In most organisations, work often needs to be formally approved or signed-off by Senior Executives before the work can begin or the next phase of the project. Executives also have to accept leave requests, sickness reports, expenses, invoices, purchase orders and budget requests. The list is pretty endless, and it can take up a lot of time and energy to get the approval, particularly when the Executive has a packed schedule. The approval process usually involves Assistants, and as we all know, it can be a haphazard process. In this article, we will provide everything you need to ensure the process is smooth, efficient and standardised so that the time it takes to get work or requests approved increases rapidly.

How and when to get sign-off / approved

The first step is looking at how your colleague’s are submitting the requests. Are they going directly to your Executive, or do they come to you first? Are they doing both? Speak with your Executive and ask that every request comes to you first. This is important, you know when they are busy, you know what they have going on that day and when they can not be disturbed. Once this is established, you need to work on a submissions process. It can be a simple ‘approvals’ tray that sits on your desk, and your colleagues drop off their documents for signature, and then you take that file with you into your next one-to-one with your Executive. This system can be replicated for email approval and any online systems you use. You might want to provide those submitting the approvals with a receipt to show that you have received the notice and you are actioning the request.

What can you approve without your Executive’s overview? 

The most common areas of approvals that Assistants can manage for their Executive’s are expenses and annual leave requests. We have examples of both processes that you can follow. When working on a planned approval process with your Executive, the more you can approve on their behalf, the quicker the process will take.

Timing and planning

Waiting for an Executive to approve a project milestone or budget request can hold up your colleague’s work, and of course, they will get frustrated and more often than not take their frustration out on you. You will need to manage the process so that they understand the time frame of the approval and when they can expect an answer from your Executive. Keep them in the loop if there is a delay, particularly if the consent is not urgent for your Executive. If you find this is often the case, it is worth delegating this task to a senior member of your Executive’s team to also have approval over lower-level work. After this, if your Executive still has to approve a lot of work, you should put the time in their diary each week to get through all of the paperwork.

Automate the approval process 

Waiting for approvals and signatures really can slow projects and work down. If staff are also waiting a long time for annual leave requests or expenses recouped, this can lead to low morale and unnecessary frustrations with their organisation. Using technology for approvals can speed the process up, and I highly recommend that you use software for annual leave requests, sickness and expenses. In this day and age, it is unnecessary to use paper for these requests.

Have a policy in place

Every organisation should have travel, expenses and annual leave policies. This ensures all of your staff know where they stand when it comes to these aspects of the role. If your Executive does not approve certain parts of a trip for example because they fall outside of the policy, you will be able to draw your colleague’s attention to this and alleviate any push-back from your colleague.

You should also have a policy in place for the approval itself. For example,  if there are any supporting documents your colleague needs to complete before approval, this should be submitted to you before you take everything to your Executive. If the supporting material is not attached, you can reject the submission before it goes to your Executive.

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