I once was a contractor for a CEO, let’s call him Chris, who had to be the worse CEO I have ever witnessed. Chris was a trained lawyer, you know the type, one who only thought their way of writing was the best. That is why there are so many rewrites when you get two lawyers engaged in a divorce agreement.
Chris would receive a draft report written by an employee who, at the very least, had three years of tertiary experience and some had a doctorate. No matter how knowledgeable they were the report would be rewritten often taking Chris into the early hours of the next morning. It was no wonder that Chris’s wife filed for divorce. As a consequence, staff started to ease up on their standards as they knew the rewrite was a foregone conclusion. Chris was always taking care of the monkey.
In 1999 Oncken and Wass wrote one of the most read HBR papers called “Management of Time: Who’s got the Monkey?” In the paper they had a lovely story about a manager (Paul) who, while walking down the corridor, was met by Sam, his subordinate. “Paul, we have a problem with the report, there is…” Sam explains the issues and because Paul is very busy, he says “Let me have a look at it, send me an email with your work to date and I will get back to you.”
This process continues through the week with Paul’s other subordinates until they all start popping around Paul’s door on Friday asking, “How is it going? I cannot make much progress until you have made a decision.”
On a beautiful sunny Saturday morning Paul goes into the office to look at all the monkeys he has willingly collected during the week. Meanwhile, on a picturesque laid out and manicured golf course a four is about to tee-off. The four are Paul’s subordinates, without a care in the world, as they have offloaded their monkeys to their workaholic boss.
Just recently my wife was diagnosed with an inoperable but curable brain tumour. During this time, I noticed how exceptionally well the local city hospital was run. We are talking about an organisation that is perpetually underfunded, as public funding cannot keep pace with the rising costs of new treatments and the health demands of a growing population. A common problem worldwide.
In this difficult situation I was observing some marvellous lessons in the art of delegation. The brilliant brain surgeon, who took a biopsy of the tumour, was a master at explaining to us what was to happen, the risks and the next steps. When he was on the ward speaking to clients with his light and engaging style three young doctors were shadowing him. In the theatre, they would have assisted in the easier tasks leaving the surgeon to demonstrate how to take a sample of the cancer without damaging any other part of the brain.
Everywhere I looked there was evidence that the hospital was operating at a very high level of competence. It was clear that there had been a substantial investment into “recruiting the right people all the time”, a commitment to training them, and a high level of trust required so that they could perform the important delegated tasks.
Delegating is so important as without its proper use the manager will have less time available in the long-run, have demotivated staff as they don’t get the chance to advance and learn, and lastly, the organisation has increased operational risk as there is too much reliance on a single person. As Drucker reminds us “the more the individual in an organisation grows as a person, the more the organisation can accomplish.”
To read about the Three T’s of delegation, the five rules and some checklist to improve your ability to delegate visit my website for the working guide on the topic.