Is it better to apologise than ask permission?

employee engagement, higher education, internal communications / Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

As internal communicators, we have a unique role to bridge the gap between our organisation, its leaders, and its people. However, this tightrope walk isn’t without its challenges…  

The wonderful Dan Slee from the equally inspiring Comms 2.0 has recently blogged about what to do when your internal communications advice is ignored. This got me thinking about the role of bravery and (responsible) risk-taking in engaging employees.  

Is it better sometimes to apologise, than ask permission? Approval processes, design by committee, and everyone being a communications expert can wear down even the most enthusiastic, creative, and joyful internal communications professional. It can also result in compromised creativity, and lessened impact.  

For the sake of our work (and sometimes sanity), should we on occasion take a calculated risk and circumvent the usual approval hoops?  

Whilst the thought is extremely tempting, I think this really depends on our organisations, its senior leadership, and our immediate managers.  

Sometimes, a calculated risk (with the support of your immediate management) could result in an incredibly impactful campaign with a ‘shock’ value and wow factor that hasn’t been watered down by the well-meaning interventions of colleagues.  

But, it could come at a price… This approach could well damage one of the core elements of our role as internal communicators – trust. We need our senior leaders to trust us to advise them, to help them engage their employees. We need a seat at the table and to be privy to sensitive business information. If our senior leaders don’t trust us, we can’t do our jobs properly.   

So, it’s a difficult call.   

I think I’d advocate a compromise, a middle way, which sees a shortened approvals process for a one-off specific campaign. If we can have the support of one senior manager who can ‘own’ the decision to go it alone, we could have the best of both worlds – the impact of something new and different, with a senior safety net.  

But, this only works if you already have the trust of your senior leadership. You need to have built trust in your professional judgement, to have already delivered benefits for the business, and to be in the position of a trusted advisor before you can take risks.  

What is your attitude to risk? Does the level of risk you’re willing to take depend on the potential return or results?   

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