I recently read a great post on Hoovers about what happens when managers abdicate responsibility. It reminded me of a boss I once had who every year issued the same memo called “Tacit Approval.” The memo was designed to remind everyone of their responsibilities as a manager as well as the basic principles of business.
Believe it or not, some ten plus years later…I still have a copy of that memo. Here are a few key learnings I see every time I read it:
The word tacit means “expressed without words or speech; implied or indicated but not actually expressed.” It represents silent consent and acceptance. In our workplaces, tacit approval is given whenever a manager fails to speak out about existing conditions. Tacit approval leads everyone to assume that existing conditions are acceptable, will be tolerated and allowed to continue.
Not only does tacit approval work against improving performance, it makes it unlikely that standards will be met. Let’s use a simple example, like when a supervisor doesn’t say anything about an employee who’s wearing something more suited for clubbing. What’s going to motivate the employee to wear the proper attire in the future? The supervisor’s silence implies that it’s OK to wear unprofessional clothing. Other employees will see this and, before long, the office has turned into The Viper Room. Trying to re-institute the policy at this point requires a major retraining effort. To avoid this situation, the supervisor should be vocal, but not in an overbearing, sarcastic or caustic way. A timely comment can bring general awareness and serves to remind everyone of the policy.
Some other common examples of tacit approval in the workplace include:
Setting a double standard. Let’s say you have an employee who doesn’t arrive at work on time. The employee must be coached on the need to be punctual. Failure to say something would be silent approval of tardiness. But this also means that you, as the manager, need to be punctual as well. You have to set the example. The hypocrisy of enforcing one standard while demonstrating another will cause resentment and more problems.
Passing the buck. You see someone in another department with an inappropriate screen saver. Because this employee is in another department, you figure it’s not your responsibility and don’t address the issue. Even though you know the screen saver could offend a co-worker or customer. The assumption that someone else will handle it is misconceived. Meanwhile, the employee has the silent approval from a member of the management team.
Tacit approval takes many forms and arises for a variety of reasons. It can often result from fear of conflict or rejection, laziness, or misguided intentions. All that really needs to be done to eliminate tacit approval is to recognize the reasons that tempt you to overlook a situation that you know needs attention.
Speak up in every case that warrants it, in spite of your apprehensions. Before long, the reasons for remaining silent will cease to exist. Your feelings about speaking up to correct something that’s wrong becomes less important to you. It becomes about something being wrong that shouldn’t be.