In a company, business, or church, the chain of command refers to levels of authority from the top position, such as CEO, owner, or pastor down to upper and mid-level supervisors and then to front line workers. Hierarchal organizations institute a chain of command structure to improve communication, supervision, problem solving, efficiency and effectiveness at all levels.
In fact, rank and chain of command are essential for the health, growth, and prosperity of any organization. When the chain of command is followed the organization functions properly and when the chain of command isn’t adhered to, chaos ensues. Therefore, teaching employees at all levels to understand and respect the chain of command and to not jump ranks is an important concept.
Violating the chain of command is generally referred to as “skip level” communication. Skip level communication can happen throughout a hierarchal organization in two fundamental ways. First, when lower level employees bypass their immediate supervisor and take their questions and concerns to those higher in the chain of command than their supervisor. Second, when upper level leaders bypass mid-level supervisors to talk directly to the employees they supervise.
This occurs in the church when the Senior Pastor bypasses the Executive Pastor and or Education Pastor and assigns work to the Student Pastor. Leaders who practice skip level communication are typically referred to as “skip level managers.”
A second form of skip level communication happens when the Student Pastor bypasses the Education Pastor and/or Executive Pastor and takes his or her questions and concerns to the Senior Pastor.
Let’s take a look at the potentially negative effects and positive applications of skip level communication.
The Negative Effects of Skip Level Communication
Disregard for the chain of command by jumping levels in the communication process usually triggers an avalanche of negative results, including:
- Feelings of disrespect
- Broken relationships
- Loss of trust
- Undermining of authority
- Mixed messages
- Confusion around priorities
- Frustration and chaos
- Poor decision making
- Ineffective execution
- Poor morale
A culture that consistently practices skip level communication will soon experience high levels of dysfunction and frustration that may lead to employee turnover and poor execution.
Positive Applications of Skip Level Communication
Any application of skip level communication runs the risk of the negative consequences mentioned above, but there are instances where it is helpful and even necessary. Skip level communication should happen only when:
- There is immoral, unethical, or unbiblical behavior
- There is ineffective supervision
- There is insufficient information to complete an assignment
- There are mixed messages that need to be understood
- Priorities that need to be established
- Expectations that need clarifying
- Strict confidentiality is required
- Concerns aren’t being heard
- Specific coaching is needed
- Upper levels of leadership need the insights, input, opinions, and honest assessment of lower level employees
Even in most of these situations, skip level communications is unacceptable if it hasn’t been preceded by attempts to follow the chain of command that have proved unsatisfactory, and supervisors are notified in advance they are being skipped over.
Guidelines to Consider
- Clearly and frequently communicate that employees jumping ranks and communicating to whomever they feel is unacceptable and the reasons why.
- See that employees know who they report to and understand the organization’s chain of command.
- Communicate when it is OK to bypass the chain of command.
- Train employees to recognize the various expressions of skip level communication.
- Establish the expectation that any individual that violates the chain of command will be immediately referred to the correct level of supervision.
- Establish the expectation that supervisors will be immediately notified of what was communicated when skip level conversations take place.
- Establish the expectation that permission from the appropriate supervisor will be sought upfront before proceeding with skip level communication.
- Allow each stratum of supervision to have the opportunity to handle responsibilities and issues before forwarding it up the chain of command for resolution.
- Don’t use skip level meetings as an opportunity to conduct a witch hunt against lower level supervisors.
- Use the rule of thumb that listening can skip levels, but assigning duties can’t.
Posted on July 3, 2018