UNLESS OTHERWISE STATED
During my first months working closely with Sketchfab's co-founders, I sometimes felt unsure about whether or not I needed their approval to do something. Given we are often operating in messy and uncertain contexts, I needed to find something to be able to seize opportunities for impact without direction or oversight.
“I think we should do this. But I should discuss it with Alban first, he is the CEO so I probably need his approval. Well, he is traveling this week, so I'd better wait until Monday to share him the context of my recommendation. Actually, maybe I should go ahead and do it: maybe he simply doesn't care and need to be disturbed with that – he already has so much on his plate, and probably hired me to not think about this kind of things anymore. But I'd not like to appear as I'm trying to bypass him, that's not my intention. Arf, what's my room for maneuver here exactly?”
Not easy – especially if you work with people who are very busy or just hands-off, and if you have a lot of freedom in your job, as well as maybe a little bit of an impostor syndrome. When you feel in need of approval, things can get stuck really quickly and prevent you from doing anything meaningful.
But I came to realize that the founders' responsibilities was to provide me with the tools, resources and information to do my job well, not to be a roadblock. Also, I should be trusted to do my job to the best of my abilities.
So now, my trick is to ping them in advance using this formula:
Unless otherwise stated, I “ACTION” + “REASONABLE DELAY”.
“Unless otherwise stated, I will do this tomorrow morning.”
I see several benefits of such a format:
- It reverses the authorizing step. You don't need one (or worse, several) “yes” anymore, you simply need to hear nothing back
- Informing them in advance keep things transparent. People will not be able to blame you for a lack of communication
- It still gives others the opportunity to step in if they don't agree or want to discuss the matter further
- Often times, people from whom you seek approval don't have all the relevant context to actually wrap their mind around your recommandation, or best case they simply trust you. Now you are basically freeing them from this weird burden of deciding about something they have no idea about, or you are simply honoring the trust they grant you with
- It feels liberating, and turns the possibly toxic authorizing step into a much healthier, actionable and scalable act of information and advice
- It is in line with the spirit of starting by doing, especially in an organization where the culture welcomes the idea that it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission