Growing your Own Managers

Part 6: Stop doing other people’s work by determining who owns the problem and delegating it.

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To listen to Part 6 of the associated podcast on this subject, please click here!

If you are doing the wrong things, doing them well is not smart and doesn’t fit the theme of growing managers. Plus, it’s a waste of time.

The First Premise

Doing the right thing wrong is better than doing the wrong thing right. The issue is the choice managers make on what receives their attention and what is ignored. Getting this right is essential. Even being less than competent is better than doing things you are good at that don’t matter. By the way, this decision starts with the owner and flows down the organization.

The Second Premise

Not every challenge that crosses your desk (or winds up in your voicemail or email) belongs to you. One force of organizational nature, however, is that problems always rise to the top. Think about a National Geographic movie in which a troop of monkeys is foraging for food on the ground. What happens when danger appears? They scurry screaming up the closest tree. The same thing happens in business. Problems quickly climb until reaching the owner’s office.

The Third Premise

Problems (or in our analogy, monkeys) don’t care which office they live in; they want attention. Ever lived with a monkey? They are noisy, dirty and clingy, making it impossible to work. Most unaware managers become monkey farmers and wonder why they cannot get anything done. The real situation is employee jobs are interfering with their job.

The Fourth Premise

Most managers are their own worst enemy. They operate with the mindset that every employee should see an expert at work and make the transfer easier.

How does this happen? An employee meets you in the hall and says he has a problem. He tells you enough about the problem to create concern, but not enough to solve it on the spot. So you say something like “I will get back to you on that.” Understand that, during the conversation, the monkey moved from their back to yours. Whoever has the next step has the monkey.

Four Rules to Fix It:

1. Determine its Owner

Start by taking out a piece of paper and writing down your total compensation for the year. Given that a normal year has 2,080 work hours, divide your total compensation by 2,000; that is what you are paid per hour. Now you are in the right frame of mind to look at all the monkeys on your desk, in your email and on your voicemail. Which jobs are worth your time? You now have a list of things you should do and this is the perfect target for traditional time management. If it is not worth what it costs, move to the next step.

2. Provide Feeding Instructions

This is all about bringing people into your office and handing their monkeys back. If you are certain they cannot do the job, provide them with feeding instructions on how, but never forget the fourth rule.

3. Shoot It

If this task doesn’t provide value anywhere or isn’t worth the labor, decide not to do it. If that is the decision—shoot it in public to make sure everyone knows to stop work on it immediately.

4. Never Accept Responsibility for the Next Step

Never allow an employee to leave a conversation with you having the next step. It leads to reverse supervision—employees checking with you to see if you finished their work. Hopefully this happened to you enough you can hold the line. Make sure when the conversation is finished, they have the next step and are reporting back to you.

William Eastman is a senior consultant at GreenMark Consulting Group.  

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