As a boss, have you ever been frustrated by employees who either (a) kept you in the dark or (b) sought your approval for everything?

As an employee, have you ever been frustrated by bosses who either (a) kept you in the dark or (b) insisted on their approval for everything?

If you’re a boss, you know that being left in the dark can erode trust and produce micromanagement or avoidance. Yet continually being interrupted to help others make decisions can be frustrating and also lead to a loss of trust and confidence.

If you’re an employee asking the boss’s permission to do something, you might be told “yes” or “no.” Or you might be told . . . nothing. Being told nothing, you might go ahead and act—and risk doing the “wrong” thing and having to beg forgiveness later. Or, you might just do . . . nothing. Remain in limbo.

The permission/forgiveness dichotomy causes another problem. Have you ever been asked a yes-or-no question when you weren’t comfortable with either answer? Of course! Perhaps you weren’t sure or perhaps you thought “no,” but were hesitant to say so.

I’ve experienced these delegation challenges both as a boss and as an employee reporting to a boss. As a result, I recommend incorporating an approach I call “per-giveness” as part of your boss-employee communications. When a decision needs to be made, it falls into three categories:

  1. Permission: advance authorization from the boss;
  2. Forgiveness: Just do it; if it goes wrong, offer a mea culpa; or
  3. Per-giveness: Give the boss notice of a pending issue for decision and an opportunity to weigh in, but don’t require a response in order to act.

For decisions that fall into the “per-giveness” category, let your boss know the following three pieces of information and a closing statement:

  1. what you’re planning to do;
  2. when you’re planning to do it;
  3. why your intended course of action is optimal; and
  4. this closing statement: “Let me know if you have questions or would like to discuss this.”

Per-giveness in Action

When I was managing shareholder of Ogletree Deakins’ Portland office, I relied heavily on my office administrator (OA). Per-giveness became part of our delegation dialogue. Certain decisions fell in the permission category: “Don’t proceed without my express approval”. For example: “Jathan, I think the office needs to be remodeled and I have a bid of $47,000. May I go forward with this?” Other decisions fell under forgiveness: “Go ahead and do it”. Here is an example: “I’ve authorized two hours of secretarial overtime this evening.” And others fell in between (per-giveness): “Jathan, at my staff meeting on Monday at 10:00 a.m., I plan to announce a new protocol related to scheduling vacations that is based on the following . . . Let me know if you have questions or wish to discuss this.”

My OA and I periodically assessed the types of decisions that belonged in each category and made adjustments. How did this help us? From my perspective as the boss, it promoted trust, confidence, and efficiency. I never had to worry, “What’s she up to now?!” Yet I wasn’t bogged down by having to make lots of decisions to keep things running. Also, I had a new option for decisions that fell in the gray area. When my OA gave notice of an impending action, I wasn’t required to endorse or reject her recommended action. If I was on the fence, I could read her per-giveness message and . . . do nothing. Let her act as she thinks appropriate.

From my OA’s standpoint, this three-category decision-making approach created a nice balance—management without micromanagement. Moreover, it eliminated the frustrating and often enervating experience of sending requests to a boss who doesn’t respond.

In summary, relieve yourself of the either-or dilemma of permission or forgiveness. Instead, ask which box the decision falls into:

  • Ask permission?
  • (Potentially) beg forgiveness?
  • Apply per-giveness?