Are your managers trapped in the middle? – Part 2

respect-lines-of-authorityIn my last Instructor’s Blog post we examined how mid-level managers can be hung out to dry by uninformed business owners. In this case we looked at a newly promoted manager who is quickly abandoned by the boss.

I talked about how small business owners must give new managers their full support when they promote them along with sufficient training to perform their jobs effectively. So now let’s look at another challenge faced by virtually all managers…

Blurred Lines of Authority! Let’s start with the basics. Each employee in any organization can have only one boss and every employee should know who that person is. In start-up companies or very small businesses that line of authority is pretty clear—most employees report directly to the owner. But as the business grows (and managers or supervisors are added) those lines can quickly become blurred.

Suddenly the owner doesn’t have direct authority over everyone in the company. Now he has to rely on the decision- making ability of the people he’s either hired or promoted as managers. This is where the lines get blurry and problems occur.

You see, many owners of small businesses have a difficult time relinquishing their authority. Oh, sure, they make an impressive announcement to the employees about the new promotion and give the famous “public handshake”! Heck, they might even have a cake to celebrate the occasion! And this new manager may even get his or her own desk and with a name plate too!

But now trouble raises its ugly head. You see, the company’s owner is not quite ready emotionally to hand over that authority to someone else. So they tell everybody in the company. “My door is always open to you!” The stated message here is that the owner still wants to stay in touch with his people. Great! BUT the implied message is, “If you don’t like the way the new manager is treating you, feel free to do an end run around them and come and see me personally.”

Well, employees learn very quickly which messaged tactic works better. You’ve seen kids do this in a family—if they don’t get what they want from one parent, they’ll go to the other one to see if they can get a more favorable outcome. Employees will do the same thing in a business if the rules aren’t firmly established from the start. And not just the rules- the lines of authority must be crystal clear and religiously adhered to.

It’s become a cliché in business that if you give someone the responsibility to do a job then you also need to give them the needed authority to make decisions. So, if you aren’t ready to give that authority to the person you’ve promoted simply don’t hand out the promotion. Time and again I’ve seen owners cross over (I should say jump over!) the lines of authority in their businesses because they can’t give up control. Every time they do this it undermines the authority of the manager and screws things up in a big way.

How much clearer can I state this? Stop meddling! If you’ve promoted someone to a management position, get out of the way and let him or her do their job. If your new manager is not doing his job the way you laid it out for them then clearly and respectfully address it with the person! You can make life a lot easier for you and everyone in your organization if you “play by the rules” and follow your lines of authority.

Chuck Violand (more about Chuck)
SFS Instructor
CEO Violand Management Associates

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