Recently, I had a friend and colleague bring up a great subject. When is it (or is it ever) appropriate to go over someone’s head to their superior? Is there protocol? What are the effects? I wanted to share my thoughts.
I have always believed it is fine to go to your contact’s superior if you think it is in the best interest of the organization—not your organization—theirs! If there is a road block in your way, or you just want to share content or an opportunity with folks higher up the ranks, then go ahead, but know the protocol and also the risks.
If you go over your contact’s head, it could backfire. I have seen this happen. The superior thanks you for the information/offer and refers you back to your contact, copies them, or brings them into the loop. Basically, the superior is saying, “Know your place and deal with this person. I trust them to make the right decision!” Now you are probably in trouble for going around your contact.
Here are four thoughts on this situation.
- Always include your contact on correspondence to their superior and reference them in the correspondence. This might be an email to both your contact and their superior saying you wanted to share this with them, etc. It keeps your contact in the loop, and also allows the superior to see your message and deal internally as they wish. It may still backfire!
- If you go above your contact to their superior, you could kill your relationship (or lack thereof) which may prove troublesome. Also, as they (your contact) move organizations, they take that same negative message about you to their next organization. The sector is small, so know the risks!
- Often, peer to peer is a great way to “go around” a contact. If your contact is, say, below VP level and you want to share content or information with a VP level person, have someone else in your organization (perhaps at VP level or higher) share the information. Two outcomes: It is now peer level to peer level; also, you can always tell your contact that it was out of your hands and that your VP wanted to do this. (A great way to stay in your contact’s good books is to give them a heads-up that your VP is doing this right around the same time they are actually initiating the communication. Then you are ahead of the game with them and providing them with a “heads-up.”)
- The key is that you need to believe you can truly help an organization, and if this person (my contact) is a road block, then go around them. Just be aware of the consequences. Sometimes you can seek advice from your peers. If the risk is too great or the prospect is just not that big an opportunity, cut your losses and move on. Know what hills to possibly die on! And remember—communication is the key. Often people are not as annoyed that you went above them as they are that they got blindsided, did not know you were doing it, and looked like a fool when their superior asked them about it. None of us like being made to look foolish, so keep them in the loop on what you are doing!
I look forward to hearing your suggestions or confessions/experiences!
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