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

Rule 5

Now here's the story for Rule Number 5.

On Monday, it's going to happen. You are going to be walking down the hallway, your subordinate is going to be coming up the halfway, and you'll have everything you can do to hold back that smug smile of self-satisfaction, because you know what the opener will be and you can't wait to see the shock on your subordinate's face when you bat the monkey back. Your subordinate says "Hi boss, we have a problem," and you ask what it is.

  Half an hour goes by, you can't spend any more time there, and you say to yourself, "It's not so easy as when Stancombe was telling about it. What would Stancombe do now?" So you say to your subordinate, "Would you please reduce all that you've said to memorandum form and then include anything else that you haven't said, so that you have it all laid out there in not more than one page. Then send it to me."  

The next morning the interoffice mail messenger brings the memorandum and lays it in your "IN" basket. You read the memorandum, and by the time you get down to the signature whose move does it have to be? Your move, no question about it. Even if tearing it up and throwing it away is the next move, you've still got to do that, right? And 10 minutes later, your subordinate walks by your office and says, "Did you get my memorandum?" You've got the worker role, right? You say, "Yeah, I got it." Your subordinate says, "Did you read it?" You say, "Yeah, I read it." Your subordinate says, "What are you doing about it?"

  Was your mistake that you asked for a memorandum? Of course not. There are scores of perfectly good reasons why you could ask for a memorandum - documentation; future reference, or to refresh your memory. But what should you have said instead? Bring it to me, not send it.  

Your subordinate would bring you the memorandum, and you'd say, "Wait a minute, come back here, sit down; never again will I read a memorandum in isolation. Read it to me. That will give me the freedom to interrupt you with Kipling's famous six servants - who, how, why, what, when and where." After about twenty minutes, you say "Now that I've got a gut-feel of the central fact of this, the next item on our agenda is for you and me to figure out how the next move might conceivably be yours."

And this brings us to the fifth rule for the care and feeding of monkeys:

Monkeys shall be fed face to face whenever possible, otherwise by telephone, but never by mail. Memoranda and reports may at times be used in the feeding process but cannot substitute for it.

  What does the pro do when the review of a memorandum clearly indicates that the next move is his or hers, not the subordinate's? Here's a typical example of how that might hap­pen to you-and how you might react.  

The next move might be to touch base with the financial vice-president. Your subordinate is only a one-feather Indian, and the financial vice-­president is a fifteen-feather Indian. And protocol and status differentials don't permit your subordinate to talk to a vice-president. So you say, "You will go in and see him anyway, but I will come along with you. We're going to pull the thing off in such a way that the vice-president will think that you are coming along with me, but you and I won't be mixed up on that point, will we?"

  Or again on another occasion, maybe the next move will have to be yours, the boss's. So you say, "Well, I guess that monkey is mine, only I can do it, you're not authorized to do it. But you can see from the pile of work I've got on my desk, I'm not going to get to that thing in twenty­ four hours. Therefore, for the next twenty-four hours, Sally, that monkey is going to have to sleep overnight someplace. Monkeys sleep overnight just as soundly on a subordinate's back as they do on a superiors back. They don't care where they sleep. Therefore; babysit this thing and be back tomorrow, twenty-four hours from now, for its feeding." She comes pack the next day, and says "here's the monkey." You say, "What shape's it in?" She says, "The same as when I took it out yesterday." You say: "Well, if you look at my desk you know as well as I do ; I'm still not going to get to it, so babysit it for another twenty-four hours and be back."  

After the thirty-fifth round trip, she's getting pretty tired of this so she says, "How long is this going to keep up? I've got to get rid of this monkey." Now if you'd only given that monkey to Sally to file someplace, she wouldn't worry about it. It's the round-trips that are getting to her! You say, "I don't know how you're going to get rid of this monkey, except in one way. And that would be if you would come up with an idea."

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