Three Rules For Effective Delegating
Originally published by Forbes.com
Loren Margolis, Founder & Managing Director, Training & Leadership Success
I recently began a coaching engagement with a Fortune 100 leader. Her main difficulty, according to her manager, was that she was operating “in the weeds.” Her manager wanted her to work more strategically, make higher-level business decisions and delegate the details to her team.
I was curious to see what was getting in the leader’s way of delegating. When I sat down with her in our first coaching session, she revealed that she did delegate but the work had a way of making it back onto her plate. “You take back the monkey!” I said. She looked at me with confusion, so I explained to her what I meant.
In 1999, the Harvard Business Review published an article titled, “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” The authors defined each project or task as a “monkey” that you carry on your back. When you delegate that task to a team member, you’re handing them ownership of the monkey and putting it on their back. But often, and not purposely, that team member returns ownership of the monkey to you.
This transfer happens when they come to you with a request for help with the monkey and you suggest solutions. Their request could very well be legitimate, but, by solving the challenge for them, you inadvertently take on the task.
Instead, ask your employee to propose a solution. “What do you think is the best approach?” is a useful question. Engaging them in problem-solving deepens their self-efficacy and performance, which enables them to keep the monkey.
Sometimes, you unintentionally take the monkey back. For example, you see that a presentation that your team member created doesn’t fully reflect what it should. So, you update it for them.
You believe that by correcting it yourself, it’ll be done right and more quickly than if you had them redo it. Without realizing it, you have just taken back the monkey. You have also added more to your plate and disempowered your employee. Instead, talk with them about the pieces that need correction. Ask them to update it, so the monkey stays on their back.
While it does take time to teach a task, don’t let that deter you. It’s a key investment in your management effectiveness. It develops your people by empowering them and ensures that you spend less time in the future taking back the monkey and more time working strategically.
Three Rules For Keeping The Monkey Off Your Back
1. To start, don’t keep the monkey. Make a list of projects to keep and to delegate. Discuss and decide with your employees how much oversight they need for each project so you don’t micromanage them.
2. Create ownership and empower your people by asking them, “What do you think can be done?” instead of offering solutions when they come to you with a challenge.
3. Intervene as a last-ditch effort and temporarily take back the monkey if it’s truly in trouble. If you do, assess why the monkey’s owner needed the intervention. They may need coaching to deepen their confidence, training to develop additional skills or your help in removing organizational obstacles that are impeding their execution.
How To Handle Common Monkey Scenarios
Scenario 1: A team member texts you and says, “We have a problem. I can’t get the numbers we need for the committee meeting. Gary isn’t returning my call.”
Taking Back The Monkey: You say, “I’ll talk to Gary today about getting the numbers faster.”
That’s Not My Monkey: You say, “That is a problem. Let’s meet to discuss it and please bring some potential solutions.”
Scenario 2: A direct report is calculating projections that you’ll be sending to a partner at the end of the week. The partner has already agreed to that due date, but they see you in a meeting and ask for them now.
Taking Back The Monkey: You finish the calculations now and send the report to the partner.
That’s Not My Monkey: You thank the partner for her request, share that they are being calculated and that she’ll get them before the end of the business day. You ask your team member to complete the projections, explaining that the due date has been accelerated.
Scenario 3: You’re given a draft of a contract that emphasizes the wrong material, even though you thought you were clear when you assigned it.
Taking Back The Monkey: You rewrite the contract. After all, it will take more time to re-explain it.
That’s Not My Monkey: You talk with the contract’s author about the parts that need to be revised and ask him to rewrite.
Scenario 4: Your team member tells you the consultant she’s working with won’t make the edits to the documents you’ve discussed.
Taking Back The Monkey: You reach out directly to the consultant and ask for the edits you need.
That’s Not My Monkey: You ask, “What do you think is the best approach?” And say, “I’d like you to take the lead, but I’m here to support you to think things through.”
Scenario 5: Your direct report asks if you would send an email request to another leader since you know them better and will likely receive a favorable response.
Taking Back The Monkey: You add it to your to-do list and eventually send the email.
That’s Not My Monkey: You ask them to draft the email for you; you send it and copy your direct report noting that they will handle the next steps.
What happened to that leader I coached? After determining how she was getting in the way of her team members’ execution, she stopped taking back the monkey. She made a plan to direct less and ask more questions when they came to her with a challenge. She spent more time teaching instead of stepping in. She and her leader were pleased with the minor tasks that came off of her plate and the more strategic work that filled it.