Here is the situation that a CEO recently explained to me: They had hired their first-ever Chief Operating Officer. Many of the staff who used to report to the CEO now reported to the person in the new role. The issue was that one person kept trying to make an “end run” around their new boss and take up issues with the old boss, the CEO. To make matters more complicated, the CEO agreed with what this person was thinking and disagreed with the new Chief Operating Officer on the biggest issue of the day. So, what do you do in this situation if you are the big boss and you actually agree with the front-line person who has come directly to you?
The answer is simple: You tell the front-line person to go take it up with their boss. The words are simple: “Hey Jake, you need to take this up with Mary. She is your boss now, and she is the one you go to with something like this.”
Why is this the right answer?
In the end, if you know or feel strongly that the front-liner’s point is important and their boss is missing it, you need to take it up with Mary. You still give the front-liner the same answer (“talk to Mary”) and you take the issue up privately with Mary. It is okay to have sources and use them to provide Mary with feedback as long as you don’t undermine her authority in the process. The only time you should take action based on feedback from your direct report’s staff is when dangerous, immoral, or illegal activities are brought to your attention. Otherwise the answer should always be “talk to Mary.”