When to bypass an ineffective and inefficient boss

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Rey Elbo

In The Workplace

have a boss who is known in the whole organization as a “teka-teka” manager who takes so much time in making decisions, even for minor things, like the approval of his employees’ leave application. Last month, I sent him an e-mail recommending a cost-cutting solution to a long-time practice that is costing the company around P50,000 a month. I talked to him about it several times and was told that he’s studying the matter. Can you tell me what to do with this kind of boss who is contributing losses to the company?  – Can’t Wait.

Excitement is that feeling you get just after a great idea hits you and before you realize what’s wrong with your boss. Really, being held up by a boss for the wrong reason is terribly wrong and downright stupid. You sit there, say nothing, and nod along to his perpetual alibi — that he’s “studying the matter” — resulting in another clear case of paralysis by analysis.

You’ve remained quiet for some time as you don’t want to be the villain in your department. Moreover, you might not be 100% sure why your boss is dragging his feet, whereas you’re more than confident about yourself with the proposed cost-saving idea. And so, you’re constrained to keep your mouth shut for another week or until God knows when.

So here’s my long answer to give you the right context. Just like many managers around us, I’d like to believe that he’s still emboldened by the ancient 1930s-1940s military principles of “unity of command” and “unity of direction” and “scalar chain” where the relationship between a manager and his workers must not be broken. Strictly and technically, no one is allowed to bypass the boss even if it would result in mounting losses to the organization.

But times have changed. Dynamic organizations have challenged the assumptions of these martial concepts, that when summarized, would re-appear as “command-and-control” type of management and if implemented down to its letter and spirit can choke the organization to death.

One notable and pioneering challenger of this traditional “command-and-control” style of management is Bill Gore (1912-1986), who founded Gore-Tex, a fabric manufacturer that created the “lattice organization” where there is no rigid hierarchy. Also known as “open allocation,” the system does not allow middle managers to have direct and unilateral control over their subordinates.

Instead, people are authorized to work on certain projects that they have initiated without the interference of their bosses. As soon as they have completed the project, they have the option to go back to their original unit.

Another challenger of the traditional “command-and-control” management is Ricardo Semler of Semco, one of Brazil’s biggest conglomerates that started a non-traditional way of management. In his book Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace (1993), Semler advocated for the active and maximum participation of the workers, resulting in a 70% decrease in the number of supervisors at Semco.

In recent months, another maverick manager who challenged the folly of “command-and-control” is Tesla CEO Elon Musk who sent an e-mail to his workers as follows:

“There are two schools of thought about how information should flow. By far the most common way is chain of command, which means that you always flow communication through your manager. The problem with this approach is that, while it enhances the power of the manager, it fails to serve the company.

“To solve a problem quickly, two people in different department should simply talk and make the right thing happen. Instead, people are forced to talk to their manager, who talks to their manager, who talks to the manager in the other department, who talks to someone on his team. Then the info has to flow back the other way again. This is incredibly dumb.”

This e-mail quote is a featured part of an Inc. magazine Oct. 30, 2017 article by Chuck Blakeman with the title: “An Email from Elon Musk Reveals Why Managers Are Always a Bad Idea.”

With that for background, what would you do? My short answer is this: Press on in private. Talk to your boss. Emphasize the importance of such idea that if he would drag his feet on the issue, it will cause irreparable injury to the organization. Calculate the amount of losses every month. Much better if you go back at the time when the practice was first implemented, if only to show how the company has lost millions of pesos for such nonsense.

Whatever step you take, ensure that everything is documented in an e-mail or memo format that he acknowledged so that when the blaming starts to unravel, you can easily protect yourself out of the equation.

Sure, it’s tempting to bring the matter to the boss of the boss, but don’t even think about it, unless there’s an escalation policy in the organization, similar to an open-door policy, a whistle-blower system, or an integrity hot line that is practiced in many dynamic organizations.

In conclusion, if your boss continues to sit on your ideas, suggestions, or even complaints, then do something radical, much more if your head is also on the chopping block and there’s an iota of chance that top management may possibly think you’re partly to be blamed.

Join our March 9, 2018 public event on “Deep Dive Discussion on World-Class Manufacturing” where Rudy Go, a Connecticut-based kaizen sensei will share his global perspectives on what true lean is all about, the Moonshine approach and 3Ps, mistake-proofing, kaizen vs. kaikaku, root-cause analysis and problem solving, among other topics. There’s no death by Power Point but only no-holds barred discussion on what makes up for WCM. For further details, contact Ricky Mendoza at (02) 846-8951 or 0915-406-3039 or via