Who’s In Charge Here? Part 1: The Need for a Chain of Command

Download PDF

Business systems help keep your business running smoothly and predictably, but a structure that is often overlooked is the establishment of a management chain of command. Chain of command can get especially tricky with modern businesses. Think about current structure. You have contractors, on demand content writers, temp workers, full time employees, and cross departmental responsibilities. By definition, a system is something that enforces a regular method or order – a plan – and your internal staffing plan has to include a leadership strategy; how you manage your staff. Without implementing a sound leadership structure to define your management, you have the potential for chaos and discontent within the organization.

Consider this all-too-common scenario. You have an employee who logically reports to his/her department manager. The chain of command is established and harmony reigns. But what happens if a second-level manager or the company owner approaches the employee with a request without running it past the department manager first? This happens all the time in business and most workers willingly do what is asked of them, since pleasing the head honcho is one way to get ahead.

This type of situation forces employees to make decisions about who they report to on a daily basis. It can also create conflicts regarding employee loyalty, and has the potential to create chaos, since the demands of senior management could start to supersede the established needs of each department. That’s when other systems start to break down. Consider this problem from the employees’ point of view. If they don’t respond to the top executive they could be reprimanded. If they do respond, it could create a conflict by not informing his or her direct supervisor about what’s going on in his or her department.

That’s why the military introduced the concept of the chain of command. The idea is that those at the top pass their orders down through the ranks because they have more experience and therefore bear the burden and responsibility for making the more difficult decisions. Breaking the chain of command is usually a punishable offense. You should consider creating a similar leadership structure so as not to disrupt the systems in your business. If the top executives continually interrupt the regular work with additional requests, then vital routine operations will start to break down and affect employee performance.

Everyone is held accountable to the chain of command, starting with those at the top. If you own the company, you need to define your role in the chain of command and follow the protocols that you set. If you break the chain, you are undermining the authority you want to give to your managers. Managers are less likely to be effective leaders if they feel like they are frequently overruled.

Once you understand the rationale for creating a chain of command, developing a structural hierarchy is relatively simple. That will be the topic of our next blog post.