While I was recently facilitating a panel discussion at the National Affinity Leadership Congress (NALC), one of the audience members asked, “How can I get ERG communication out in a timely basis when my company requires multiple reviews by legal, HR and the diversity council before anything is published?”
Recalling my own days in corporate America and subsequent conversations with hundreds of ERG leaders, I can tell you that this speaker’s issue is probably near the top of the list of ERG leadership frustrations. It actually represents a powerful culture clash between the bureaucratic approval processes of large organizations and the more spontaneous, innovative and creative forces of employee networks.
The usual responses from the organization’s official representatives, which generally do not satisfy the ERG’s desire for more maneuverability, boils down to asking ERG leaders to plan their events 90 or more days in advance — 90 days being an approximate minimum time period to allow for the company’s often slow review process. Of course, in a company with many ERGs and a few executive reviewers, the reality is that a 90-day approval process can double to 180 days as legal, HR, diversity councils and others become bogged down with requests for approval.
So, is there a solution?
The answer is yes — and it’s a simple five-step approach that I’ve been using for years and shared with the participants at NALC. Here it is in a nutshell:
1. Identify free or low-cost copyrighted/licensable images that you want to use for your network brochures, handouts, posters, etc. Find as many image options as possible. Also include in this collection any versions of your company logo.
2. Prepare standard boilerplate text for announcing your various programs, awards events, networking events, culture fairs, etc. Simply leave blank spaces for venue and time/date information.
3. Craft a cover note explaining that you would like to create a library of approved images and text that you can use for future programs. Emphasize in your note how this will save the organization’s “approvers” time by making it unnecessary for them to review each program announcement throughout the course of the year.
4. Send the selected images and text through your approval process. You may need to follow up with phone calls, emails and more explanations, but it’s worth the invested effort to save time and energy later.
5. Save the approved final images and text in a folder for future use. If an image is copyrighted, pay the appropriate fee. You can now mix these approved images with approved text and simply add a date and venue for your future programs and send them out.
Of course, from time to time you may still need to go through the approval process again for a new type of program, but the approach outlined above will significantly cut down on how often you need to go through this arduous procedure. By the way, if you come up with a new program that needs new pictures and text, ask yourself: “Will I be repeating this type of program?” If the answer is yes, perhaps you need to add more options to your template library.
Bureaucracy, while sometimes frustrating with its approval processes and checkpoints, is still a necessary part of coordinating, protecting and managing large organizations. This, of course, always poses a challenge to groups within the company, such as ERGs, that may require more nimbleness to be effective. With a little forethought and by working options through the organizational formal processes in advance, you can loosen the tight bonds of red tape and buy yourself a great deal of flexibility and room to respond quickly — even within the most restrictive bureaucracy.