email information to several subordinates at the same time.


The common purposes of downward communication 

(i) instructions about a specific task; 

(ii) information about the practices and procedures followed by the organization; 

(iii) information which creates understanding of the task in relation to other tasks of the organization; 

(iv) feedback about subordinates’ performance; 

(v) information about the ideology and the goals of the organization which would help them to develop a sense of belonging to the organization. 


Benefits of Downward Communication

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Downward communication provides the following benefits:

1. It helps to explain to the subordinates the organizational plans, policies, programmes and procedures, work methodology and other necessary information for performing the job. 

2. It helps to convey to the subordinates the expectations of management from them. 

3. It acts as a means to control the activities of the subordinates with active feedback. 

4. It provides motivation to the workers to excel their performance. 


Advantages of Downward Communication

The advantages of downward communication are as follows: 

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1. Downward communication follows the official chain of command it helps in maintaining the discipline

2. In case of downward communication employees always receive instruction from the executives, as a result their operational efficiency increases. 

3. Downward communication is a means of controlling. For example if the performance of an employee is deviated from expectation, then through downward communication his or her immediate superior can warn him to correct the fault. 

4. Policies can be informed to the employees through downward notices. 

5. Performance of the employees can be evaluated through downward communication. 

6. Executives inform the employees about their responsibilities and assign their goals

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7. It helps to improve the relationship between top management and employees. 

8. The systematic delegation of authority can be achieved through downward communication. 


Downward Communication Disadvantages

The disadvantages of downward communication are given here: 

(i) This method tends to promote one way or authoritative communication; 

(ii) It is more time consuming as it passes through different levels of organisation; 

(iii) It is prove to distortions or misuse because it passes through various levels of the organisational hierarchy; 

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(iv) The information and messages may be filtered or manipulated by some persons for their vested interest. Thus, it can be said that within this communication the messages should be clearly consistent with the rights, duties, responsibilities and capabilities of the receiver.

 It must be consistent with the policies, programmes and plans of the organisation. The messages should also be unambiguous in this system. 


Merits of Downward Communication

1. Valuable for the Organisation: 

Downward communication is the most essential component of an organisation. The organisation uses downward communication to communicate essential official information to employees. 

2. Valuable for Employees: 

Downward communication is valuable for employees as they are well informed about their work from time to time. It provides them motivation and enhances the morale of employees. 

3. Disciplined Organisation: 

Through downward communication, division of responsibility and accountability brings about discipline, satisfaction, harmony and co-operation among the employees. 

4. Involvement in Organisation: 

In downward communication, the employees carry a feeling of participation in the management of the organisation. They regard themselves as an important part of the organisation. 

Though downward communication flows from a higher authority to a lower one and is the earliest channel of organisational communication it has its drawbacks and limitations. 

5. Explanation of Policies and Procedures to the Subordinates:

Downward communication helps in explaining policies and procedures to the members of the organisation. The superiors perform this job with letters, circulars, house journals, manuals, memorandums, etc.

6. Control:

Downward communication helps in controlling the activities of subordinates. Subordinates are informed by their superiors at regular intervals about the former’s performance. If there is any shortcoming in their performance, subordinates can be asked to improve their performance.

7. Planning:

Downward communication helps subordinates to understand their duties. Accordingly, they can plan their activities. Downward communication also puts a check on the unreasonable demands of the superiors.


Demerits of Downward Communication

(i) Delay: The lines of communication in downward communication being very long, transmitting information to the lowest worker is a time-consuming process. By the time information reaches him, it may have lost much of its significance, or it may have caused damaging delay. 

(ii) Under-communication and Over-communication: Downward communication is often marred by either under-communication or over-communication, i.e., a superior may either talk too little or too much about a job. 

Sometimes the superiors act in a presumptuous manner; they communicate the decisions but withhold relevant background information about how those decisions were arrived at. 

If the Managing Director orders a number of transfers without taking into confidence his departmental heads, he is guilty of under-communication, and his action is likely to cause apprehensions among the staff. 

Under-communication may also involve incomplete instructions, which will inevitably lead to unsatisfactory performance. Over-communication or talking too much, on the other hand, may lead to a growth of irrelevant details. 

(iii) Distortion: In long lines of communication, information is not only lost but even distorted. Exaggerating, making understatements, giving unconscious twists to facts are a part of human nature. 

Whenever a piece of information passes on from one individual to another, it loses a little of its authenticity. By the time it reaches its destination, it may not contain even an iota of truth. 

(iv) Built-in Resistance: Downward communication smacks of too much authoritarianism. The subordinates do not get any opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. They are expected to receive the policy decisions and directives without questioning their appropriateness, utility or validity, which they present. 

(v) Loss of Information: Unless the communication is fully written, it is not likely to be transmitted downwards as a complete whole. A part of it is almost certain to be lost. In fact, it has been experimentally verified that ‘only 20 percent of the communication sent downward through five levels of management finally gets to the workers’ level.’ 


Effective Downward Communication

For making downward communication effective, the following pre-requisites are inevitable: 

1. Well informed: The top, middle and lower level managers should be well informed about the overall objectives and detailed activities of the organization so that they can answer any query or clarify any doubt about the message communicated. 

2. Positive communication climate: The success of communication depends upon the communication climate. Before misunderstanding can stem out of the message communicated, management must ensure a positive communication climate. 

3. Prevention of over-concentration: Over-concentration of authority for issuing orders and instructions should be avoided. There should be sufficient delegation of authority at middle and lower level management, so that delays in the issue of necessary orders and instructions can be avoided. Additionally the line of communication should be shortened to avoid possibility of distortion and delusion. 

4. Proper channelisation: The information should pass through the hierarchical structures of the organization. It should not by-pass, as it will create behavioural problems in the organization. 

5. Adequate and clear message: The communicator should always convey a clear and complete message, in simple and straightforward language.


Types of Downward Communication

1. Job Procedures/Instructions: 

It gives directions about what to do or how to do the things. For example, instructions regarding how to perform a job. 

2. Feedback/Motivation:

Telling the subordinates about their performance and motivating them. 

3. Policies and Practices: 

Information about rules, regulations, policies and practices to be followed. For example, Do not try to argue with the unhappy customers. “If you can’t handle them, call the manager” is an instruction about the practice followed in the organisation. 


Methods of Downward Communication

1. Employee’s Handbook: 

An employee handbook, also known as an employee manual or staff handbook, is a book given to employees by an employer which contains information about company policies and procedures. 

The employee contains employment and job related information which employees need to know, such as holiday arrangements, company rules and disciplinary and grievance procedures. 

It can also provide a useful source of information to new staff as part of the induction process. An employee handbook gives clear advice to employees and creates a culture where issues are dealt with fairly and consistently. 

2. Written Orders and Instructions: 

Written communication has major advantages in organizations, as it provides concrete evidence and confirmation of the message. Details cannot be forgotten or nor is understanding subject to the interpretation of tone of voice, or mishearing. Instructions, especially if they are lengthy or complicated, are best in writing.  

  1. Memos 
  2. Circulars 

3. Briefings: 

Briefings on specific tasks or topics are like giving a set of instructions. However, they are verbal and can be used as a wider communication medium. It is very helpful for an individual manager to have short meetings in order to communicate and explain on an ongoing basis. 

4. Bulletins and Newsletters: 

In written (printed) form both are basically serial publications issued by the senior management of a corporation generally for its employees, for the conveyance of up-to-date information in its sphere of action. Bulletins can also be oral. 

While bulletins are official verbal reports of the news, newsletters are informal publications, often simple in format and crisp in style that provide special information, advice, opinions, and forecasts for a defined period. 

5. Bulletin Boards: 

It is a notice board which displays news or any other information. It is for quick communication of messages which is directed at all the employees or a section of employees or sometimes even an individual. It is used when the nature of communication is public. 

6. Education & Training: 

The quality of employees and their development through training and education are major factors in determining long-term profitability of a business. It is good policy to invest in the development of employees’ skills, so they can increase their productivity.

Training is often considered for new employees but ongoing training for current employees helps them adjust to rapidly changing job requirements. 

Providing education and training to employees is enhancing the company’s ability to adopt and use advances in technology because of a sufficiently knowledgeable staff. Also, it is observed that employees develop a greater sense of self-worth, dignity and confidence in their employers as they become more valuable to the firm and to society. 

Ultimately, it results in a decrease in supervision and increase in efficiency and productivity of the employee. 

7. Counselling: 

Dictionary meaning of Counselling is “Advice or guidance, especially as solicited from a knowledgeable person.” Employee Counselling is a service offered by companies to their employees. Organizations that care for their employees are perceived as more meaningful and purposeful. 

Counselling is a process of helping people to learn how to solve certain interpersonal, emotional and decision problems. Counsellors help their counsels to ‘learn’. Counsellors are concerned with habit changes that increase peoples’ satisfaction with themselves. 

It could be anything from helping people choose a career option, becoming appropriately assertive or communicating more harmoniously with team members. 

Counselling can be formal or informal, but it’s much more effective if it’s separate from a formal evaluation. This means managers should take time to offer counselling as they see their employees making errors. Performance appraisals are for evaluating employee behaviour against what they know to do. 

But if they don’t know what to do, employees should receive counselling. It’s a proven, valuable, effective way to develop a better workforce. 

8. Appraisal or Evaluation (Performance Feedback): 

Appraisal is the process of obtaining, analyzing and recording information about the relative worth of an employee. The focus of the appraisal is to measure and improve the actual performance of the employee and also the future potential of the employee. Its aim is to measure what an employee does. 

Employee evaluation helps to review the performance of the employees over a given period of time, to judge the gap between the actual and the desired performance and to help the management in exercising organizational control. 

This method of downward communication also helps: 

  1. To strengthen the relationship and communication between management and employees 
  2. To provide feedback to the employees regarding their past performance 
  3. To diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals so as to identify the training and development needs of the future 
  4. To provide information to assist in the other personal decisions in the organization 
  5. To provide clarity of the expectations and responsibilities of the functions to be performed by the employees 
  6. To reduce the grievances of the employees 

9. Motivation: 

Downward communication is not just about directly getting things done. It is also about maintaining the ability and willingness of team members to carry out orders and instructions. Hence, it is important that the top management keeps the employees motivated and their morale high. 

This can be achieved by: 

  1. Maintaining a climate of open communication 
  2. Listening to the views and opinions of the employee 
  3. Giving them credit when it is due
  4. Avoiding public criticism and humiliation 
  5. Expressing appreciation 
  6. Clearly setting of work related goals 
  7. Treating people fairly 
  8. Giving job based rewards
  9. Effective discipline and punishment 
  10. Satisfying employee needs 

10. Warning: 

If an employee’s performance is not acceptable and does not improve after an initial face-to-face discussion, then the next step to resolving the problem is to issue a written warning.

 It could be in the form of a letter using very specific language so that there is no room for misunderstanding. The letter should clearly state what must be improved and give a deadline. This letter then becomes part of a written record to justify any future action if necessary. 

11. Annual Reports: 

An annual report is a comprehensive report on a company’s activities throughout the preceding year. Annual reports are intended to give shareholders, employees and other interested people information about the company’s activities and financial performance.  


Limitations of Downward Communication

(1) One-Way Communication: 

In several cases a superior still behaves in an authoritative manner and does not encourage feedback (upward communication). He may instruct but will not entertain clarifications. To avoid face-to-face interaction most of his communication may be in writing or through e-mails. 

The reasons could be that the superior is not sure of the information he is passing on or that he is diffident in facing subordinates. He may not want to be physically present because the information he is conveying is unpleasant or that he would like to be only heard not seen. 

Whatever the reasons, a superior has to be responsible and is accountable for his actions. So he has to ensure that he maintains adequate contact with his subordinates and encourages two-way communication. 

(2) Difference in Values and Perceptions: 

It is common for the superior to be committed to the total organisation, while the subordinate relates to his department or sub-group alone. The superiors visualise their performance in terms of long-term goals while subordinates see theirs in terms of immediate outcomes. 

Superiors typically view their contributions in terms of achievement while subordinates are more likely to see themselves as only contributing long hours and hard work. Such dissimilar viewpoints can be barriers to downward communication because subordinates may filter out parts of the downward messages conveyed to them. 

(3) Mistrust: 

The feeling of mistrust appears when there is lack of frequent superior – subordinate contact. The subordinate knows that the superior controls his rewards and each downward message is viewed with mistrust and some concealed motive. 

For e.g. when an employee receives a transfer order, he views it as a punishment. He feels that the superior needs to promote somebody else so he is being moved out to pave way for ‘somebody’. 

(4) Inner Conflicts of Leadership: 

The pressures of their ‘position’ can cause inner conflicts or status anxiety in a superior. He is torn between the responsibilities of his ‘status’ and the desire to be popular among subordinates. In his attempt to be a ‘responsible’ superior, he may end up being communicative. 

Decisions made without consulting departmental heads, information passed down withholding relevant background details and actions ordered before discussions with employees concerned could cause confusion in the subordinate’s mind. On the other hand, the desire to be liked by his subordinates could create an over communicative superior. 

(5) Resistance to Authority: 

An employee generally believes that all communication from a higher authority will be anti-employee and if at all there is a positive one, there would be an unpleasant motive for it. 

So any downward communication is viewed with hostility. They accept or acknowledge only parts of the message that they are comfortable with, ignoring the other parts. 


Problem of Downward Communication

The usual problems with downward communication are as follows: 

1. Distortion of Message: Sometimes the conveyed message gets distorted or diluted because of filtering, coloring, twisting or condensing by the immediate bosses. As a result, the spirit behind the message is lost. 

2. Delays: The delays occur in transmission of messages because of a long line of authorities involved. The excessive time consumed usually results in loss of its significance. 

3. Overloaded or under loaded message: The chances of overloading and under loading of the message are very high in downward communication. Overloading of messages results in delusion of the real contents and under loading leads to misunderstandings. 

4. Bureaucratic Degeneration: Downward communication places the immediate boss in an advantageous position to exercise authority over subordinates. Power and positions are misused against employees who are not ‘hand in glove’ with authorities, by delaying or denying information to them.

 This leads to inculcation of shallow or superficial sense of responsibility or loyalty among employees being judged on bureaucratic norms. As a result, the organization suffers because of the crushing and curtailing of employee’s initiatives and innovativeness. 


Downward Communication Problem Example

Some organisations have tried to solve their downward communication problems by the use of the communication technology. 

Example: the New York Transit Authority has an information system whereby if one of its buses breaks down, six months of service records are immediately available on a computer monitor at the service depot. These emerging technologies help solve some of the information overload problems of the downward system. 

In addition, a research study found that although decision-makers who perceive information overload, may be more satisfied than those who perceive information under-load, they may not perform as well. 

The biggest problem, however, is ignoring the importance of the receiver. This problem, of course, is symptomatic of taking a linear (in this case, downward) information flow perspective, as opposed to a personal perspective. 

After an extensive review of the literature, one communication researcher concluded that the downward flow of information can affect receivers in the following ways: 

(i) People are more open to messages that are consonant with their existing image, their beliefs, and their values. 

(ii) People’s interpretations of communications follow the path of least resistance. 

(iii) To the extent that people positively value need fulfilment messages which are more easily accepted than messages that do not have positive value. 

(iv) Messages that are incongruent with values tend to engender more resistance than messages that are incongruent with rational logic. 

(v) The total situation affects communication; a message interpreted as congruent in one situation may be interpreted as incongruent in another. 

(vi) As people see the environment changing, they are more open to incoming messages. 

If managers understand these impacts of communication on subordinates and do something about them, communication can become more effective.

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