10 tips on going over your boss’s head

Sometimes it is necessary to over your boss’s head – but when to do this and how can be unclear. There can be risks involved in taking this step, these 10 tips will help you think through how best to go about this:

1. Manage your risk

If you get this wrong there could be serious consequences for trying to go over your boss’s head and so it’s important to take a step back and think it through. Make sure that you tread carefully and that you understand the different elements that are in play and what you’re about to embark upon.

2. Understand the Issue

Why have you decided that you need to go over your boss’s head? What is the real issue here? Make sure that you are really clear about what the issue(s) is and what the impact will be on you taking action. Is it a professional issue that has to do with standards of oppression or professional propriety or is it more of a business issue, i.e. something that affects the company that you work for? Or, is it a personal issue that is affecting the work that you do?

3. Fundamental or discretionary?

A fundamental issue is one whereby your boss is breaking the law or where there may be something going on that impacts the business in such a way that it could go out of business. Anything else can be considered as discretionary. This doesn’t mean that the issue is less important but if it’s an issue to do with personal integrity or incompetence for example, although these are significant they are discretionary and it’s useful to be clear on which one of these you are dealing with.

4. Know whose agenda you’re serving 

When you decide to go over your boss’s head, think about whose agenda you are serving. Are you taking an issue forwards because it affects you, your boss or the business? Understand the real impact of this issue so that you can articulate it clearly and manage the outcomes.

5. Identify the best outcome

Spend a bit of time identifying what outcome you want. What do you want to happen as a result of your actions? What is the best scenario and what is the worst scenario? Know what the options are so that you can start being prepared for either.

6. Get expert advice

Depending on what your issue is, you may require some expert advice and input from a professional in a particular field such as a lawyer or an accountant. Make sure that you trust this person and that their experience is of value to you. If you are dealing with sensitive issues that can benefit from professional input, then it can be helpful to pull them in so that you understand your options and de-risk the situation.

7. Be careful whom you speak to

There may come a point when you will want to or need to speak to your peers. If this happens, be clear about what you are happy to talk about and what you do not want to divulge.  Establish what you plan to say and how you want to manage each situation. It’s up to you who you want to open up to and what you decide to discuss and so make sure that you feel comfortable, that you stay in control and that you remain feeling confident.

8. Understand HR

You may want to speak to the HR department and so when you decide to do this it’s important to understand where HR fits. The standards of the organisation i.e. policy, managerial behaviour – is what HR is responsible for. HR as a department tends to sit in the middle of an organisation, where they work closely with everyday staff but where they also have access to the highest levels. When dealing with HR be aware that they can escalate issues quickly and also note that they may need to follow a structured process when dealing with your situation and so you may need to be prepared to follow a certain process and to be patient.

9. Consider seeking out your internal compliance officer

Talking to your internal compliance officer can be a great way to test out your thoughts and to get some feedback on your hypothesis and ideas. If you let them know what you are thinking, what your issue is and ask for their input you may see things from a different angle. If you do choose to discuss the issue with them, be aware that you may need to disclose sensitive information to them and so it’s important to feel like you trust them or to understand the implications of this.

10. Talking to your boss’s boss

This can be a delicate situation as it is possible that they are already aware of the situation that you are about to report and discuss with them and they may or may not share your concerns or view. In the event that they decide to defend your boss, you will need to be prepared for this. They also have more power within the organisation than you and could use this against you and so it’s important to establish more about them and to make sure that this route is worth the risk.

Going above your boss’s head certainly comes with its risks. However, it can also sometimes be necessary. It requires a cool and calm head, some real reflection and thinking, some good planning and preparation. Think carefully about whom you talk to and whom you confide in and be clear about what you are looking to achieve.


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