Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up Management: What’s The Best Way To Set Goals?
By Jim Anderson
Everyone needs goals. As an IT Leader, it’s going to be your responsibility to help your team set both team and individual goals. Although at first this sounds pretty straightforward, in practice it often turns out to be a bit tricky. The most important question that you’re going to have to answer is which way do you want to go about setting goals: top-down or bottom-up?
The Top-Down Approach
Say hello to “Big Brother” – he’s going to be setting the goals for you and your team. The top-down approach to goal setting is where your company’s senior management identifies the goals that they want you and your team to be working towards. They then have you assign these goals to the members of your team.
When goals are set this way, the company generally has identified a broad set of goals that it would like to accomplish in the near future. Your assignment is to then take these broad goals and create objectives for your team members that are aligned with what the company is trying to accomplish.
Although it may seem a bit authoritative at first glance, this approach is actually well-suited to certain situations. Specifically there are three types of IT workers who need to have top-down goals assigned to them: those who need close supervision in order to do their job, new team members, and any team members who don’t know or understand what the company’s goals are.
The Bottom-Up Approach
As a manager, you’d think that the bottom-up approach for creating team member goals would be easier than the top-down approach, but it turns out that it isn’t. In the bottom-up approach, the members of your team create their own goals.
Once this is done, it then becomes your responsibility to combine these various goals into a unified set of goals for the team. As you can well imagine, this can be quite a challenge for any manager.
There are certain types of team members for whom the bottom-up method of goal creation is well suited. Specifically, those team members who determine their own work, who understand the company’s goals and strategy for achieving those goals, and who understand the role that they play in the company.
It’s All About Buy-In
No matter which of these two methods is used to set the goals for your team, it’s going to be important that everyone on the team buy-in to both their personal and the team’s goals. As an IT Leader, it’s your job to make sure that this happens.
The best way to get buy-in from your team no matter which way you choose to go about setting goals is to get everyone involved in their goals. Involvement creates a sense of ownership and as an IT Leader, that’s what you want out of your team.
If you’ve used the top-down method to assign goals to team members, it can be a bit challenging to get buy-in. However, taking the time to talk with team members about their goals, why they are important, and how they relate to the company’s success can foster a sense of ownership.
What All Of This Means For You
Goals are a critical tool that IT Leader need in order to point the way for their teams. How best to create those goals has been an ongoing discussion since time began.
The two most common methods used today are top-down and bottom-up. In the top-down method IT Leaders assign goals related to the company’s objectives to team members. In the top-up approach, team members create their own goals and the IT Leader uses these to create a set of team goals.
In the real world, often a combination of top-down and bottom-up methods are used to create goals for IT teams. As an IT Leader, it’s your job to make sure that not only do the goals get created, but that each goal also has an owner who will be responsible for ensuring that it gets accomplished. Good luck!
Jim Anderson has been a product manger at small start-ups as well as at some of the world’s largest IT shops. Dr. Anderson realizes that for a product to be successful, it takes an entire company working together. You can learn more about Dr. Anderson on his website, http://www.TheAccidentalPM.com. You can subscribe to his newsletter here.