How Many Bosses Do Your Employees Really Have?

October 31, 2011 No Comments

Allen F. Weitzel has spent 45 seasons in the recreation field and is safety and training manager at a California amusement park.

By Allen F. Weitzel

This may appear to be a redundant question: How Many Bosses Do Your Employees Really Have? You might say “one,” but it probably is more than you think.

Who Is a Boss?

Most employees will respond to any person of a higher rank, but, ideally, an employee should only have to answer to one supervisor, making their workday less confusing.

How Many Bosses Can There Be?

Depending upon the operation, the leadership chain could include leads, supervisors, managers, directors, vice presidents, and the CEO. In some facilities, the Board of Directors, relief employees and veteran employees will put in their two cents. Often, no one seems to mind when these folks jump the chain of command. There is seldom any malice when the company hierarchy suggests tasks to employees during the workday. The assigned task may be simple, but it plants the question in the mind of the employee as to who they listen to and when.

Making a Point

From time-to-time in our industry, executives might assist line employees when the facility is short staffed. One Spring Break, while I was a training manager, we were asked to help. Since I had been a food director at several parks in the past, I volunteered my services to our food department. I was assigned the task of preparing French fry orders, hot dogs and popcorn chicken. I reported to Rosa, the restaurant lead. She provided training, told me what I should do, and explained what my co-workers would be doing. “Okay, Allen, only work on fries, dogs, and chicken – nothing else!” Having not worked the front line in a long time, she knew to treat me as a rookie, only assigning a minimum of tasks. Rosa overlooked one fact: I might encounter “other” bosses that day. It would be too lengthy to list the many leadership errors that occurred, but here are a few: The cooks and counter employees each telling me how they wanted fries prepared – each system different from how I was trained. The relief employee sending the cook on his break during the lunch rush and then, herself, departing and leaving me to run both fries and the grill. The department director walking through and not asking where the cook was, but criticizing me on how I was wrapping sandwich orders. Heck, no one even trained me to make cold sandwiches; I felt good that I was keeping up. The department supervisor popping in and telling me to cook extra fries: stay ahead when employees were placing their own orders at the employee window, but cook to order when only receiving customer orders. I could not even see the employee window from my station. Thank heavens the grill cook was finally back from his break. Rosa coming back from her break and asking why I was not cooking to order. The stock person then said he was taking his break, so I would need to restock fries from the basement freezer if I ran low. By day’s end, I had received job-changing directives from seven different people. I even received a phone call from my VP, asking about a research project I was working on. After trying to answer my VP’s question, I had to hang up mid-sentence because my fries were burning. You get the point.

Stick To the Chain of Command

To avoid these fiascos, you must stick to the chain of command. Yes, it requires more effort for upper management to resist making knee-jerk directives, but the worker will clearly understand who will be giving them work assignments and changes to those assignments.

Only in Emergencies

Even today, I catch myself offering suggestions to employees who are working in my department. There will always be times when someone higher on the leadership chain will directly change a task with a line employee. When that happens, they need to also tell the employee’s supervisor so the supervisor will know of the change. Only when a person is at risk of injury should directives come from any person other than the employee’s direct supervisor. If management is frequently jumping the chain of command under the guise of emergencies, then you have additional problems.

When selecting leaders, choose those who remain calm under fire. Respect your workers, keep your company running smooth, and only ask your employees to answer to one boss.

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