Thanks Chief, but You Really Aren’t in Charge; the Talk That Has to Happen

Thanks Chief, but you really aren’t in charge…The talk that has to happen.

In most organizations there are several layers of decision makers. Each layer has more authority to make decisions than the one before. Military and law enforcement know this to be called, “chain of command.”

Several times, I have had a high ranking individual come to me and inquire about starting an improvement project. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? After all, who doesn’t want to help someone make a process better? Unfortunately, I am left telling that high ranking person that their authority is too limited for the project to be successful. Being much lower in rank than they are can make this a very intimidating conversation to have, but still very necessary.

When it comes to making improvements, the facilitator has to have total honesty and integrity, which requires being very candid with everyone involved. Without these elements, almost all projects are doomed for failure. As a facilitator, Six Sigma Black Belt, or whatever title you go by in your organization, remember that you work directly for the CEO’s best interest. Be careful about getting reeled into the idea that since someone that outranks you wants something done, then you have no choice but to do it. This will eventually lead to your demise and destroy the credibility of your process improvement program.

Speak the truth to all you meet. Let them know who the Champion would be for the improvement they want to make. Have them leave your conversation with the understanding that you will help in any way possible, including setting up a meeting with your agency Champion. Without the Champion’s buy in from the inception of the project, you run the risk of failure when new ideas are brought forward that he/she was not ready to pursue. This will in turn tell every member of the improvement team that process improvement doesn’t work and was a waste of their time…don’t let that happen.

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If the Chief, or other high ranking person believes themselves to be the decision maker, take the hard road and inform them why they aren’t…your program will thank you.

About the Author: William “Billy” Wilkerson is a Police Sergeant with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and 20 Year veteran with the Florida Air National Guard. He is currently assigned to Sheriff’s Office Continuous Improvement Division and also supervises the Staff Inspections Unit. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been using Lean Six Sigma to streamline many of its processes for the past several years to much success. Billy has also been assisting with the Florida Air National Guard’s rollout of their CPI Program (Continuous Process Improvement). Billy can be found on LinkedIn @ or by email at

Comments 2


    And the talk continues….

    Chain of commands in larger companies are pretty standard. Some more stringent than others. The biggest battle in communicating to these types of channels is ensuring NO ONE feels that they have been passed. For good or in some eyes bad many times your "climbers" want recognition and believe they have a good idea, but fear they will not receive the recognition. Ways to overcome these types of battles is resonating with your next chain of command, with analysis displaying the opportunity to communicate "together" on the efficiency gain. GOOD LEADERS allow their staff to shine. Since it is a direct connection of your Leadership Skills helping others achieve their goals. If your people shine, you shine brighter for allowing them…to shine. Many times associates will go around the chain of command because of lack of trust, feeling they will not receive the recognition, and stay stagnant in their position. Resulting in a disgruntled associate. When that happens, your production will suffer. The greatest Leaders are in position because they have the best people underneath them. That’s a proven fact. I managed several teams in my past difficult one’s and complicated disciplines successfully all with a… Chain of Command. It was a compliment that my team thought out of the box, did their home work, in which I validated was a successful move. I trusted my team, and… My team trusted me. It’s been 3 years since leaving later Corporate America…. I’m still called one of their best leaders that allowed them to shine, and achieve their goals. For myself your story, was my world. I became disgruntled and left a 10 year job, because I was to valuable in my position, while my SVP took the credit, and she was…next in line. She did, what she communicated to her leadership team…not to do to our staff… but she did it to her own, because of feeling threatened in her position. LET THEM SHINE!!! Karma got a great way of repaying a good deed! ROCK ON, Billy !

  2. Mark Foss

    I work in public transit. I have also been in the military. Transit is a top-down organization, not much different from the military or law enforcement. Top-down organizations have strengths when it comes to accomplishing certain kinds of activities. When it comes to coordinated non-creative work by a large number of people, they work well.

    Change, by its nature, requires an element of creativity. Implementation of the change might be programmed and, therefore, work well with a top-down organization. But observing the need for change, crafting the nature of the change, making course corrections after the change has been measured, all require a creative spark.

    As I see it, managers who have the power to force a top-down organization to change, live too far from the nitty-gritty problems to easily bring creative insight to crafting the change. Additionally, position and power don’t necessarily equate with creativity, brains or education. Even when the manager has the talent, will and insight, daily duties may interfere with keeping a hand on change’s pulse.

    What’s the needed? There isn’t a simple answer. Issues of structural and cultural change are probably as big as any operational change that might be proposed. However, silos don’t lend to change; and neither does ignoring the rank and file. The leader needs to leverage the knowledge and insights of lower-level workers. Leveraging input from the wider organization can produce both insight and "buy in" to the proposed change.

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