Quite often in the role of a change agent, a change-related issue must be brought to the attention of people higher-up on the organization chart. A decision must be made, funds approved, change communicated or behaviors adopted, among many ways leaders must become involved in the change.
When you are implementing change from the middle of an organization, often there is more than one layer of hierarchy to navigate. When you need to take an issue “upstairs,” the question arises: Who should be the advocate, you or your boss?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. When dealing with multiple layers of authority, you enter the tricky realm of organizational politics. Yet, there are factors that can help you decide whether you should take the ball or pass it to your boss instead. Consider the following:
First of all, it is important to figure out whom you need to influence, and then understand the relationships you and your boss have with him or her. Since relationships are the foundation of influence, the person with the better relationship may be in a better position to persuade the leader to take action.
Part of influence is expressing emotion, importance and urgency. A person with passion about the project is more likely to fight for what is needed for it to succeed. If the likelihood of being turned down is high, then you probably don’t want a half-hearted advocate who will concede at the first sign of dissent.
If you suspect the leader might have questions before committing, you don’t want to send someone with mediocre answers. Confident responses allay concerns and reduce uncertainty. Assess who has the right knowledge about the project to properly represent it.
Another factor is access, which comes down to proximity and timing. Depending on location, schedules, or even serendipity, either you or your boss may have a better opportunity to bring up the issue with the leader in question. If you have access to the leader but don’t take advantage of it, the opportunity may be missed.
The unwritten rules of the organization also come into play. The culture often designates the importance of official authority and also who is “allowed” to talk to whom. When selecting an advocate, decide whether it makes sense to fit in with or stand out from the culture.
The individual careers of you and your boss may also be a factor. Perhaps the issue presents an opportunity for you to be viewed as a capable go-getter in the eyes of the higher-ups. Or the risk may be such that it makes sense for your boss to take the responsibility instead.
If you and your boss split the score on these factors, it may make sense for the two of you to advocate as a team. In the absence of that option, you will need to decide which of you can best influence the leader in question, and then prepare the selected advocate in the factors that are lacking.