Line of Reporting Is Confusing

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about bosses bypassing chain of command:

My ex-boss was promoted and I now have a new boss. The ex-boss is new boss’s superior. It creates a lot of confusion when the ex-boss gives me an instruction directly (without going through my new boss). I have aired this to my new boss before and things improved for awhile, but it resumed after awhile.

My new boss also tends to instruct my assistants and subordinates directly sometimes. It causes a lot of unnecessary stress, and in the middle of the task he will ask me about something which I have no idea about because he didn’t notify me. My subordinates also share in this struggle when they get instructions directly from the ex-boss and not from me.Any suggestions for how to make the line of reporting clearer or how to reduce confusion?

Signed, Need Clear Communications

Dear Need Clear Communications:

This is a common situation in workplaces, especially when someone is moved up but thinks of the former job as still being his own.It certainly can be confusing. However, it is not so difficult to work around. First you will probably have to accept that the higher level person is not going to make a change anytime soon. Once you accept that, you and those you work with can make sure that all communications are kept clear, by working together to do it.

I also think it’s important to not let others think you are are angry or even irritated with the higher level boss. Keep the approach that the important thing is to get the work done.Instruct your subordinates to let you know when the boss asks them to do something directly. Just tell them you want an email or personal notification so you can keep track of all the work they are doing. Also instruct them to tell you when they have finished the work for the boss and what the final outcome was.If the request from the higher level boss is a minor one, you can let it go at that. If it is a complex task, write to the boss and say that Mary told you she had been asked to do such and such and that you will be tracking it as well, to make sure everything works out OK. Copy your direct boss on it, since he should know about large tasks.

If the requested task can’t be done without neglecting other required work, you and your direct boss should discuss how to handle it with the higher level, but don’t make the employee part of the discussion.When the higher level boss comes to you to give you work to do directly, take one of two approaches. Either just say yes and let your direct boss know about it, also letting your direct boss know when you’ve finished the task for the higher level person. Or, ask the higher level if he has told your direct boss about the work, so you two can coordinate the time involved.All of that takes a bit more time than usual, but not excessively so. It will keep subordinates aware of your knowledge of their work and it will keep you in the loop so you won’t be surprised. It will keep your direct boss informed. And, it will keep the higher level boss from feeling that his instructions are resented.

Chain of communication is important, but not so important as to create animosity at high levels about it! You and others can work around it. The important thing is to make it seem like a normal process rather than doing it with a heavy sigh and resentment or making it sound as though you only “put up” with the higher level boss.I think all levels should be more aware of the problem caused by confusing communications, but until your higher level boss becomes more concerned about it, your goal is to make it easier on employees and yourself.Best wishes with this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how it works out.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.