Boss Unresponsive? Go Over His Head

If your boss is obstructionist, unresponsive, or uninterested in positive change, you might be considering going over his head. There’s only one good way to do that: right in front of your boss.

Mixed Signals=Unhappy Employees

The larger the organization you work for, the more likely it is that there will be dissonance between what the organization’s top managers tell you and what your boss is telling you. The subject of this dissonance might involve organizational priorities, benefits, or career development, and can leave you feeling frustrated, confused, or blocked from advancement.

We are taught to take our problems up the chain of command, and to gently but firmly request clear answers and actions that line up with organizational policy. But what if that doesn’t work? There are managers who, for a number of reasons, aren’t particularly interested in implementing changes or policies that will benefit you. Or, your manager may be getting negative commentary from his boss about the policy or change. In either case, a manager can’t be honest about the subject, so he might delay, provide vague half-answers, or fail to follow through.

So what’s the best next step, other than looking for a new job? You probably have weekly or bi-weekly meetings with your “team” of a handful of people. But you probably also have less-frequent meetings of the larger organization. At these meetings there are references to the organization’s goals and policies that concern you. Typically, at the end of the presentations, there is the opportunity to ask questions.

It’s All in How You Ask

That’s when you make your move. In the most positive, supportive way possible, refer to the policies just described (or described in an earlier meeting—name the exact date if you can). Mention the excitement you and your peers feel about those policies, and simply state that you are not seeing the changes implemented, and you’d like an update on when that will happen. The key is to frame your question as an inquiry about how soon the organization will begin benefitting from the policy by implementing it, and that you are excited to see that happen.

You might not get the results you are looking for immediately, but if you always support your questions with specific references what has already been communicated from the top, you will look like a positive, forward-looking team player, rather than someone undercutting the boss.

(photo: Shutterstock)


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  • Great post, Andy.

    A few additional considerations:

    1. Document your failed approaches to your boss. When you go over his head and sh-t rains down from his head to yours, contemporaneous documentation of the unresolved problems or ignored suggestions may help you survive.

    2. Before embarking on what may be a career-defining move, describe the circumstances to 3 or 4 of your best and wisest pals. Talk through all of your observations so that you know that you will be able to support your suggestions in conversations with senior managers.

    3. With that same Brain Trust, consider all of your options, including your strategies for surviving an indefinite period of hostility from your immediate supervisor.

    4. Know that you may not be able to change your supervisor or change your employer’s culture. Make plans to leave with dignity and on your own schedule. If you have really irritated your boss, be prepared to leave on his whim.

    Good luck!