Going over Someone’s Head

Going over Someone’s Head

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.

  1. 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!
  2. 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!
  3. 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.”)
  4. 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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  1. Hi Brent, as a company that sponsors a lot of programming in the province of alberta, I wanted to weigh in regarding the “go over the head of someone you are dealing with”. I am approached daily regarding partnerships. On average I see 8-10 new proposals a week. Some from customers who feel because they are a customer I have to sponsor them. Some from organizations that feel their cause fits with our causes. In all cases we try to take the time to look at their proposal, identify whether it fits our criteria and make a decision either way. We have a process we follow, its clearly laid out on the website, and on other documents available to the public. Nothing causes me more grief then when someone changes the process and tries to go outside those norms. I am typically not upset that they have gone above me , its more that they have added complexity into this discussion. Now i have another person involved, more emails to follow up on, I now have to answer to that person a few more times, assuring them we have a process we follow, we have connected with the individual, and that we have talked with the individual. What I see is that people that go over my head are simply adding more complexity, adding more people into the discussion and really making the process that much more cumbersome and difficult. To me, respect the process that companies have, going over their head says to the person you are dealing with that you don’t respect their abilities to manage their request. My two cents, stick to your representative, if they fail to deliver or respond, feel free to go to their boss, but if they go through a rigourous process, have been fair in their response, don’t add complexity into the process by going over their head. A sponsors viewpoint, cheers,

    • John,
      As always you are bang on. Thanks for reading and also for this post. I agree… we need to understand the process and if we are going to go around there had better be a pretty good reason. I see it most often when people cannot get a response over a 2-6 month period. You are so right, if the “going over the head” is not nipped in the bud by the superior and relaying back to the rep, then it becomes very very complicationed and a ton more work for everyone involved… and often not to the outcome the perpetrator wanted!


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