“Have you put it in the pinks?”
This was the question we asked each other pretty much daily in one of the first charities I worked for, back in the mists of time (OK, the mid-1990s). I know what you’re thinking: “What did this mean? What were the pinks? I hope it’s nothing rude. Dare I read on?”
There’s nothing to worry about, of course, but thanks for sticking with it. This was the thing: whenever we printed out a letter in the fundraising team, we would photocopy it once for our relevant file, and then a second time for the ‘pinks folder’, so called presumably (I never thought to ask) because originally the ‘carbon copy’ of the paper was pink. We would then circulate this ream of papers among the team, so we could all see what everyone else was doing.
Yes, you’ve guessed it. It didn’t really work for a number of reasons, though the intent was good. And it was particularly bad for the environment, of course.
There was no filter. We didn’t know what to concentrate on. Eventually we didn’t really read any of it.
“I only eat pink crisps“
A few years later, one of my nieces went through a phase that lasted about a year of refusing all crisps unless they were prawn cocktail flavour. This was because the packets were pink, and this was by some distance her favourite colour, as she was about four at the time. I need to remind her of this period, because she’s graduated this summer with an art degree, so I believe her palette has broadened just a little since then.
This didn’t last forever of course.
There was too much filter. Prawn cocktail is quite a niche taste, and she soon realised she preferred other flavours, even if their packets were less pleasing to her eye.
“Stop copying me in to everything”
Fast forward a decade or so, and I was running the fundraising for a small national charity, when my manager called me in to his office. Email had arrived by this point – no pinks files these days – and I was mis-using it with a vengeance, copying him in to practically every missive I sent.
He made two points that stuck with me ever since
- He didn’t know what his role was in these messages. Was he being consulted or informed? Did he need to take action?
- He told me that I needed to know he trusted me to do my job without his ‘cover’. I could be responsible.
Oh, yes, and the walls of his office were painted pink. Actually, they weren’t, but it would have made this blog a little neater, so let’s pretend they were.
Work out your filter – consult or inform?
Only in more recent years have I come across the RACI matrix, as a useful way of delineating different roles in tackling a piece of work: Who is Responsible? Accountable? Who should be Consulted? Who needs to be Informed?
I’ll leave the distinction between responsible and accountable to another blog. The point of all these pink anecdotes is to talk about the difference between being consulted and being informed.
We’re all busy, right? You’ll have worked out from all three vignettes that I’m thinking here about how we filter what crosses our desks, but also how we work out what we pass upwards or onto colleagues.
The Management Centre have produced a superb piece about six different levels of authority, which I’ve found extremely helpful.
Essentially, it’s about understanding when you need to keep your manager informed, and when you need their input before you take action. And as a manager, it’s about being clear on this distinction so that your direct reports don’t hammer your inbox until it’s bent out of shape.
Get this right, and you shouldn’t have to read through reams of paperwork without being clear why it’s relevant, you shouldn’t always have to be doing the same tasks (or eating the same flavour crisps, if you will), and your inbox should become that bit more manageable.
I hope you’re tickled pink at the prospect.