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

Rule 4

A pro knows, however, that when you work with people, things can go wrong. For example, what does the pro do when he or she gets stood up at feeding time? That's what happens in the next story.  

Monkey feeding time for Keith was scheduled for 2:00. The appointed hour has arrived and I'm waiting in my office. And there's no Keith. 2:05, no Keith. Well now, what you know and I don't know is Keith just plain forgot. Now that can happen to anybody. However, technically what do we call it? Insubordination. Only he doesn't know that because he just forgot. At 2:15 Keith still isn't here and I am steamed. What am I going to do? If I go after him and tell him to get in here, then who will have assumed responsibility? I will have and that's a mistake because you don't teach people to assume responsibility by taking it away from them. That's why the responsibility is going to have to stay there. Now, that does reduce my options, but it doesn't eliminate them.

At 2:15, I call to Mabel, my secretary, and say "Mabel, we are faced. with a crisis." She wheels around, calls up each one of my subordinates on the telephone and says one word to them, "Crisis." Then when everything is quiet I say "Gentlemen, I've gathered you here together be­cause we are faced with a crisis. Fifteen minutes ago I was stood up at monkey feeding time. Now, I tolerate human failing, first in myself and then in others; and that is why I will not name names, nor will I point a finger. But this crisis is so severe that I'm calling all of you together, even though only one person infracted, to make sure that none of you will ever do this thing again. That's how important this is. Now, I want to explain to you your condition of employment, which I thought I'd explained before, but I want to repeat it. It is a condition of your employment that you show up at monkey feeding time. Have I made myself clear?"  

Now, of course, to be very realistic I know that there will be times when the monkey feeding schedule could cost the company more money than it can contribute.

Let's say that I see I'm going to feed Keith's monkey at 3:00. But at 9:00 this morning Keith calls me. He says, "Fred, I see that I'm to be in your office at 3:00 to feed the monkey. However, I just got a call from one of our customers who claims that the castings that we're turning out for them don't quite fit the product that we're making. So, we'd like to send some engineers down and some of our sales people and see if we can't iron this thing out." This is going to take all day, and I can't be two places at once, so I suggest that we reschedule the feeding time of this monkey." Now, I ask you. What do you think I ought to do? Accede to it? Well, of course. After all, it's the customers who put profit on the employees' tables. There's no way I'm not going to reschedule this thing."  But suppose, on the other hand, Keith calls me and says, "Fred, I could be there at 3:00, I've got nothing else scheduled. But I've been terribly busy and I've been unable to do anything about this monkey. Therefore, at 3:00 I'll have nothing to report." So, I say to Keith. "Of course, I know you're short handed and you're overworked and it's quite well understood that you wouldn't have made any progress. Don't worry about it. But that has nothing to do with the feeding of the monkey. In order for the monkey to survive, it must be fed. So we're going to feed it anyway at 3:00. Be here." Keith is astonished, He says, "Wait a minute Stancombe, what would I talk about if I've made no progress?" And I say, "You'll have plenty to talk about Keith. You will report to me in detail the no progress you have made. And be­cause there's such an enormous amount of it, I hope you can cram the whole thing into five minutes." And I hang up.  

When a normal human being is confronted with two possible courses of action, both of them un­pleasant, you can count on the person to choose the less unpleasant of the two. What course of action is open to him? Either to do something or do nothing. And which do you think he will regard as being the less unpleasant of the two? To do something.

This story brings us to the fourth rule for the care and feeding of monkeys: ­  

Monkey feeding appointments may, in case of conflict, the rescheduled at the suggestion of either party, but may never be indefinitely postponed.

Failure to make progress shall not be accepted as a reason for rescheduling a feeding appointment.
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