December 3; There Is One Thing That Can Be Done ‘One Way,’ That Is: Delegation
MANAGEMENT BY THE BOOK:
365 Daily Bible Verse &
One-Minute Management Lessons For The Busy Faithful

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December 3

They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads

and put them on other people’s shoulders,
but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Matthew 23:4

There Is One Thing That Can Be Done ‘One Way,’ That Is: Delegation

Next Move

“Watch John,” said my friend as the board meeting began. John was the Chair.

“Watch what?” I am clueless. This is not unusual.

“Watch what he does and how he does it,” my colleague goes a-mentoring on me. He is a patient older-wiser man.

***

The four parts of management are the verbs, ‘plan’ ‘lead’ ‘control’ and ‘organize.’ The last is the orderly assembly of resources — including human – of who does what. The manager can only do her job, that is, getting things done through others, when she delegates tasks. The delegated task is a ‘burden’ to be carried until the task is completed. It is a monkey on the subordinate’s back.

“Monkey on his back” is a metaphor for a drug addiction or a worrisome weight on one’s shoulders. In business “monkey” can mean “the next move.”

The earliest recorded instance of this monkey business might be in ancient Egyptian mythology. Thoth was their deity of wisdom, writing and learning. He had the head of a baboon. And as a scholar he would sit “on the backs” of scribes and watch over their efforts.

“Where’s the monkey?” is the key question everyone should be asking in every management scenario in any organization. The modern monkey derivation is from the classic article, Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey? by William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass. The article was published in 1974 by Harvard Business Review and is one of HBR’s two best-selling reprints. The writers tell the story,

Let us imagine that a manager is walking down the hall and that he notices one of his subordinates, Jones, coming his way. When the two meet, Jones greets the manager with, “Good morning. By the way, we’ve got a problem. You see….”


As Jones continues, the manager recognizes in this problem the two characteristics common to all the problems his subordinates gratuitously bring to his attention. Namely, the manager knows (a) enough to get involved, but (b) not enough to make the on-the-spot decision expected of him.


Eventually, the manager says, “So glad you brought this up. I’m in a rush right now. Meanwhile, let me think about it, and I’ll let you know.” Then he and Jones part company.


Let us analyze what just happened. Before the two of them met, on whose back was the “monkey”? The subordinate’s.
After they parted, on whose back was it? The manager’s.


Subordinate-imposed time begins the moment a monkey successfully leaps from the back of a subordinate to the back of his or her superior and does not end until the monkey is returned to its proper owner for care and feeding.


In accepting the monkey, the manager has voluntarily assumed a position subordinate to his subordinate. That is, he has allowed Jones to make him her subordinate by doing two things a subordinate is generally expected to do for a boss—the manager has accepted a responsibility from his subordinate, and the manager has promised her a progress report.

The monkey is the task. And the animal resides on the individual’s back who is responsible for the next step, the next action.

The manager must always know where the monkeys are. And must ensure that the monkeys always leap from high levels to low.

Monkeys that move up from subordinate to manager are reverse delegation — this is not healthy for the relationship or the organization or capitalism.

The manager who would allow an upward-leaping monkey is an amateur in need of professional help.

***

The board meeting was closing. It was a good meeting: a rare business. John, who was commanding the chair, was not quite done. He ran through the action items, then double-checked who was doing what and when. The people responsible for the next moves were clearly outlined. I didn’t know how rare that was.

“Did you see that?” my mentor quizzed. I search for words for the new experience.

“John put the monkeys on the proper backs.”

They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Matthew 23:4

###

Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey? by William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass, Harvard Business Review, 1974.

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