Most approval processes just don’t work day-to-day
by Ann Wylie, president, Wylie Communications Inc.
When my sister, Lynn Wylie, met Richard Dreyfus on a cruise recently, she asked the actor-turned-Constitutional scholar what it was like to work with a mechanical shark.
Almost every day, Dreyfus said, he’d arrive on the set of “Jaws” to hear this message over the intercom:
“The shark is down.
Ladies and gentlemen,
the shark is not working today.”
Can you imagine how frustrating it would be to show up day-in, day-out, ready to do the job you were hired to do, but not be able to get your work done because some system is broken?
Friends, I’ve got news for you. If you work in most organizations:
“The approval process is down.
Ladies and gentlemen,
the approval process is not working today.”
Here are three ways to get a functional approval process up and running in your organization:
1. ‘Step away from the editing transformer, sir.’
Chris Smith is one of my favorite thinkers about writing and communication. I always learn something from Three Things, the hilarious and helpful editing e-zine he writes for his colleagues at the energy company Entergy.
Here’s the senior lead communications specialist’s advice about handling approvals:
“Among your 14,000 co-workers, many know more than I do about engineering, accounting, transformers, law and other things. But only a handful know as much as you about writing headlines, finding the lead/lede in a story, correcting misplaced acronyms or wrongly capitalized uses of commission, company or other common nouns.
“I say let ’em mangle their own drafts, thank them for the ideas, then edit … before you post a story or release. In return I promise to limit my electrical work to fixing lamp cords at home. Just say, ‘Step away from the editing transformer, sir, it’s a high-voltage process.'”
It’s another way to say, “Let’s respect each other’s expertise,” and I like it.
2. Redefine the client.
The customer is always right, right?
So the division, department or vice president who “hired” you to create their brochure or newsletter should have final say, right?
You and that brochure customer of yours are both working for the same client. And that client, for every communication you create, is the organization, not any one person or department.
As a communicator, you have a responsibility to your real client — the organization — for the messages and communications you create. That means the communicators — and not the bean-counters, lawyers or division heads — must have the responsibility and the authority for communications.
To get out of that “the customer is always right” loop, stop calling your internal “clients” “clients.” Make it “project partners” instead.
Unlike a rose, an approval process by any other name changes the way people think.
3. Come up with a good comeback.
After choosing new eyeglass frames for my pop-bottle lenses, I asked the guy behind the counter whether I could pick up my new specs in an hour.
“Oh, honey,” he said, “I’d never do that to you!”
With that comment, the clerk reframed my perspective. I suddenly stopped thinking of one-hour eyeglasses as a helpful convenience to seek. Instead, they’d become shoddy merchandise to avoid.
That’s a great comeback for a communicator being pressured by clients to deliver work on an unreasonable deadline, to hit “accept all changes” on review copy or to run a 200-word paragraph: “Oh, honey, I’d never do that to you.”
A communicator in one of my writing workshops uses a different comeback when her reviewers start coming up with new material for an otherwise focused piece:
“That is a GREAT idea!” she says. “For another piece!
Thanks for calling it to my attention. I’ll put that on our future story ideas sheet.”
What comeback could you use to reframe your reviewer’s perspective?
‘You’re going to need a bigger boat.’
Over the years, I’ve come to believe that getting a handle on the approval process is our top communication challenge.
Not creating a great brochure. Not getting the annual report out. Not developing an intranet that improves employee performance.
But creating a process that allows us to do those things well.