“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people” 

– Steve Jobs

Upwards view of a building

One of the most important aspects of launching a company, or even simply hiring new employees, is establishing a management structure and style that is going to lay the groundwork of shaping all staff expectations on future projects, as well as day-to-day operations. Two of the most common approaches to management are top-down and bottom-up. While both techniques provide clear direction for the company, there are distinct differences that set these two management styles apart.

At HARO Civil Engineering, we firmly believe our company’s strongest asset is our team, and more specifically, our team culture. We’ve worked incredibly hard to establish this culture by maintaining a fundamental foundation of exchanging knowledge, sharing information and intra-company input when it comes to decision-making. We’ve taken the innovative approach of installing a bottom-up management style, which, at first, may seem counterintuitive for an engineering firm, but hear us out when we say that refining this style of management has actually increased productivity, improved employee satisfaction and produced some pretty eye-opening results. We have seen our team become more engaged and empowered, and as leaders, we feel confident that the line of communication from the team to management is open and honest. 

Bottom-up management might feel like a flashy new concept when it comes to leadership, but from our experience, executing a bottom-up management approach is effective and promotes a healthier, happier work environment overall.

Top-Down vs Bottom-Up

In short, the top-down approach is where management or senior employees set tasks for their teams to complete. This type of approach relies heavily on the hierarchical structure of ‘low level employees’ reporting into ‘high level’ management. Typically, when you imagine a company in its simplest form, it appears like a pyramid, with important decisions and key information flowing from the top point, and dispersing through the company to the broader team at the wide base.

The bottom-up approach, however, generally operates in the opposite fashion – imagine you’ve flipped the pyramid upside down. All employees and members of the company (those at the wide base of the pyramid) are encouraged to actively participate in areas of management and company decision-making. The idea here is that employees set their own goals and objectives based on the long term growth, ideals and company vision, as well as their personal career development and role progression. While the buck still stops with senior staff (those at the top point), in a bottom-up management approach, employees feel more empowered to share their ideas, insight and experience. This provides organisation heads with a wealth of perspective and experience outside their own, that enables them to make informed decisions about the company, while consciously respecting the input of their team members. It stimulates new and innovative thinking amongst the team, while forging cutting-edge ideas and promoting healthy discussion.

Why the Bottom-Up Approach?

While HARO has a clear leadership team, direction, vision and values which are the foundation of our company, we have actively chosen to steer away from the conventional management styles that tend to be the default in other companies. We have consciously made this decision based on a number of key factors: 

  1. Our heavy focus on employee happiness, health and wellbeing and overall career satisfaction
  2. New generation employees wanting to ‘own’ their role within the company
  3. The freedom it can give employees to explore new areas which may not only benefit the company as a whole, but also allow employees to create their own working environment and engage in tasks that they are genuinely passionate about. 

Using this method of management to facilitate the output of projects has led to an increased sharing of knowledge amongst our team and offices. We have found that the sharing of this knowledge, as well as the provision of freedom for staff to ask questions and input ideas into significant company milestones has created a unified mentality whereby the team are collectively putting in genuine effort to increase both their personal and professional satisfaction, as well as securing the longevity of the company.

How did we get here? 

The primary reason we worked to establish this management approach at HARO Civil Engineering is to reduce the bottle-neck of decisions and ideas having to be made by one person. Our focus on client relationships and high quality work could not survive on key decisions being held up by one person. The idea of putting the ownership back onto the employee and trusting in their skills and ability to do what they love and were hired to do has allowed us to grow and delve into areas we wouldn’t have thought possible. Our original vision for the company was developed around 3 core pillars:

  1. Providing exceptional customer service by building professional relationships with our clients and delivering over and above their expectations.
  2. Creating and nurturing a modern workplace for young and upcoming engineering professionals to flex their passions, and feel empowered to take initiative on projects.
  3. Produce impeccable quality engineering solutions for key infrastructure projects by allowing and encouraging employees to work on and upskill in areas of engineering that excites them.

We found that the only management style that truly reflected the pillars upon which we were building our company was the bottom-up approach.

Challenges we’ve faced

While at first glance, a bottom-up management style may appear to be picture-perfect, there are some setbacks to this approach, which take patience, understanding, careful planning and sometimes conflict resolution to overcome. If bottom-up management styles were as simple and straightforward as they sounded, wouldn’t they simply be the default that all companies aspire to?

A concept built on the idea that each employee gets their own opinion on company, project and visionary matters does, on occasion, have potential to cause conflict between staff. Sometimes team members have opposing opinions, or are approaching a situation with completely differing experiences. In our specific circumstance, we have found the most effective method of overcoming these instances is to be transparent with all staff where possible, whilst also carefully managing and respecting each team member’s input. This encourages the team to openly discuss issues and disagreements that may arise in a considerate way. We have found it imperative to facilitate an environment where everyone respects, and is respected by, their colleagues. 

At the end of the day, the management team holds accountability for all final decisions, but we’re working incredibly hard to ensure that during the decision-making process, we provide our highly skilled team of engineering professionals an opportunity to communicate their perspective, share their understanding and reinforce the two-way street of transparency throughout the company.

Final thoughts

This solution may not be the obvious, or even conventional, way to manage or run an engineering company where it’s critical for there to be defined rules and regulations about who needs to make decisions within projects, however, we have found that being open, honest and having a clear direction with staff has allowed us to promote personal and professional growth with each person we hire. 

We’re proud of the fact that we’re backing our staff, and encouraging them to take initiative in forging their own engineering careers. 

There are a wealth of resources available that take a deeper dive into the bottom-up management technique, so we’ve listed some of the ones we found most helpful below. 

If you have any questions, or we can provide any further advice from our experience, our inbox is always open.