The Chain of Command

A retired general in the Army Corps of Engineers, General Jackson Graham, supervised the planning and initial construction of the Metrorail system.  Accordingly, the structure of Metro is militaristic in many ways.

One of the first things I was told as a new employee was to always follow the “chain of command”.  That seemed to be very important to many people in management as it was repeated over and over ad nauseam.

At first glance the chain of command seems to make sense.  If an employee has a question, request, or concern they should first contact their supervisor, rather than going directly to the dept. head.

We quickly learned that the chain of command was often used by management to ignore employees — or at least that was the net effect.  More often than not, if an employee approached their supervisor with something the supervisor couldn’t help with and s/he passed it on to their boss that would be the end of it.  The question would never be answered.  The concern would never be addressed.  It would be lost forever in the chain of command, never to return.

So, the chain of command was dysfunctional but if an employee were to go over the heads of the first few layers of management there would usually be some repercussions —  a verbal reprimand and a letter in their file at a minimum.

After a few years of futility, I learned that it was best to discretely approach whoever was most likely to be able to help with a particular problem directly.  This was pre-Internet and Intranet so I had to get a WMATA telephone directory.  The phone directory was worth its weight in gold.  For the first couple years I was at Metro I didn’t realize there was such a thing.  I suspect that management did not want us to have access to it.

The strict enforcement of the ‘chain of command’ is one of the causes of the dysfunction at Metro.

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One Response to The Chain of Command

  1. midmented says:

    I think I would have gotten fired and started public announcement of the experience.

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