What's your Problem?

Do I go over the heads of my immediate superiors?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q: I was recruited to a company about six months ago, with the intention of taking over the division when the manager stepped down (he now has). However, the company has undergone a change in senior management, and the current regional and national managers, while affable, don't have any strategy in place and don't know who they want to hire to the position. I offer long-term growth versus short-term gains. Do I go over their heads and speak directly to the CEO, or wait six to 12 months for the inevitable problems to arise and then act?

A: I'm not as clear as I'd like to be. You joined this company 'with the intention of taking over the division when the manager stepped down'. Was this your personal intention - in other words, an ambition? Or was it discussed and agreed at the time you were taken on? From the fact that your senior managers are still uncertain who to hire as the new divisional head, I suspect that, while your 'intention' may have been known to, and informally agreed by, the outgoing manager, it was never known to, let alone endorsed by, anyone higher up. In other words, however unjust you may feel it to be, you should assume that you're no better placed than any other candidate, internal or external.

But on the basis of your six months' experience, you do have a coherent idea of the long-term strategy that your division should follow; so, if you haven't done so already, you should write it down as succinctly and persuasively as possible. I'd be disinclined to go over the heads of your regional and national managers; that's nearly always a decision of last resort and can do irreparable damage to relationships lower down.

Send your two managers a copy of your strategy, together with a note formally asking to be added to any list of candidates for the vacant divisional manager's job. This should at least ensure that you are seriously considered and - if you are right about those forthcoming problems - should also put down a useful marker for the future.

One last piece of unasked-for advice. Be a little careful in the way you phrase your 'long-term growth versus short-term gains' argument. First, of course, they're not mutually exclusive; and second, short-term gains, in 2010, are not to be sneezed at.

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