How to Limit Subordinates From Making Decisions Without Your Sign-Off

Bouts of miscommunication are indiscriminate to the type of organization you hold a leadership position in.

Though consequences of professional miscommunication vary in downstream effects, the frustration they cause is comparable on all fronts. Bouts of miscommunication touch on topics of trust, dependence, and assuredness. One instance of miscommunication with your subordinates can leave you questioning the trust you place in them as their leader going forward.

Those whose actions are guided by misinterpreted knowledge, are easy to incorrectly lay blame on. Leaders often fall into the trap of attempting to correct and discipline an act which was birthed from subpar communication habits on all sides.

Miscommunications and misunderstandings are frequent influencers of decisions made without your consent as a leader. The team you manage may make decisions among themselves which you typically expect to sign off on. Their acts of incorrectly doing so however, will often be supported by your own unproductive communication habits.

Limiting decisions made without your consent, as a leader, is necessary to limit risk. This article proposes ways of doing that which are rooted in establishing effective communication norms.


Own and Guard Portions of Information Needed for Proper Authorization

If your subordinates have all the necessary information to make an informed decision on an important issue, then you’ve already taken a back seat. In knowing enough to make an educated decision, your subordinates will be likelier to forgo attaining your authorization. The path of least resistance will be most traveled in the face of decisions whose perceived importance is misconceived by the parties involved.

Your team will feel at peace making a decision when they have all the necessary information needed to make it. They’ll be likelier to ignore the feeling of something being missing in the equation (your sign-off). Having the necessary knowledge to make a decision combined with a sloppy analysis of that decision’s downstream effects will understandably arm your subordinates with a dangerous confidence in their acts.

Strive to always have something tangible, valuable, and exclusive in addition to expecting to be the last one to sign off on decisions. Do not rely on your subordinates’ mere analysis of how important the decisions they’re faced with are in motivating them to come to you.

Ensure you position yourself as having the necessary stakeholder contacts, past email chains, unique communication channels, necessary documentation, etc. As your subordinates come to you for the necessary information, you will have opportunities to insert yourself into the decision making process and keep on top of the ongoing events.


Maintain Structured Habits: Sign-Off Requests Even in Casual Times

Maintain stringent oversight over how established decision making processes morph when you develop personal relationships with your subordinates. Though familiarity and comfort are generally positive contributors to a team’s capacity to interoperate, an easing of previously stringent decision making processes is a risk to avoid.

Maintaining structured habits such as those which demand proper requests for sign-offs will be a social challenge in your growing relationships with your subordinates. Be careful of allowing lax relationships with your subordinates bleed into behaviors which should remain free of personal favors and implicit understandings.

Discretely and clearly label decision points which need sign-offs, even if the conversations surrounding those decision points are casual. Ensure you be as clear as possible in terms of when you expect subordinates to come to you for sign-off. To do so, you’ll find yourself being required to know when to cut a casual professional energy with a knife of stringent and habitual expectation.

Your ability to balance the development of a casual relationship with your subordinates with the upkeep of stringent and clear expectations is important to focus on and cultivate.

A general rule of thumb in this regard is to never give up an inch in regards to making decision sign-offs more lax. Do not allow even the smallest assumptions to be made in regards to what your expected decision will be surrounding a certain topic. Your own laziness in making small decisions under your official ownership will come back to bite you when the clarity of the types of assumptions your subordinates make blurs.


Giving Certain Employees More Sign-Off Responsibility Makes Them Loyal to You

Leveraging certain subordinates’ expertise, or areas of focus, is a good mitigating strategy to unstructured sign-offs taking place among your teams. Your act of granting strict sign-off privileges surrounding an area which is clearly identified will birth a certain loyalty in those whom you give that power to.

The individuals you deem to be subject matter experts with extended sign-off privileges will be likely to consult you on some of the more difficult decisions they have to make. They will perceive your open, but fenced in, trust in them as an invitation to openly communicate some of the decisions that you burden them with.

Assigning employees with a certain amount of sign-off  authority thereby limits the chances of teams making uneducated decisions they perceive to be unimportant, but also introduces someone who has vested interest in communicating the team’s dialogue to you. That individual will see you as having placed trust in their ability, which will motivate them to prove you right by being more involved in your professional day.

As you contemplate how to assign specific employees authority to make sign-offs in specific areas of a team’s collaborative process, there are a few points you should know:

  1. Establish decision parameters clear enough for all stakeholders (the individual being granted privileges, the rest of the team, senior leadership, clients, etc.) to understand.
  2. Clearly communicate your trust in the individual being granted the capacity to make decisions to the people they will be making those decisions around. Do not rely on that individual to communicate anything on your behalf to those they’ll be making decisions around. Your clear announcement will limit the push-back these trusted individuals receive.
  3. Establish touch-points with both, the team as well as the trusted individual in question to discuss decisions made surrounding the progress of work. Hearing both sides of the process is critical to ensuring accurate recital of how this structure operates.


Stringent With the Team, Flexible With the Client: Make External Stakeholders Want to Come to You

A common culprit contributing to unauthorized sign-offs of decisions which you deem important, is the influence of external stakeholders on members of your team. The professional context in which your team exists likely calls for the interaction with stakeholders external to that context. Those stakeholders can be members of distant departments, or clients external to the organization.

Limiting stakeholders’ influence on the everyday expectations you have of your team relies on diverting a particular stakeholder’s desire to be treated in a special way. That diversion works well when the stakeholder in question views you as a more flexible entity than members of your team. Your reputation as a stringent enforcer of particular standards and rules matters most for your team to adopt and abide by. With stakeholders on the other hand, establishing the inverse notion is key to making them bypass trying to influence your team without your knowledge and come directly to you.

Your team should have the confidence to be rock solid in their relations with various stakeholders by knowing that those stakeholders can always go to you with an issue or a request for special treatment. It is thereby important for you to communicate that it’s encouraged to send dissatisfied stakeholders your way under any special circumstance. When those stakeholders do come to you, establish a reputation of being a flexible leader, but only if their requests for any special intervention are done through you.


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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.