What have you ‘signed off’ lately?

Son: Dad, I’d like to re-decorate my room. I don’t need your help to do it, but I might need to ask your advice about what I need to do.

Dad: Ok, son. How are you going to go about re-decorating?

Son: Well, I’m going to make a plan, give myself a budget of how much to spend, and that should work.

Dad: Sounds good to me. Don’t forget we are going on a family holiday in 4 weeks, and it doesn’t sound like you’ve factored in your commitments at the karate club. I know you said you don’t need my help, but I’m here to support you when you’re ready.

Something of an idyllic conversation, and not one I’m likely to have with any of my children for at least the next 15 years. In his manifesto, Henry Stewart talks about trusting your people. One of the key things in that is ‘pre-approving’ work. One of the other things he talks about is ‘give freedom with clear guidelines’.

When I think about that, I think about moving out of people’s way. I trust people inherently. It’s probably my biggest flaw – it’s also probably my proudest flaw. I let people know what I’m asking of them, set out some expectations and then move out of the way. I don’t interfere, I don’t meddle, and I don’t criticise. I will check in, I will ask for updates and I will be mindful about the persons ability to do the job. I will coach, guide, advise and mentor as appropriate.

But there are a lot of people in the work place who doggedly believe this is a fools errand way to operate. If you don’t control what your team are doing, then how can you expect them to achieve? A belief exists that without asserting your authority, the level of control you have over your team will be diminished. When work is complete, and passed to them for approval, it cannot pass on to the next phase of the project until it is signed off.

I’m not talking about business critical work, that stuff has to follow some element of checking and formal review, else you’re putting the business at risk. I’m talking about things like the following:
– coming into work 15 mins late because you worked an hour later the day before
– sending an email to someone outside of your team/department
– not following a process/protocol because you’ve found a more efficient way to get it done
– changing the design/format of a piece of work to better reflect the content
– having an informal chat with an external supplier about potential work

These things are things which people are very capable of making decisions about on their own. When leaders/managers delude themselves into thinking they are enacting control to have a better team, is when they also don’t realise that the team are not working at their best, and not willing to increase their discretionary effort at work.

Signing off has its place, just don’t wield it like it’s a God-given right.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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