Cross-approvals - Do you know how to scale approvals?

Last updated by Brady Stroud [SSW] about 2 months ago.See history

In small companies, a single key stakeholder often approves everything, ensuring alignment with the organizational vision and strategy. However, as the company grows, this can lead to bottlenecks. One approach that addresses this is to create an employee responsibility, which lists the people responsible for a specific approval. This list ensures a clearly communicated system for cross-authorization.

Video: Cross-approvals - Do you know how to scale approvals? (4 min)

Benefits of scaling approvals

✅ Significant time savings for the person causing the bottlenecks (aka the "original approver")

✅ Fewer bottlenecks for those seeking approval

✅ Consistent and high-quality approvals

Developing the system

There are 5 steps to developing the new system of approvals:

  1. Identify - Find tasks causing "approval hell" aka bottlenecks
  2. Assign - Appoint trusted subject matter experts to be responsible
  3. Classify - Determine the importance of the task
  4. Implement - Document and induct the new approvers
  5. Monitor - Keep track of each employee's responsibilities

1. Process - Identify tasks causing "approval hell"

Before being able to fix "approval hell", problem tasks need to be identified.

Look for tasks which frequently take a long time to be approved.

For example, there might be delays in approval for induction completion because the person assigned to approve it is often busy.

2. Assign - Appoint trusted subject matter experts to be responsible

Start building out a list of people who are experts on that subject. Those people will become the ones responsible for approvals.

Once the list is compiled, assign each person a priority. That determines the order to contact people.

Tip: Set the "original approver" as the lowest priority to minimize their involvement.

3. Classify - Determine the importance of the task

Some tasks are more valuable than others, meaning the quality check required will differ. For example, a task to fix spelling mistakes doesn't matter as much as deleting invoices. Therefore, you would assign more approvers to the task of deleting invoices.

Figuring out the correct number of approvals can be difficult. Generally, the idea is to reduce the amount of approvals as much as possible without sacrificing quality or risk.

Here are some guidelines:

Number of Approvals: 0

The gold standard is to look for a way to remove approvals entirely. This gold standard can usually be achieved for common sense fixes using tools like Grammarly and ChatGPT. For example, you may decide that any spelling mistake fix can be applied to the company induction system as long as Grammarly has verified it.

In these cases, it becomes a rubber stamp and a 3rd party tool acts as the approver.

Number of Approvals: 1

Tasks that require 1 approval are usually well-documented, routine processes. In that case, the standard acts as the second approver since it is assumed that it has been followed.

A routine leave request is an example of a task that might require 1 approval.

Number of Approvals: 2

2 approvals are for tasks that fall into one of the following categories:

  • They do not follow a well-documented process
  • They frequently have variations from the process
  • They are of high importance

In these cases, a 2nd approval is valuable because:

✅ It establishes confidence in the process

✅ A second perspective results in fewer mistakes slipping through

✅ A single approver may make a rushed or wrong decision

✅ The approvers hold each other accountable

A purchase for $500-$5,000 is an example of a task that might require 2 approvals because it is relatively expensive.

Number of Approvals: 3+ or stick with the "original approver"

When approval is critical to the business, it is worth considering if it should be approved by a "council" of people or by the "original approver". These are tasks where a mistake could be catastrophic for the business. For example, opening a new office might require 3 approvals because it is costly and risky.

4. Implement - Document and induct the new approvers

The final step is to record all the established decisions and induct the new approvers.

  1. Induct each person by having them shadow the "original approver" for at least 3 approval processes, ensuring they understand the goal
  2. Document the new approvers in a central repository, naming it {{ APPROVAL }} Masters
  3. Create a template in the Teams Approvals app to ensure a standard process is followed
  4. Update the standard so that instead of contacting the "original approver", individuals use the Teams approval template and contact the new approvers in order until they get the required number of approvals as determined when classifying the importance of the task

Figure: The Teams Approvals app is a good way to add structure and data capture to the system.

5. Monitor - Keep track of each employee's responsibilities

One problem with this system is responsibility creep! When someone is a trusted individual within the company, they can end up with too many responsibilities, causing new bottlenecks.

To prevent this issue, create reports tracking the number of approvals people do. That way, if someone has too many, you can reallocate some of them.

Figure: A report tracking how many approvals people do is valuable for figuring out where to distribute the workload

Keeping Approvers Aligned

Sometimes, approvers may run into a controversial approval or need clarification about how to handle an approval. When that happens, they should call in the "original approver" to help resolve the problem.

Approvers may also have differing views about how to handle an approval. Disputes between 2 approvers can be solved as follows:

  1. The 2 approvers should have a call to get aligned about how to solve the problem
  2. If they still cannot agree, they should call in a 3rd approver to mediate
  3. If they still cannot agree, then the original approver should act as arbiter

Figure: Bad example - Adam approves the completion of everyone's induction

Figure: Good example - There are 8 Induction Masters responsible for approving everyone's induction

Communicating the streamlined approvals process

This process should ideally be implemented across all business bottlenecks. However, identifying the most problematic approvals can be challenging.

To solve this, communicate the new approval process company-wide, encouraging employees to suggest areas for implementation. This crowdsourcing approach should yield valuable feedback on where to apply the streamlined approval process.

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