June 19, 2008

Should You Keep Your Manager in the Dark?

No skipping ahead allowed
Manage The Chain of Command
I am a big proponent of solid lines. Dotted lines confuse me and probably dilute the organizational structure. A solid line based organization creates a strong reporting hierarchy. A hierarchy ideally supported by well defined roles and responsibilities. Everyone knows that is expected of them, they understand who they report to, who reports to them and everything is perfect.

But we don’t live or work in a perfect world. One way to create that imperfection is to break the chain of command. It happens both ways.

Top Down Breakdown
When my manager’s manager decides to interact directly with me – it could be a break in the hierarchy chain. What constitutes a break? A directive from my manager’s manager that impacts my corporate role (what I produce, who I interact with, what I do etc.) is cause for alarm. It is an even bigger cause for alarm when my manager is unaware of this intervention. And huge red flags go up when my manager is kept in the dark intentionally.

Outside of creating angst and confusion I don’t think this situation ever accomplishes anything positive. The only appropriate reaction in this situation for an employee is to update his manager so the manager can address the issue with his boss. After all it is the manager who is being marginalized by his boss and that is a situation the manager should actively resolve.

Bottom Up Breakdown
When the employee decides to jump the hierarchy by circumventing his boss and addresses a situation directly with his manager’s manager – the outcome can be messy. Smart managers force the issue back to where it belongs and reaffirm the hierarchy. This does not mean ignoring valid problems or issues (whistle blowers) but the emphasis is on giving the right people an opportunity to rectify the issue and escalate if needed.

If I have an issue that needs to be addressed – I need to escalate and seek resolution by first working with my manager. If my manager is unable or unwilling to address the issue, then I should escalate the issue to the next level. The key is to inform the current level of your need to escalate the issue to the next level. No ones likes surprises (especially the bad kind) and proactive communication is the way to minimize surprises.

Everyone has a role in an organization and when someone is intentionally circumvented – problems arise. Backdoor shenanigans create more pain instead of solve any problems. So think again before you consider skipping a level.

(Photo courtesy Flickr/Pardesi*)

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