Lost in the layers

When one is leading a project that is part of the activities of a team within a larger group that, in turn, consists of many sections, there is a real risk that information about who actually did what gets lost in the multiple layers of hierarchy. In large organisations like CERN, the middle management, namely the section and group leaders, play a crucial role in establishing a healthy work environment where credit is given to those who did the actual work and the multiple layers of hierarchy are appropriately informed as to the skills and performance of their personnel. Occasionally however, it seems like the details do not make it through the multiple layers, and the upper hierarchy content themselves with overall results without actually seeking to understand who did the work or checking that due credit is given to the individuals concerned.

Sergey is in charge of an important project that was recently moved into a newly created section. He explains his work to the new section leader and keeps him up to date through regular weekly briefings, providing him with input for the upper management as needed. A few months later, Sergey happens to attend a meeting on a related topic where his results are cited and he is extremely surprised to realise that his department head is not aware of his leading contribution to the project.

Where did the information get lost? It is true that in some cases, despite a multiplicity of meetings and sharing opportunities (or indeed perhaps because of them?), critical information does not get through the layers. This may be because of a simple gap in the information flow, for instance when there are changes in structure where the new hierarchy does not have the full historical record of the project, or  an oversight where the full details of the work have not been disclosed. In a worst-case scenario, however, it may be because someone along the information chain deliberately omitted to acknowledge or even actively took credit for the work done by a colleague. Either way, whether due to an innocent or intentional oversight, this type of situation can have important and long-term consequences for the people concerned, as it results in an incomplete and inaccurate overview of their career history and achievements.

After some hesitation, Sergey decides to raise his concerns confidentially with his department head, who thanks him for bringing the matter to his attention. He takes the opportunity at the next meeting with his management team to review departmental reporting lines and reminds them of their responsibilities in this respect.

It is well known that due credit and recognition for work done is critical for staff motivation and commitment – making sure these aspects do not get lost in the layers is just one example of how we may bring the CERN values of integrity and professionalism to life in our day-to-day work.

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