Vertical Communication

Vertical Communication consists of communication up and down the organization’s chain of command. Downward communication starts with top management and flows down through management levels to line workers and non-supervisory personnel. The major purposes of downward communication are to advise, inform, direct, instruct, and evaluate employees and to provide organization members with information about organizational goals and policies. This is what Hockaday is doing at Hallmark. The main function of upward communication is to supply information to the upper levels about what is happening at the lower levels. This type of communication includes progress reports, suggestions, explanations, and requests for aid or decisions. At Hallmark, Hockaday participates in both downward and upward communication processes.

In some companies, hotlines provide vehicles for additional upward and downward communication. More than 100 companies now offer hotlines, such as “Helpline” at Waste Management, “Guideline” at Nynex, “We Care Hotline” at American Greetings, and “the 800 number” at Raytheon. Such hotlines are used for different purposes, though many are used to inform managers of situations involving employees, such as allegations of sexual harassment. In the light of the federal sentencing guidelines that mandate stiff fines for corporate crimes, it pays for companies to offer such services, often toll free and anonymous because fines are decreased for companies who can prove that they teach employees about ethics.

At Ogilvy & Mather, on line information is available through “Ogilvy OnLine,” which works as a kind of corporate culture machine. A menu enables employees and guests to scan up-to-date information about the company, its client, and the industry, and to hear from the company’s legendary founder, David Ogilvy. He is a passionate man and it is wonderful to hear the words coming out of his mouth. One month he is doing something on direct marketing, another month he is in India. His perspective is what started it all. A V.P says they make an effort to maintain what David Oglivy started in terms of the Ogilvy culture. He has particular views on very on every aspect of communication [and on conducting] businesses in a gentlemanly manner. Getting some of him on film is very meaningful. It’s a great way to keep in touch with the client stories.

Problems of vertical Communication: Downward communication is likely to be filtered, modified, or halted at each level as managers decide what should be passed down to their employees. Upward communication is likely to be filtered, condensed or altered by middle managers who see it as part of their job to protect upper management from nonessential data originating at the lower levels. In addition, middle managers may keep information that would reflect unfavorably on them for reaching their managers. Thus, vertical communication is often at least partially inaccurate or incomplete.

Problems in downward communication exist when managers do not provide employees with the information they need to carry out their tasks effectively. Managers are often overly optimistic about the accuracy and completeness of their downward communication. In fact, they can fail to pass on important, information (such as a higher level change in policy) or to instruct employees adequately on how to perform their duties. This lack of communication is sometimes deliberate, as when managers withhold information to keep employees dependent on them. The net effect of incomplete downward communication is that employees can feel confused, uniformed or powerless and might fail to carry out their tasks properly.

The auto-repair service of Sears, Roebuck & Company provides one example of downward vertical communications going awry with ethical implications. In 1992 Sears was inundated with complaints that consumers had been misled about needed automotive repairs. What appears to have created the situation is the communication of increased work of increased work quotas and the introduction of productivity incentives for mechanics. At the time, Sears was facing declining revenues and looking for a means to spur performance. Unfortunately, some employees’ judgment suffered, and management failed to clarify the line between unnecessary service and legitimate preventive maintenance. This situation coupled with customer ignorance, created a vast gray area subject to a wide range of interpretation.