Anybody working within a public or private organization has probably encountered challenges with organizational hierarchy. The structure of reporting relationships can be tricky for employees to comprehend, particularly in terms of who to communicate to, how best to communicate, what to communicate and even when.
In my experience, each organization has their own code of conduct on how internal communications and information need to be transferred. I have learned that enforcing strict rules on who employees can communicate to can stifle innovation, trust, and relationships. However, it’s important for team members at all hierarchical levels to be strongly encouraged to always keep their direct reporting manager informed. The same applies to workplace issues; out of respect, employees should take any concerns or complaints directly to their supervisor before escalating to a higher level on the organizational structure. This also protects the time of senior managers who may not have the time to be fielding issues that could be handled by front-line managers.
The same applies to those in senior positions; it’s important for leaders to respect the reporting relationships of front line leaders. Direction and communication should always go through the reporting managers, or at the very least, the manager should always be copied or included on communications to front line employees. I had an experience with a senior leader who would often send emails to team members to express discontent about performance; however, this would result in morale issues and de-motivation. I asked the senior leader to direct her concerns to me, which I would then communicate to my team members. Having already developed relationships with the team, it was easier to have those conversations and I was able to read and handle any response issues.
The one exception to jumping the hierarchical structure is if you’ve approached your direct supervisor with an issue, and she takes no action. If it’s something that needs to be addressed, then it is the employee’s right to escalate the issue to the supervisor’s manager. This needs to be handled with care, so I would advise that you first inform your supervisor that you plan to escalate before you jump to this decision. Otherwise, you may create some irreparable damage to building or retaining a trusting relationship.
How does your organization handle the organizational hierarchy issues? What happens when employees or leaders sidestep the reporting relationships and bypass the chain of command?
Melissa has been an organizational leader for over 15 years in various industries. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and recently completed a Master of Arts degree in Leadership. She currently works as an organizational leadership consultant at Fox & Owl Consulting Services.