How Hierarchy Takes You from Surviving to Thriving

Many leaders believe an effective leader’s subordinates consider them a friend. They feel uncomfortable with hierarchy and/or chain of command and feel everybody in the organization should be treated equally.

While these misconceptions aren’t entirely wrong (your subordinates should believe you respect and appreciate them and everybody in the organization is immensely valuable), when leaders adopt these trains of thoughts, their teams suffer. An established, structured, well communicated, and enforced chain-of-command can eliminate confusion and frustration when it comes to conflict resolution or employee grievances and improve morale and productivity. The word hierarchy may not be well received by leaders or staff, but its effects are positive and necessary for organizational growth.

Some of the benefits you can expect to see when you establish and implement a chain of command include:

  • Improved morale. Employees are more likely to see the direct results of their suggestions or grievances when they have addressed it at the closest level first. Leaders are more apt to follow up with their direct employees regarding their grievance. Employees trust that if their supervisor has failed to respond, they have further options for resolution, which improves morale as well.
  • Decreased legal risk. When policy outlines clear guidance for grievances, employees have an obligation to take the steps recommended to resolve complaints. When the grievance or chain of command policy is followed, the organization has increased opportunity to address issues before they reach a judge.
  • Lower turnover. Employees who see action following an appropriate grievance or suggestion are likely to enjoy their jobs and stay on board longer.
  • Increased productivity. Satisfied employees work hard and feel personally vested in the organization. They look for efficiencies and solutions and are driven by quality results.
  • Lower costs. When your turnover and legal risk decrease and your productivity increases, your bottom line goes up. That should provide the justification you need to get your chain-of-command idea past upper management.
  • What are the characteristics of an effective chain of command?

  • All employees report directly to somebody who has overall responsibility for their results. Supervisors who are responsible for the results of their team are personally vested in the performance and productivity of their employees, understand the processes, know the staff, and have the authority to address concerns appropriately. They also have several levels above them for support and guidance.
  • Few employees report directly to upper management. Those reporting to upper management have only one option when it comes to grievances. Only the most professional people in the most independent positions in your building should report to the president or CEO.
  • All employees are trained upon implementation and then annually and upon hire regarding the structure of the organization and the grievance process. All supervisors are trained to manage authoritatively – to take personal responsibility for the performance of their team. In order to do so, they must be comfortable directing and correcting their team when necessary (remind them to balance reward and constructive criticism).
  • Everybody must be willing to say, “Have you addressed the right person with these concerns?” before they act on concerns that do not come from their direct subordinates. This enforces chain-of-command and provides maximum opportunity for resolution.
  • If you choose to establish and implement a chain-of-command, it is vital that your employees understand that it dictates who has the authority to make which decisions and where they should go for help, not who has value within the organization. Employees often view authority as value and poor morale results.

    Furthermore, your leaders must own their authority. Weak or inexperienced leaders often feel that they are no more valuable than anyone else and therefore should not delegate or correct. While their value remains equal, their authority makes them different – and this authority is vital in order for the organization to operate as it should. Leaders must feel comfortable correcting their subordinates.

    If you are struggling with employee morale, legal risk, poor productivity or attendance, or high turnover and you are not yet utilizing an established chain-of-command, consider moving forward with a chain-of-command policy. The cost is in the time it takes you to establish and the benefits far outweigh the investment.