by Kelly Vandever
As a manager, I’m pretty sure along the way, I said something to this effect…
As the head of this group, I’m responsible for what happens. But I want to know what you think. When things come up, I want to know what you think we should do. I want to hear your recommendations. In the end, I may decide to take your recommendation or I may go a different direction. If I go a different direction, I’ll try to make sure I tell you why. But my point is, I want your input, even if I do decide to go another way.
And if I decide to go another way, and I tell you why, and you still don’t agree, it’s OK if you want to go above my head and talk to my boss. That’s the process. I ask that you let me know first. But if you think it needs to be escalated above me, go for it.
I really believed that message. Most of the time I think I incorporated the input of my staffs. After all, I was blessed to work with smart people who cared about the work we did and wanted to do a good job. Why wouldn’t I want to take their input into account?! And I don’t think anyone ever went “above my head” to escalate to my boss. I want to believe if they did, I really would have been OK. But I don’t remember it ever happening.
What I wonder now, as I talk to leaders who work for organizations who use tools like Yammer, IBM Connections, and Jive – tools that give employees a chance to skip the chain of command and give feedback directly to upper management or leaders in other organizations – what would it feel like to be “gone around”?
Here are some of my thoughts…
Control May Be an Illusion, But I Want My Illusion (or Should I Say Delusion)!
One of the reasons we as managers want to be kept appraised of what’s going on is we don’t like surprises. We want to feel like we’re in control. If people talk to us first, then we know what’s going on.
If people are jumping the chain of command without first talking to us, then we are out of the loop…we feel out of control.
So how would I need to feel to be out of control? What would I need to “know” to feel right with my responsibilities?
I Can Trust the Intent of My People
I said it before. I was blessed to work with good people who cared about the work. If I’m losing control, or giving up the illusion of control, then I need to believe that my people have the best of intentions. They contribute to the conversation because they believe what they have to say will make things better.
If They’re Wrong, It Will Still Be OK
If they’re wrong because I didn’t keep them up-to-date, then I can fix that. I can work to make sure they’re kept informed.
If they’re wrong because they didn’t stay in the loop, then they can learn from their mistakes and keep up.
If they’re wrong for another reason, it will also still be OK. No one’s perfect. At least they care enough to try.
My Bosses Trust Me and They Trust My Staff
My bosses need to trust me and trust my staff that we are as dedicated to success as they are. They are willing to ask themselves the same questions – Am I keeping people informed? Do they have the best intents even if I disagree?
My Bosses Aren’t Going to Think I’ve Lost Control of My People
I’ve always felt like my staff was a reflection of me. If I did a good job of hiring, I’d have a talented, dedicated staff. If I did a good job as their manager, then they’d be successful in their roles. If they messed up, it was a reflection of my inability to know their capabilities and coach them appropriately. If my employees speak out of turn, it’s because I didn’t do a good job of telling my people what was expected of them and the processes they needed to follow.
Well, if we want an organization of people who are engaged and want to make a difference, then I have to give up the thought that I’m in control of my people.
If My People Speak Up, It’s Because They Care
It’s more important to speak up when you feel that it’s appropriate than to follow a process for process’s sake.
If My People Speak Up, It’s Because It’s Urgent
There’s something that’s going on that needs to be addressed.
If My People Speak Up, It’s Because They’ve Been Asked
It’s OK if upper management asks a question and gets the response directly from my people. It doesn’t mean I’m not doing my job to keep upper management informed. It doesn’t make me less of a manager because I didn’t ask the question first. It’s OK for there to be no filter between staff and upper management.
I May Be the Boss, But I Was Never Really in Control in the First Place
So much of what we do as leaders depends on trusting that our employees will do the job we need them to do. Part of the reason organizations use managers is to get the best out of people who work for them.
The vast majority of people who go to work in our organizations want to do a good job. They want to be successful and to be recognized for the good work they do.
Most of the time, our job as bosses is to make sure they have the tools they need and then get out of their way so they can do the marvelous things they’re capable of. And if we’re good bosses, we’ll remember to tell our folks how much we appreciate them and how lucky we feel to have them on our teams!
There Really Is Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself
With all this in mind, I’d like to think that I would be OK in an organization using internal social tools to open lines of communications within the organization.
If we are all working toward what’s best for the organization, for our people and for our customers, then how the information gets communicated shouldn’t matter.
What’s Your Reality?
What I’d really love to hear is the reality of your experience. How are you adapting to having an open environment? What has it been like to feel like you’ve been “gone around”? Have you come to these conclusions as a manager? Or has the reality been different for you?
Please share in the comments below or reach out to me privately if you want to share your experiences but keep them confidential.
Kelly Vandever is a leadership and communications expert who helps leaders and organizations thrive in today’s attention-deficit, entertain-me-now, wait-while-I-post-that-on-Facebook world. Connect with Kelly and discover how being professionally human can bring you better business results.
Contact Kelly by phone at 770-597-1108, email her or tweet her @KellyVandever.