It’s a common problem for all organisations and my work in a physics collaboration is no exception. I have an idea or proposal for something I want to do, but as a junior member of the organisation I need to ensure my seniors have no objection. So I send an e-mail of the form “I would like to…” or “Is it OK if I…”. The problem comes when no response is received: I have no objections to address but also no authority to proceed, my proposal is dead in the water.
What went wrong?
There are often many senior people under whose remit my proposal might fall and any one of them has authority to stop me if they see fit. But because it’s rare that a proposal falls entirely within one person’s, or even one working group’s, remit no one has sufficient authority to instruct me to proceed. Even if they think it’s a great idea, no one person is sufficiently empowered to say “Yes, you can!”.
This is compounded by the fact that my request doesn’t need immediate attention. Until I get a response I will, apparently, not do anything so a busy senior manager can afford to wait in case they come up with an objection, rather than rashly let me loose only to regret it later. Of course what then happens is the request sinks out of view in an overflowing inbox and no response is ever sent, leaving the proposal paralysed.
What to do?
What I do now is start my proposals with “I intend to…”.
Now if no response is received, I start working. Now if someone has an objection, they need to act immediately to stop me. Either way, some thing’s going to happen and we’re going to move forward.
And it goes both ways. At a recent seminar I attended on leadership, a senior manager mentioned that he actively encouraged his people to submit their proposals as “I intend to…” so he didn’t have to act in order for good ideas to go forward.
Changing from “I would like…” to “I intend…” is one of those simple little changes we can all make, which can make a real and immediate difference to our and our organisation’s productivity.