Sep 24, 2012

Protocol and Hierarchy in the Workplace


In today's work environment, expectations of employees vary widely. Recent trends encourage employees to share ideas openly and remove barriers of the traditional hierarchy once commonplace in the corporate environment.

Whether working for a small company (less than 50 employees) or a Fortune 50 organization with 10K+ employees, there are a few things to consider while navigating through these open waters.

Corporate Protocol
The meaning alone may be difficult to determine, tricky, and nebulous at best. Think of corporate protocol as "rules of the road".
These may be written or unwritten expectations and policies. Protocol may include  interaction with peers, other lines of business within your company, and leadership. I mention this because knowledge is critical to your success within any organization. Consider the "chain of command". Many established companies suggest starting with your supervisor for any engagement outside of your immediate group. This can be extremely time consuming and, unfortunately, the only option at times.

How does your organization perceive reaching out to other groups, senior leadership, etc? My suggestion is to find a mentor, or a peer that is successful and ask for advice. Have them give examples where they obviously busted protocol and where they maneuvered through the organization successfully.

Open Door Policy
If your Manager or leadership has an open door policy, this speaks volumes for them; however, it is necessary to understand its purpose. Is the open door policy self-serving?  I worked for a company where a Manager would return to work everyday, close the door, and leave at 5:00 p.m.without any employee interaction. Yes, this is an extreme example.

Why is an open door policy stated? Even if the gesture is a genuine effort to promote better collaboration, be wary of exercising this and do not initiate frequent interruptions. Compile your ideas for one meeting and  maximize daylight.  This will insure a mutually beneficial meeting. Check schedules and availability. An open door policy does not imply an unscheduled visit. Do schedule with an executive assistant if one exists.

Skip Level Meetings
These meetings have become common as a means for senior management to interact with employees without their immediate supervisor's presence. So who benefits from a skip-level meeting?  I looked to several sources for answers. Most articles were designed for leadership and not the employee.  There are plenty of tips to steer management through questions to ask, how to follow-up with subordinates, and when to conduct surveys. What about advice and suggestions for employees?

If encouraged to attend a skip level meeting, be prepared. Take the time to complete research before the meeting and consider the following: What are the goals of the organization? How is the organization performing against plan?  What contributions will make the difference?  Ask "relevant" questions.  Be knowledgeable, always positive, and thank the manager for their interest.  Follow-up is critical. Promptly reply to any surveys.

Engagement
While working for a large corporation, it was not uncommon for one Senior VP to reach out to me for competitive info, market trends, and sales requests. There existed a genuine claim to learn front line sales' trends. In return, while working on large requests for proposals (RFPs) from clients, I would reach across other organizations for assistance. While I experienced little difficulty lining up resources, this is an area that can be tricky. Before engaging resources for issues, opportunities, or general assistance, identify the preferred method of engagement. Here are a few tips and recommendations:

  • How critical is your request? This will determine the order of engagement, i.e., Meeting maker, phone call, email, video collaboration, etc.
  • Hierarchy - Yes, it rears its ugly head again. Senior leaders are engaged in day to day activities or choose others to run the organization. Always consider this. Going "to the top" is the most productive.
  • Which groups should be engaged? Do not converge to meet. For example, If an existing client with a billing issue has escalated, it is unlikely that product marketing will assist in a meeting.
I hope that the above information is relevant, provides guidelines for how to use protocol, proceed through the open door, prepare for a skip level meeting, and engage the appropriate resources.

All the Best,

Hope

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