Who’s In Charge Here?


By Phil Harwood

Lack of clarity is a serious problem in many organizations and, I believe, is a primary driver of employee dissatisfaction and turnover. And, it is possible that YOU are contributing to this problem. So, before you move onto something more important, please give me two minutes of your valuable time to read this blog. It just may be the most important thing you do today. 

Many managers, leaders, and owners fail to see and appreciate the lack of clarity that exists in their organizations. This happens because, from their vantage point, things do appear to be clear. The lack of clarity exists from their subordinates point of view. This is where the disconnect lies. There are plenty of ways this disconnect hurts organizations, causes employee dissatisfaction, and creates turnover. One way comes to mind immediately. 

When I’m working with organizations, one of the first things I do is try to understand their reporting structure. Invariably, I run into situations where there are questions about who reports to whom. Here is a very common exchange between me and an employee (Conner):

Me: “So, who do you report to?”
Conner:  “Well, it depends.”
Me:  “Depends on what?”
Conner:  “For my schedule, I go to Aaron. For safety, I go to Juanita. For questions about job details, I go to the person who sold the job.”
Me:  “I see. Who would you say is your boss?”
Conner:  “I suppose it would be Susan.”
Me:  “Why Susan?”
Conner:  “She’s the owner. She’s everyone’s boss.”
Me:  “Does Susan give you feedback or does she write your reviews?”
Conner:  “No, Susan is very busy. We don’t have time for reviews.”
Me:  “Who is your direct supervisor?”
Conner:  “I guess technically Joe is but I usually just talk to Pedro about things.”

You can see where this conversation is going. It’s great that Conner knows who to go to for what but who is taking responsibility for his growth and development? Who is coaching him? Who has his back when things go sideways? You guessed it - nobody. 

In addition to not having a clearly defined reporting hierarchy, this company hasn’t made it a priority to develop career paths, ladders, or other supportive plans to encourage professional development and career growth. 

Conner is not unhappy but he does wish that he were on a career path like some of his friends working at other companies. He will remain with the company until something goes wrong or until a better opportunity presents itself. This is the problem that senior management fails to recognize or appreciate. The problem isn’t readily apparent. In fact, it appears that there is no problem at all, but there is. 

As an objective outsider, I see things that those inside the organization often miss. I’m not promoting my services here. I’m simply trying to make a point. When reporting relationships are not clearly defined, it usually is an indication of a deeper problem that ends up causing employee turnover. 

This is an easy fix. Joe is Conner’s direct supervisor but Joe didn’t know what that entailed, and neither did Conner. Joe needs to meet with Conner and explain to him that from this day forward, as Conner’s direct supervisor, Joe will:

  • Meet with him briefly every Friday morning to see how the week went, to answer any questions, and provide guidance. Conner has a responsibility to be prepared for these meetings by keeping a list on his phone or in a journal. 
  • Support Connor throughout the week as needed if anything arises that is a question or concern that can’t wait until Friday’s meeting. 
  • Provide a quarterly (every 90 days, or 4 times a year) feedback review focused on career development.
  • Recommend merit wage increases to the management team once per year, based on his performance and development. Note that cost-of-living increases are handled separately on an annual basis. 

Conner now has not only a direct supervisor but also a coach, mentor, and support that he previously didn’t have. Instead of feeling like he’s isolated and having to figure everything out by himself, he has an advocate who is there to help him be successful. Do you see the difference?

Lack of clarity shows up in lots of other ways too. However, let’s start with reporting relationships. If we get this right, many other things become clear as well. 

Now go forth.  

Tags: Leadership , Clarity , Supervisor ,