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As a front line leader or a senior manager, you want to encourage people to come and talk to you about a variety of different subjects. That’s the open door policy, anyone can talk to anyone at any time, and bring up any questions or concerns.
But what happens when that open door policy actually starts to violate the chain of command? How do you respect the fact that your supervisors and managers may have been bypassed when an employee comes directly to you as the senior leader?
First of all, realize that when someone brings something to you and you ask them, “Did you run this by your supervisor already?” If the person says “No, I didn’t,” then you need to clarify before responding. “Why didn’t you run this by your supervisor?” Typically what you’re going to hear is “Well, my supervisor would shoot down the idea to begin with,” and you want to be sensitive to that, because it is possible that the person’s supervisor wasn’t a good listener, or wouldn’t respond to what the person was asking of them.
But because they’ve bypassed that supervisor or manager, you as the senior leader have to be careful, because if you give them a direct answer such as “Well here’s what I think you should do,” or “it’s okay with me,” you’ll end up disrespecting the supervisor and potentially make the wrong decision because you’ve only heard one side of the story. You’ll also be accidentally empowering the employee to tell their front line supervisor, that you, the big boss, approved the action.
Instead, say “Hey, thanks for bringing this to my attention. I’m not going to make a decision on this because this is something I need to involve your supervisor in.” And then, as the senior leader, you’ll talk to that person’s supervisor and say “Hey, Jim came to me, and asked me about this particular subject, but I know that I’m only hearing one side of this story, so I wanted to run it by you first and see if there’s any additional context.”
Usually, that’s when you’re going to hear that supervisor say “Oh yeah, that guy has been pushing me for a long time to do it, but he’s got this problem, and this problem,” or “He’s always asking for these things.” And then you as the leader can respond with “Thanks, I wasn’t even aware of all that.” That allows you to be more informed, at which point one of two things can happen. Either you can ask the supervisor to get back to the employee with a decision, or you might follow up as the senior leader and say “I talked with the supervisor, it sounds like there are some other circumstances going on, and what I’d really appreciate in the future is that you’d run it by your supervisor first, and if you don’t get the kind of reaction that you were hoping to get, or you’re not happy with what you’ve seen, then, by all means, please come and talk to me at any time.”
If you manage the whole open door policy, while still respecting the chain of command, what you’ll find is that your leadership team will feel more respected, and you’ll create a less fragmented, consistent leadership team.
You’ll also avoid the whole “I’m going to ask mom, and if I don’t like the answer I get there, I’m going to ask dad until I get the answer that I want.” Your supervisors will certainly appreciate that you’re not going to make decisions or tell people things “behind their backs.”
Managing the open door policy and respecting the chain of command is just another skill that you, as a leader, whether you’re at the management level, executive level or even if you’re at the front line level, need to master.
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