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My boss has many direct reports. He has so many, that our one-on-one meetings are only every other week. As it turns out, he's not only meeting with his direct reports, but select individuals throughout the company. None of this is improper - I support these skip level meetings - but it's been causing some issues.

Two of my direct reports have these regular bi-weekly skip-level one-on-one meetings with my boss. They will frequently save their issues to raise with him instead of raising them with me, just because they talk with him next and know that I am likely to take those issues to him. As a result, I am often left out of the loop in things that directly affect my space and my own ability to assist my direct reports simply because my boss is too available to them.

Conversely, because he spends so much time with my directs, he meets with me too infrequently for me to properly raise issues from my other direct reports. He's not micromanaging, but his actions have the effect of undermining my ability to properly serve my own leadership team within my space.

I will frequently hear "well I talked this over with [my boss] and he told me to do XYZ" from my folks. The direction they get often lacks the benefit of context of our space that I have a better grasp of than my boss. Without me hearing my boss' thoughts on their concerns myself, I both lack the understanding of what led to those conclusions and miss the opportunity to better collaborate with him toward an ideal solution.

How can I raise this issue to my boss in a way that shows him the impact of his actions, and hopefully increase the frequency of our one-on-one time to better account for the issues of my entire team, and not just those people he holds skip-levels with?

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  • 2
    How often are you meeting with your direct reports?
    – sf02
    Dec 20, 2022 at 17:34
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    Why are they meeting with your boss? Are they working on a project with him, and you are on another project?
    – toolic
    Dec 20, 2022 at 17:39
  • Have I discussed this with my boss? Yes. He thinks of those meetings as career-development meetings for those people. They do talk about that, but they can't help but raise their current challenges while there. How often do I meet with my direct reports? Weekly. Why are they meeting with my boss? They've done so for a long time, being very tenured employees, and my boss wants to provide them additional career guidance. I think that aspect is good, I'm primarily bothered by the side effects of those conversations.
    – ringmaster
    Dec 20, 2022 at 18:50
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    Do they raise the issues with your boss because they happen to have a meeting with him next? Or are they "saving" them until they meet with him (and not mentioning them when you talk) ? Dec 21, 2022 at 11:31
  • How do you react when they bring issues to you? If you chew them out rather than working with them to address the issues, or telling them you can't help them -- worse, if you are seen as blocking solution of the issues -- of course they are going to go up the chain; you need either more support from above or better direction from above. The fact that you seem to feel threatened by this is a bad sign that it's probably the latter and you should be looking into how to improve your skills as a manager. Sorry, but that's how it reads.
    – keshlam
    Dec 24, 2022 at 17:22

5 Answers 5

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Your Direct Reports need to Understand what Skip Meetings are for.

So, if I understand this correctly, the people under you are going to the guy above you to make department level decisions instead of to you directly. Most rank-and-file employees don't really know what a "skip meeting" is, they just know they are going into their bosses' office to talk every now and then. So, to them, it is very natural to assume this is the time to bring up problems that they need management to fix.

However, as a manager under someone who is doing skip meetings, this is the last thing you want to happen. If you go to your boss asking him to stop solving your direct reports problems, then you may dig yourself into an office politics hole you don't see coming. Skip meetings are supposed to be so that your boss knows how you and your department is doing, and if they keep coming to him with problems to solve, it looks like you have a problem rich department that you are not managing. You need to make it clear to the people under you that you are their direct supervisor, and that department level problems that need fixing should go through you first and foremost.

In response to a similar answer, you said:

... the question is how to raise this concern with my boss, not how to relate this concern to my reports, which I do. They simply can't say "no" when my boss asks them questions, nor would I tell them to refuse meeting with him. There is a balance I'm trying to strike, and I don't believe asking this of them achieves that balance.

It sounds to me that you've related your concerns to your direct reports, but not placed any real guidelines for them to follow.

Training them to follow a chain of command is not the same as asking them to ignore the questions of your superior. In a skip meeting, they should not be telling your boss there is a problem, they should be telling your boss they reported a problem to you X days ago, and letting him know how well that problem is being handled. They need to know that if they have a problem and have not raised it with you first, that it looks bad on you for not addressing it, it looks bad on them for not following a chain of command, and it looks bad on your department for coming to the boss with a train of problems and no solutions.

Only if your direct reports are given clear expectations, and they continue to ignore chain of command, should you bring it up to your boss, but you should be clear that you are asking for help getting them understand the chain of command and to bring problems to you first, and not that you are asking him to be more hands-off.

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They will frequently save their issues to raise with him instead of raising them with me

You asked about your boss not meeting frequently with you, but I think this is another very important issue (and one where you actually have more influence, instead of telling your boss to change the way they are).

If your direct reports do not bring things with you then you will be left out of the loop as you well said, and that will derive on things like your boss calling shots that you should be calling, or even your boss perceiving that you don't follow up with your reports.

I suggest that you bring this matter up with such reports, and politely indicate them to bring things with you first to avoid inefficient communication and back-and-forth situations.

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  • Ash them why they aren:t working with you on those issues. If necessary, change your management style to eliminate that friction.
    – keshlam
    Dec 20, 2022 at 18:02
  • I hear what you're saying, though the question is how to raise this concern with my boss, not how to relate this concern to my reports, which I do. They simply can't say "no" when my boss asks them questions, nor would I tell them to refuse meeting with him. There is a balance I'm trying to strike, and I don't believe asking this of them achieves that balance.
    – ringmaster
    Dec 20, 2022 at 18:55
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    @ringmaster "Have I discussed this with my boss? Yes. He thinks of those meetings as career-development meetings for those people. They do talk about that, but they can't help but raise their current challenges while there" - as you stated this in comments it seems that you have already tried to raise this with boss to no effect, which relates to the fact that I am proposing a frame-challenge as an answer
    – DarkCygnus
    Dec 20, 2022 at 20:56
  • Why does the fact that they have issues threaten you?
    – keshlam
    Dec 24, 2022 at 23:51
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How can I raise this issue to my boss in a way that shows him the impact of his actions, and hopefully increase the frequency of our one-on-one time to better account for the issues of my entire team, and not just those people he holds skip-levels with?

The question raised seems to bypass, but maybe implies, an important preliminary consideration of "Should I even raise this issue to my boss?". Which is directly related to your question.

Anything and everything can be considered contentious by almost everyone so generally speaking it is a good idea to observe and discern how those that report to you and you report to perceive things, how they believe things and how they have responded to similar scenarios as what you are facing.

If you have a boss who is secure in themselves and values feedback and takes constructive criticism with vigor, understanding that it all benefits improvement, then maybe the soil is fertile for a healthy, candid and open exchange with them...all with the greater good as the intent.

If you have a boss who has reacted negatively to feedback from others, is maybe a bit arrogant, or sees feedback as rocking the boat or in any other negative light...raising the issues with them directly, even with your best intentions and sole desire to make the team and business better, may not be received well and could even damage your own standing.

If by your discernment you believe that you have a favorable environment for this exchange, then the how is rather simple in my opinion. Set a time for uninterrupted dialogue, affirm appreciation for the boss' interaction, speak clearly on your issues and raise them as questions stating you are looking for their help on resolution.

For example "I am trying to figure out how to address information gaps that are occurring between meetings I am having and meetings you are having with some of our team. I feel responsible to the whole team and to you in exceeding your expectations and I think these information gaps are having an impact on my performance to that end. (give a scenario here i.e. Bob let me know he had asked you this item not related to career guidance and he went and implemented it, but it caused this and this which cost us this for the rest of the team who were working on it already in x fashion).

As another observation on your scenario. Your boss should recognize that they hired you to handle what you handle. It is your sandbox. If there is going to be a mix of authority and responsibility, it should be crystal clear where the lines are (to the extent possible) in order to avoid conflicts and issues like the one's you address.

Good luck on resolving the issues.

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  • Then consider whether you might be the kind of boss who reacts negatively, or who doesn't support his people, or otherwise encourages your team to bypass you. Or if you're working in an environment that doesn't allow you to address their needs, which would force them to seek someone who can change that policy.
    – keshlam
    Dec 24, 2022 at 23:49
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The direction they get often lacks the benefit of context of our space that I have a better grasp of than my boss. Without me hearing my boss' thoughts on their concerns myself, I both lack the understanding of what led to those conclusions

Why not go to your boss with 2-3 data points where he was wrong because he doesn't know the full context --Its best if you can show how it impacted the customer? or your own production systems.

Once you are able to make this through, you can then tell him how his actions are creating confusion and trivializing your role. Also, you can use these incidents as examples in your future one-one meetings with him.

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  • Not a great idea. This dynamic is typical for when the 2nd level manager is indeed more experienced and knowledgeable, and probably has been there longer, than the line manager. In other words, that he actually does know better. Even if he doesn't, that's an overly confrontational approach unless there are severe material issues resulting from this hierarchy skip.
    – Therac
    Dec 22, 2022 at 10:09
  • Why will it be taken like that? My reportees tell me my mistakes and i agree and correct myself.
    – chendu
    Dec 22, 2022 at 11:14
  • This is coming to your boss with a problem, not a solution. Indirectly, you'd be accusing your boss of managing poorly. While in reality, they might be very good at managing your team - this isn't a versatile approach. Your value as a line manager should be in taking some work off their hands.
    – Therac
    Dec 22, 2022 at 12:03
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    @HK-51 I hear "solutions not problems" a lot from people who just don't like the solutions. For example, in this case the solution of "so stop giving my reports directions and tell them to go to me instead" seems pretty obvious--and in fact makes less work for the manager. Jan 11, 2023 at 21:11
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Some Level of ByPassing Direct Reports To Go Down Is Necessary and Desirable

I put this point first because its the most important one. Talking only to direct reports put all power in their hands. Thats a very bad way to run any organization, department or section. Consider a prime minister talking only to his cabinet members (his ministers), a CEO talking to only other Cs etc. How would he know when he is lied to?

Here is a delicate point, a line one should not pass when bypassing direct reports, it is to not do the job of the direct reports, do only what is left. For example, listen to grievances against their immediate boss, requests that are not in power of their direct boss etc.

Mention Somewhere When You Next Talk To Him, Subtly If You Cannot Directly, That He is Doing Your Job

You are not doing your job of handling your direct subordinates for free. If he is doing your job for you then he is doing a favour to you. Just mention it to him when you next talk to him. If he is okay with you then go along with it.

If You Want Him To Stop This Behavior Then Do This

Again, be very sure before you proceed. Very sure that you are not okay with your workload getting reduced. If your workload is not reduced and he is simply doing what I said he should in my first point at top then obviously dont do anything.

The way to stop someone doing something if he not stop when you complain about it is to use force. There is no other way. You have to put some kind of pressure.

Have your other services strong. Remove any shortcomings from any other services you are providing. This will make you very important for him to not loose as an employee. Then with your bases covered stop doing duplicate work. Managing an employee is a function. Proper way is to have a direct manager on them to do this. If your boss is happy doing the function himself then cut the duplicate effort. Stop managing the employees yourself as well. They need to be managed and they are managed, no need for you to re-manage them. When your boss ask just tell him the fact that he is doing the managerial function himself.

Again, do it only if he is doing a large portion of your work. If he is talking directly to only one or two employees dont do this. If he is doing something other than your job then also dont do this.

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