What does “Keep me informed” mean? Figure it out by asking “Before or after?” Most people won’t know what you mean with that question. But it will prompt a conversation of when to ask, discuss, recommend, inform, report or skip. There’s a time and place for each – which makes this worth clarifying with your boss, peers and subordinates.
- Ask, they can tell you.
- Discuss, you can figure it out together.
- Recommend, they can ratchet up your best current thinking.
- Inform someone what you intend to do before you do it, they can still provide input, or not.
- Report to someone after the fact, they can prepare for what happens next.
- Skip sharing information with someone, they can focus on other things.
Let’s go deeper.
Asking is the most subservient option. You’re ceding power to the person you’re asking. And that’s appropriate sometimes.
Discussing is a partnership approach. Co-create the way forward – which will likely be better than either of you could have done on your own and facilitate learning. Use sparingly, given the time required.
Recommending happens after you’ve done your homework. You’ve likely done the research, gathered and assessed the data, gotten input from others and pulled together your best current thinking.
You’re selling so others can say ‘Yes,” give you input, or engage in a discussion depending on the situation.
Inform and Report
The critical difference between “inform” and “report” is timing. Informing happens before and reporting happens after.
Green glass shape trademark
The UK changed its trademark laws to allow for trademarking shapes and we got shape trademark #1 for Coca-Cola’s green glass bottle.
I pulled together two competing advertising agencies and two competing PR agencies and locked them in a room with our cola marketing team and a facilitator. By the end of the day, they had an amazingly bold plan to secure 100% awareness of our new trademark within 24 hours of the launch essentially by putting a cold contour bottle of Coca-Cola in the hand of everyone in the UK on one day. I approved the plan and funding on the spot.
The next day I went to my boss and said, “You need to know what I approved yesterday.” He replied, “Sounds exciting.” That was informing him before we did much work or spent much money, giving him the opportunity to veto my decision or dig in. He chose to let it run.
The program doubled our growth rate.
We’d cracked the code on growing the Puritan cooking oil business at Procter & Gamble with a combination of dietitian recommendations, public relations and advertising focused on our “healthier cooking oil” positioning. But we were having a hard time managing our own internal bureaucratic decision-making processes.
I pulled an associate brand manager and agency account manager together and charged them with implementing an advertorial test. I directed them to create the advertising and the test protocols and come back to me for my approval the day before the test started. “I’m telling you now that I’m going to approve whatever you show me. But it has to be my approval and my risk.”
They did what I asked and I approved it.
The next day I went to my boss and said “You need to know about the test launching today.” That was reporting after the fact and not giving the bureaucracy a chance to slow us down.
The test worked. We expanded it nationally and grew the business +50%.
Not informing some people in any way is often the right choice. It’s the right choice when the impact on things they care about is minimal enough so that it’s not worth any of their time.
The Small Print
This framework is generally applicable and specifically dangerous. Align your thinking with others – and especially your boss – to understand when to apply each approach. Have a bias to inform before the fact versus report after the fact – especially in the early days of a relationship.