< Back to blog

Top-down hierarchy meets a four-dimensional world: making it all work

BY mikeklein As an internal communicator, one of my biggest challenges has been to reconcile my understanding of both the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of hierarchy as a driver of communication, with the continuing demand for hierarchy-based communication tactics and approaches.

I’m not a believer in  the “committees over titles” approach known as “holacracy,” or other more anarchic views of corporate governance. But I also don’t see brute hierarchical force alone as enough to drive strategies and align behavior, nor to stimulate employee engagement in any interactive or sustainable way.

What old-fashioned, top-down, hierarchical communication does do is a great job of reinforcing the status of those who are positioned as being authorities and the underlying framework of control. That means it remains necessary to an extent, and it explains why more authoritarian managers and like-minded communicators continue to push and emphasize such tactics as Town Halls and cascading at the expense of more interactive communication approaches.

My dilemma and opportunity in recent years has been to figure out how to reconcile the legitimate need for hierarchical communication with two other critical and distinct needs:

  • supporting effective and efficient bottom-up communication,

  • identify ways of influencing the informal, lateral communication that forms the bulk of day-to-day conversation in any organization.

What I came up with was a simple model that integrates top-down, bottom-up and lateral communication, applicable in any organization.

4 Dimensions ICK

In identifying hierarchical “ambassadors,” peer-anointed “influencers,” self-appointed “volunteers” and passive “followers” as the elements of an organization’s internal universe, it then becomes possible to have a simple but segmented communication strategy that allows for the effective integration of the formal and informal sides of an organization’s communication. And, in accepting influence as something that is both generated and received, it becomes possible to address active and passive participants in the organizations as full members, while noting and accommoating the differing nature of their contributions.

Looking beyond internal and external communication, this four-dimensional model also has implication for other, related fields: employee engagement, team dynamics, and the launch strategies for organizational tools and software being relevant to me at this moment. If there are other arenas where you think this approach can apply, please ping me at mike.klein@changingtheterms.com

About Changing The Terms

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms, a communication practice focused on writing, strategy, content, change consulting and coaching, with an emphasis on tapping into the value of the social dynamics occurring in every organization.

Changing The Terms is based in Delft in the Netherlands, and works with large corporates and startups in Europe and North America. Mike is an MBA graduate of London Business School, is Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators in Europe – Middle East – North Africa and is the author of “From Lincoln to LinkedIn”, a book on the role of social dynamics in organizational communication. To download your free copy, click here.



Four steps for avoiding the “Internal Communication measurement trap”


Will defeat in Australia finally light a fire under IABC’s “Advancing the Profession” talk?

See all