“Anything you don’t like on a burger?” buzzed my phone from across the hospital room.
After a week of sitting bedside with my cancer-stricken one-year-old, I had grown numb to both the medical alarms and the buzzing of new messages of support. “If there’s anything I can do, just let me know” became yet another obligation requiring my response.
I was not thankless. I was exhausted...from making actual life-and-death decisions. And even the simple task of finding dinner became another decision to make. And as I sat with my son exhausted and hungry, my friend’s dinner proposal was an easy-to-grab lifeline.
Fortunately, my son’s condition improved, and a few months later we returned home. Then I returned to work. And while not facing life-and-death decisions anymore, I noticed a parallel. My team kept raising questions which, while well-intentioned, put burdens on me to answer, such as “What would you do in this situation?” or “How would you respond to this client?” While I loved engaging with my team, these questions, much like “If there’s anything I can do,” put small burdens on me. Any one question was fine. But dozens a day compounded into an overwhelming and unsustainable situation.
My team hated it too. They told me that they came to Facebook to make an impact and felt deflated by waiting for me to “rule” on an answer. To recap—both my team and I were frustrated, even though we both had the best intentions to collaborate. My design was wrong. And my burger-delivering friend showed me an alternative by making a proposal instead of a request.
Now our team is working on a principle that we call “make proposals, not requests.” The sports fans call it “playing offense, not defense.” Team members feel more empowered, and our results are better. Explaining the approach was easy; encouraging the behavior took time. Here are a few of the tips that helped.
1. Ask for Editing, Not Authoring
Asking me what I wanted on my burger was brilliant in that it made the decision for me (“You’re having a burger”) while still making me feel in control (“Choose your toppings”). I felt better because I felt in control. And the proposer did too—from influencing the first and most important decision. My team members translate this into work tasks by asking me to edit an announcement instead of writing it, or building a prototype to show me instead of asking my opinion about a hard-to-understand concept.
2. Reduce Friction
At the hospital, one friend messaged me that she wanted to give me a hug...and would be conveniently sitting in the hospital lobby for the next hour. Even though I still needed to make the decision, the act of locating her just a hundred yards away reduced the back-and-forth communication burden. In the office, my most successful team members do the same thing by not making me read multi-page presentations to find their proposal on the last page—they put it on the first page. Often, I trust their work and skip the details. Now, almost all of our proposals are only one page—saving time for everyone.
3. Remember: Your Manager Is Your Client
My team sells ads. And our best-selling solution takes existing content on Facebook Pages and packages it into a “ready to publish” ad. It’s a proposal. Compare that with the alternative—a “request-based” process that requires our clients to make dozens of choices about ad creative, targeting, bidding, and budgeting. The analogy of selling to me resonated immediately.
With practice, I’m finding that helping my team make proposals instead of requests is helping all of us.
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