The Art of Delegating – don’t take the monkey!

Returning Monkeys to Their Owner

"This situation has been frustrating us both," I answer, "and I know why we're in this trouble." Then, after I cover with her what I had with George about the ground rules of the meeting (the monkey goes out of the office the same way it came in - on her back!), I get to the point: "I'd like you to take these fifty memos of yours," - at this point I lift them out of my briefcase and set them before her - "and mark them carefully with a three-coloured mechanical pencil. When you encounter one of your questions, suggestions or recommendations that someone else in the company (other than you and me) is already being paid to respond to, underline it in red. I'd hate to think that people are paid to respond to things they cannot respond to because the memos are locked in my briefcase. Then, when you run into something that the person in your job is already being paid to react to, underline it in blue. The ones that the person in my job is being paid to react to you'll underline in green. Get the idea?"  

Like George earlier, Ms. A is at this point wiping the perspiration from her forehead. The honey­moon is over for her, too. She realizes that she has been to some degree writing these memos to herself! And she also realizes that what I'm now asking of her is completed staff work, i.e., if there are actions that either she or others can take without my approval, take them, and don't ask me to do the coordinating that she should be doing herself.

  "By when will you have this done?" I ask her.  

"Three weeks?" she replies, lamely. "It's as big as a Sears catalog. At least 150 pages of single-spaced technical reading. Colouring all of that will be a big job." Subordinates are some­times unreasonable in their demands on their bosses, often demanding what they themselves would never do. Ms. A thinks nothing of stopping me in hallways, elevator shafts, cafeteria lines, parking lots and stairwells to ask me about my reaction to one of her status reports, "Fred, what did you think of project 113? It was on page 4 of status report 37!" She demands instant recognition, instant recall, and instantaneous, computerised decision-making. And she wants three weeks to read what she herself wrote? I submit that this is unreasonable.

  "You wrote it," I counter with glee, "and you are going to do the job in one week. Be in my office next week at nine o'clock with the finished product." Dumbstruck, she walks slowly toward the door. She mumbles to herself, "Wonder why I wrote all this stuff?" The right question . . . asked by the right person . . . one year late!
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