Permission Management

Seth Godin invented the idea of permission marketing:

Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.

It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.

It’s a brilliant idea in marketing: focus on fewer but higher value customers. The same concept would work equally well as a management concept. Permission management.

Office relationships are defined by fiat, managerial whims and fundamentally asymmetrical power relationships. This is often well hidden behind ping pong tables and catered lunches, but scratch the surface and offices are a dictatorship. The veneer of autonomy has echos of manufactured consent.

What would managing by permission look like? To start with, I’m talking about real consent and freedom. Outside of a few key values (not vanity metric KPIs) such as quality in your main areas of responsibility and culture (say mentoring a junior colleague), everything is optional.

I mean it. Everything is optional. Each meeting is opt in, it’s your choice where and when you work, you decide if your camera is on — no questions asked.

This means that if you’re a manager and you call a meeting or send a message, the people you ostensibly manage can simply opt out.

To continue with Godin:

Real permission works like this: if you stop showing up, people complain, they ask where you went.

Or in business speak, you have to create value in each interaction as a manager instead of relying on veiled threats to get people to show up.

In practical terms this would result in fewer but more focused meetings. The role of the manager would approach something like servant leadership: listening to colleagues, organically building a consensus, building from the bottom up and putting processes in place that allow people to produce quality work. Contrast this with the average office worker that spends hours a week stuck in pointless meetings, sifting through endless emails and listening to bosses ramble on.

It’s an uncomfortable paradigm shift. Ownership and responsibility are in the hands of contributors (no more hiding behind just doing what the boss said), and leaders can no longer manage by decree — and may well find themselves out of a job if they suddenly had to prove their value to an organization.