In management “grassroots” leadership is identified with “grassroots” management. In order to understand what grassroots management signifies, we need to distinguish it clearly from the management style, which carries itself out the same way.
Grassroots management is connected to communication within the organization. A circulation of information in the organization is needed for the execution of all management functions. It is achieved in three channels – downward, upward and horizontally.
Through the downward channel, manager distributes information that is required for managing lower levels – instructions, regulations and orders. Without organized downward communication, the people responsible for the execution will not be able to understand the goals and tasks of the organization and their work performance will worsen.
The upward channel ensures feedback and information that is needed in order to make management decisions. If upward channel of communication is restricted, then it is impossible to use the professional and expert capacity of high-level management fully. Managers are forced to make decisions with lack of information or based on wrong information.
The horizontal channels of information are used to maintain the integrity of the organization. Thus, the excessive differentiation between separate units and structures is prevented which expedites decision-making and integrates the organization’s goals (Filonovich, 1999, p. 87).
Depending on the manner, basic communication channels are used, we may distinguish different types of management in an organization. Grassroots management is associated with prioritization of information that flows in upward direction with the organization. This type of managers are strongly oriented towards the ideas, expectations, wishes and feedback which they receive from the lower hierarchical levels of the organization.
They openly consult with people whom they manage and prefer to demand suggestions for solutions from them, instead of giving them instructions and orders. It is vital when executing grassroots management to maintain horizontal communication.
Attracted by the interest shown by higher-level management, employees and lower level management structures very often redirect the horizontal channels of information. Later, they become upward and in lieu of achieving integrity between structures, a lack of coordination may be seen among them.
Common Assessment Framework
There are different approaches to developing and implementing grassroots management. In 1998 within the limits of EUPAN (European Public Administration Network) a system for quality control, which is based on the information, opinions and stands on various issues of the workers and employees in the organization, was developed. The system gathered popularity under the name CAF (Common Assessment Framework). This system underwent a multitude of revisions and adaptations, the last dating from 2010 (C. E., 2006).
Although CAF was created for quality control in public administration, later it found its way in the service sector and many organizations use it as a system of procedures in order to optimize upward communication. Thus, they train managers and employees on what the expectations from them are and to communicate and build a certain organizational culture.
The philosophy behind the system requires non-managers form a task group, which has the goal of completing a study and analyse a number of fields within the organization by diagnosing their strong and weak sides. The next step is to make suggestions for improvement and to defend them in front of the management of the organization. The managers’ task is limited to preparing a working plan and its integration in the management within the organization.
The task group analyses the following fields:
- Leadership in the organization;
- Strategic management and planning;
- Partnerships and resources of the organization;
- Processes of management of change within the organization;
- People in the organization;
- Clients and achievement/results orientation;
- Social effectiveness of the organization;
- Results evaluation (using OECD, 2005).
The execution of a common frame for evaluation or even just isolating elements of it easily produces upward channels of communication. This process stimulates employees and workers’ identification with the organization’s goals and values. On the other hand, it has positive impact on the development of an organization’s communication culture.
After we have already clarified what grassroots management is and how it may be achieved, we may take the next step – to try grasping what grassroots leadership is. In the theme “Leadership vs. management,” we saw the need for maximum concentration of power in one individual.
In order to achieve this, the manager and the leader need to be the same person. Therefore, he will be the wielder of legitimate and social power. This strengthens the ability of influencing the behaviour of employees and followers. We also specified that there are ways of forming leadership skills in managers.
Grassroots leadership presents another model for concentrating social and legitimate power in one individual. However, we are not speaking about the formation of leadership skills and qualities, quite the contrary. Under the circumstances that an organization already has a leader, it is in its best interest that he receives legitimate power by being given a management position.
It is important that this person also possesses the required professional knowledge and skills. If in the first case of informal structure the management follows, the process here is the opposite: the organization as a formal structure follows the dynamics of the informal structures.
The advantages of grassroots leadership are:
- Increased trust in the social justice of the organization;
- Increased identification with the organization’s goals and values;
- Maintaining the informal relationship between a manager-leader and his employeesfollowers, which facilitates smoother vertical communication;
- Increased competitive power and, respectively, increased work performance;
- Lesser probability of unsuitable manager appointment in comparison to outside selection.
Besides advantages, the execution of grassroots leadership also hides some risks, which are important to consider and manage during the whole process. In general they typically are:
- Distancing of the followers because of their leader’s excessive power – after obtaining legitimate power as well, there is a real risk that the followers would strip their new manager of his social power;
- A dynamic stage of the group’s development – at certain stages and states of the informal structures development within the organization, it is not advisable to transform a leader into a leader-manager. It is possible that this may lead to the group’s break-up or slow its development significantly;
- Change in leader’s morals and honesty – after the formal status of the leader within the organization has been changed, it is expected from him to combine the values, norms, goals and culture of the organization with those of the informal group. Many times, at the beginning of the transformation of a leader in a leader-manager, the followers perceive as a change in his morals and honesty. This may also be the case of follower withdrawal;
- Constant support – the new leader-manager needs to receive constant support from the management of the organization in order to understand as fast as possible on what the expectations of him are. Otherwise, there is a risk that he would accept the expectations his followers have of him and to perceive them as directed at him on the part of lower level management.
The appointment of a leader as a manager is not enough to achieve effective grassroots leadership. In order to accomplish this type of leadership, a plan on an organizational level and its execution through the human resources management system is required. This type of leadership and its successful management is associated with talent management.
In order for an organization to “produce” leader-managers on the principle of grassroots leadership, it needs to have a vision, goal and strategy in the said direction. The easiest way to find them is in talent management. McKinsey introduced the term in 1997. It is defined as the capacity of the organization to attract people with certain skills and to develop them according to the current or strategic necessities of the organization (Scullion, Collings, 2011).
Talent management is a system for human resource management which is integrated within the strategic management of an organization. Its philosophy is the result of the changes of the market of talents. There were two tendencies which developed simultaneously.
The first was related to the need of commercial organizations for a wide range of specialists and experts competent in more than one field.
The second represented the deficit of the market of talents regarding such personnel. Some organizations still use a policy of selection – constantly scanning the market for suitable professionals and carrying out many selections. Others undertake a policy of talent management – they seek suitable candidates by investing in the development of specific skills and knowledge in accordance to the necessities of the group (Michaels, Hadfield-Jones, Axelrod, 2001).
The four basic processes, which are typical of talent management, are:
- Selection – it is directed towards searching and hiring employees with potential (talent), which at the moment of selection have not yet manifested it;
- Management of personal performance – it encompasses not only certifying a new employee as a form of evaluation, but providing mentorship and training as well, which aid the development of certain professional and personal qualities and skills in the employees;
- Training and development – this is the process of adding new knowledge and developing skills necessary for achieving the goals of the organization;
- Management of compensations – when dealing with people and their talents, it is not always possible to give a hundred percent accurate preliminary estimation. Sometimes it may be that a given employee has skills, which might not be beneficial to an organization, and lacks those which are important to it. In such cases, compensation is used as a corrective measure. The strong sides are developed as much as possible while efforts are made to suppress the “shortcomings“.
In the context of the idea of talent management, it becomes clear how grassroots leadership may be managed strategically in an organization. It is necessary to select people with leadership potential, which would be developed over time. At the same time, these people need to develop as professionals in order to eventually become leader-managers. This is of vital importance to the effectiveness of the organization. The creation of a leader is always a strategic process that takes time, unlike the appointment of a manager.
- A circulation of information in the organization is required for execution of all management functions. It is achieved in three channel directions – downward, upward and horizontal.
- Grassroots management is associated with prioritization of information which flows in an upward direction within the organization. This type of managers are strongly oriented towards the ideas, expectations, needs, and feedback which they receive from the lower hierarchical levels in the organization.
- In 1998 within the limits of EUPAN (European Public Administration Network) a system for quality control, which was based on the information, opinions and stands on various issues of the workers and employees within the organization, was developed. The system gathered popularity under the name CAF (Common Assessment Framework). It provided an approach to the optimization of upward communication channels.
- Grassroots leadership presents another model for concentrating social and legitimate power in one individual. However, we are not speaking about the formation of leadership skills and qualities, quite the contrary. Under the circumstances that an organization already has a leader, it is in its best interest that he receives legitimate power by being reassigned to a management position. It is important that this person also has the required professional knowledge and skills.
- Talent management is a system for human resources management which is integrated within the strategic management of an organization. Its philosophy is the result of the changes of the talents market. There were two tendencies which developed simultaneously. The first was related to the need of commercial organizations for wide range specialists and experts who were competent in more than one field. The second represented the deficit on the market of talents regarding such personnel.
Council of Europe (2006) Common European Framework of Reference for Languages:
Learning, Teaching and Assessment, Cambridge university press, 2006.
Michaels, E., Handfield-Jones, H., Axelrod, B. (2001) The War for Talent, Harvard Business Press.
OECD, Public Sector Integrity a Framework for Assessment: A Framework for Assessment, 2005.
Scullion, H., Collings, D. (2011) Global Talent Management, New York.