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Should You Go Over the Boss's Head?

written by: Olivia Emisar•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 6/17/2011

The chain of command is an effective business tool to maintain order and assign accountability even in the most casual working environments. There are reasons to go against the grain, but even going over the boss's head includes utilizing the company's built-in protocol.

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    Organizational Flow Chart

    Business Flow Chart An organizational flow chart provides a visual structure of who is responsible in each department for assigned duties and who they report to with work done, work-related problems and personal accommodations based on health and other personal issues. It is the responsibility of those in charge to create a solution that will continue the workflow with as few interruptions as possible. Every department is inter-dependent on the quality and quantity of work performed by other sections on the flow chart.

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    Military Influence

    US Navy organization The chain of command in the military has been used as the model in the work place. Even small companies have a similar type of structure to indicate responsibilities and job descriptions. The similarities are not coincidental, every business model adheres to true and tried principles and no organization works more cohesively and productively than the military.

    There are several exceptions in modern companies that strive to create an atmosphere of casual and organic flow, but even in these companies, the end game is to get results and realize profits through teamwork. Taking these companies at face value without looking beyond the surface could be problematic since even the most relaxed and flexible work environment has the expectation of productivity and cooperation.

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    Anyone who has worked for a short period of time in an office, warehouse, assembly line, factory or fast food restaurant knows that there is a pecking order to be observed and adhered to. The human resources department does the job of reviewing applications, interviewing, hiring and ensuring the new hires are fully informed of their duties, responsibilities and benefits. Within this process, the new hires know who their supervisor or boss is. This is the first line of entry into the company and the chain of command is clearly established at this point.

    The boss can go by many titles, from supervisor, to administrative assistant, department manager or Chief Executive Officer, but the main thing is that everyone in the organization reports to someone with a higher position and greater responsibilities. An assembly worker would not go to the CEO to request flexible working hours or a salary increase, he would discuss these issues with his boss who has been assigned the responsibility of keeping the work flow going while accommodating changes. The pay structure may be set from the top down and there is nothing an assembly worker or his boss can do about that unless the department's budget includes this option. Even with that last scenario, the budget is set from the top and flexibility is minimal in most situations.

    The CEO is responsible for meeting and pleasing the shareholders and any disruption to profits will be blamed on her inability to lead or put in place competent employees capable of keeping their department running smoothly.

    Structure creates order and makes the various duties assigned to a multitude of employees manageable and clear to all involved.

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    Policies and Procedures

    Every company has policies in places to comply with federal and state laws regarding employment discrimination or issues affecting gender bias, harassment, a hostile work environment and compensation. The human resources department is normally in charge of reviewing these policies with employees during the hiring process, and most companies have an employee manual that highlights job description as well as the company's policies regarding compliance with state and federal laws.

    When the company's policies are broken or disregarded, there is a procedural system in place to address the issues with minimal disruption to the daily operations of the corporation. Procedures follow a chain of command as well. An assemblyman would not approach the CEO with a safety violation in the plant, but would be required to report the situation to the supervisor, who in turn would have to report it to the department manager who is in charge of safety implementation procedures. If the situation is an oversight, the problem can be easily resolved through the chain of command.

    But what if the chain of command is broken? What if cutting corners to maximize profits has become the status quo that places workers in harm's way and creates an unnecessarily dangerous work environment?

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    Responsibilities and Consequences

    Workers agree to follow the company's structure in good faith with the expectation that everyone will meet the required expectations for their position. It is disruptive to a company when someone takes up an issue with someone above their supervisor or department manager without having discussed the situation and work on problem resolution with them first. Taking this step reflects negatively on the worker with dire consequences.

    • The worker has no respect for the structure that is in place.
    • The worker is a troublemaker.
    • The worker is looking to advance in the company without following procedures or earning the position.
    • The worker is a back-stabber.


    • Engenders a lack of trust among co-workers and higher-ups.
    • Overlooked for promotions or better assignments.
    • Work environment becomes tense.
    • Reputation earned is not positive.
    • Other department supervisors won't accept a lateral transfer.

    This type of situation reflects poorly on the supervisor or manager as well.

    • The manager does not communicate clearly.
    • The manager is not aware of what is going on.
    • The manager does not do his job.
    • The manager has no leadership skills.

    Following the chain of command to achieve resolutions is the first step in following procedures.

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    Going Above and Beyond

    There are circumstances in which bypassing the chain of command is unavoidable. Weak or ineffective links in the chain that put people in harm's way knowingly or create a hostile work environment due to abuse of power are such instances.

    Even within the perimeters of these scenarios, there is a chain of command in most companies. An abusive manager may be reported through affidavits and documentation to the human resources personnel, who in turn will pass the information to the manager's supervisor. If corrective action is not taken in a timely manner, there are additional steps to document and submit that now involve more people in the chain of command. However, if the situation escalates to different levels without resolution, an employee may be forced to go beyond the company's walls to remedy the problem.

    OSHA-Logo Going beyond the company's walls:

    • For safety violations and endangerment: OSHA
    • For discrimination, civil rights violations, sexual harassment: Legal Firm, Attorney General
    • For fraud involving government funding: Department of Justice, U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
    • The Media.

    There are law firms that specialize in serving whistle blowers, but be aware that not all these firms are created equal, some are a scam and others have serious conflicts of interest depending on the companies involved. The media may be a subsidiary of the corporation in question and not only unwilling to report the story, but willing to malign the whistle blower instead.

    A chain of command is only as strong as its weakest link and every company needs to avoid the need for employees to seek resolution outside of the company.

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    U.S. Office of Special Council

    Business Flow Chart: Free Digital Photos; jscreationzs

    Navy Flow Chart: Wikimedia Commons; Arcimpulse

    OSHA logo: Wikimedia Commons; U.S. Government