How Do I Tell An Employee Not To Override Me?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about bypassing the boss:

I have an employee who approached me two months ago to request to attend a course. I told her that I would check with the General Manager for his approval. Yesterday, this employee wrote an email to ask me if her course has been approved and if she needs to register to attend. I had sent the company’s training plan to the General Manager but have gotten no reply. I presumed that he is holding back all training, as the company is not doing well financially.

So I replied to my employee that the General Manager is holding back all training and I will reply to her once he approves it. Five minutes later, this employee shot an email directly to the General Manager mentioning that she is very eager to attend this course and how she can benefit the company from attending this course etc. The General Manager approved her to attend. How should I tell her that I’m unhappy with this kind of approach?

Signed, Bypassed

Dear Bypassed:

You told Sally, or whatever is your employee’s name, “the General Manager is holding back all training and I will reply to her once he approves it.” From that, Sally could have gotten the impression that the hold up could be loosened if she would make a direct appeal for training to the GM, and she was right.

Apparently you don’t want to be bypassed; therefore, you can firmly tell her, “Sally, I’m pleased the General Manager approved participation in the training course. But from now on, please don’t bypass me; not by email, phone call or face-to-face. Doing so makes me look as though I’m not doing my job. Do you understand?”

Management protocol demands rigidly following the chain of command. That is expected. Its purpose is to maintains authority and boundaries of responsibility; however, in my opinion, that bureaucratic tradition springs from fear. Fearful bosses want subordinates to work through them; they don’t want to give those above the impression that they are not in control. Bosses who are more confident are less demanding of adhering to a chain of command and encourage open communication regardless of rank.

Of course what you do now and in the future with your work group depends on your organizational culture. Have you ever spoken with your GM about what he wants? This instance provides an opportunity for you to speak with him about this. Does he want you to stress that your subordinates follow the chain of command and only contact him with your permission or not at all? Are there exceptions? Such a conversation is a healthy way to clarify and think about making explicit the unspoken rules about how you and your work group communicate, and more importantly, what, if any, channels of communication should be more open. What communication contributes to effective high speed and high quality performance? What might improve your company’s profitability?

Might I suggest that less talk about training and quality is not so good as more talk. Sally and your other associates eagerness to make your company successful hinges on the richness of their conversation about cutting waste and innovation. I welcome your thoughts. Feel free to let us know what you do. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that what richness of communication can help make happen.

William Gorden