Please Sign Here:
How many times have you signed a document without reviewing it, simply because someone said the phrase “sign here?”
When I work with my clients to help improve their ability to deliver services (which spans all levels from the customer on down to design and production), I encounter many contact points were someone requires a signature from a manager before the next step can be taken. My question is always “WHY?”
Most answers focus on the act of signing.
Getting a document signed should be viewed as part of a process, not a singular event.
Sometimes I am told that a signature is required because that is the way that they have always done things around here, and other times I am told that no one is allowed to do anything until the boss signs off on it. Neither of those responses are good reasons at all. Simply putting ink to paper does nothing to provide value, and often just slows down the delivery of services.
The next question I ask is “what does the manager’s signature signify?” Often when I dig deep enough, the response sounds like a Shakespeare soliloquy, making the entire charade sound like a scene from Macbeth.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
-William Shakespeare’s MacBeth
This all leaves me wondering the motive behind the need for a signature?
• A manager’s need to feel important?
• A manager’s desire to exercise control over otherwise capable folk?
• A policy analyst’s empty description that everything must be signed for because that is the policy?
• A cut and past from someone else’s way of doing things without examining why?
If the reason is any of the above, then off with your heads!
A signature is simply evidence signifying that the appropriate steps have been followed appropriately.
I once had a boss that required any purchase order to be passed to him for his signature. He swore that he reviewed these and that nothing ever got past him before placing his signature at the bottom of the form.
He and I had a good working relationship, and on my last day of work, my colleagues held a party in my honor. It was actually more of a roast. When it was my turn to speak I produced a stack of purchase orders signed by him that I had created, had him sign and then stored in my desk drawer for such an occasion. Here is the list of items that he approved for purchase:
• 100 sea monkeys $2500.00
• Sea monkey aquarium $6000.00
• Sea monkey food $200.00
• Swing set to entertain sea monkeys $3325.00
Signed by fools…
When you stand back far enough and examine the intended value of a signature, what the signature is properly meant to be is evidence to support one’s assertion that an evaluation was performed, risks assessed, and approval was given, with acceptance of those risks and accountability for any negative outcomes by the person signing. (Fortunately for my boss, I never processes any of the sea monkey orders that he signed).
If things are going off the rails, find signatures and work back from there to determine which steps in the process are not being performed effectively. At no point should a career become but a walking shadow. It should have meaning and our actions must provide value. We should learn from our yesterdays to understand why signatures are required, and examine our motives to ensure that those actions are just.
Rather than simply creep along in this petty pace from day to day requiring signatures unnecessarily, or rubber-stamping those that require proper evaluation, perform the prerequisite duties.
If signatures are not truly required, then out, out damned process step. If they are required, then perform the analysis that your signature signifies evidence of.