Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Do You Have a Monkey on Your Back?

Sometimes as managers, we get weighed down with monkeys placed on our backs by our team. I have tried to fight this problem with varying levels of success throughout my career, and got better and better as I went along. It can happen in a flash, and managers should be aware of the dangers involved of letting this happen.

It happens to new managers often. It happens to micro-managers….well, nothing “happens” to micro-managers because that would mean sheer terror for a micro-manager. Let me re-phrase…micro-managers do it. Experienced, effective managers let this happen when they get complacent.

Here is the story.

A manager is sitting in his office one morning. He came in early to plan his day. As his team arrives to work it begins to happen…slowly at first. But by the end of it, it appears to have happened in the blink of an eye.

John comes in with a copy of a report and asks the manager to review it before he turns it over to marketing and wants to know what his next assignment is. This is a 20-page report and should be turned into marketing by tomorrow afternoon.

Lisa pops in to the manager’s office, chats a little about American Idol and then asks, “Could you help me with Peter from Customer Service? I am having trouble getting his help and I cannot finish my assignment until I get those customer retention numbers.”

Steve arrives and asks the manager to please schedule a meeting with the operations managers. Oh, and also invite Connie. Connie should really be there for this meeting.

Dooh! The manager dropped his guard for 20 minutes, and eight of his people, by 9:00am, have come into his office asking for help in some form or another. Now, the manager has eight people sitting at their desks doing nothing all day, waiting for a response from him, while the manager has to stay late to do the work of eight people.

This is not managing. This is doing other people’s work. And doing it ineffectively. The manager now has no time to spend planning, setting the team’s direction, meeting with other managers to discuss the progress of other company projects. There is no time now to have performance review meetings or to give any informal feedback to his people. He certainly does not have time to develop stretch assignments to give his people opportunities to grow.

This happens, to some degree, to all managers. It happens quickly and must be avoided. In each case, there is a way to turn it around back on his people to handle.

To John, the manager could ask if the report is in final draft stage, if John checked the figures with operations or obtained those cost figures from finance.

To Lisa, the manager could say, “Why don’t you call Peter and tell him what you are working on and why it is important. Tell him, I would really appreciate his help on this.”

The manager could ask Steve to set up the meeting…even create the agenda and lead the meeting. “Steve, you know this project better than anyone, why don’t you schedule the meeting, set up the agenda, and if you like, we can review your agenda together if you have any questions about how to proceed.”

WOW! Steve is feeling pretty good about being told he knows the project better than any. He feels important that he can invite all these executives to the meeting and lead that meeting.

Steve is excited and happy. The manager is free to set up and assign a new project to someone on his team. And, no monkeys!

How many monkeys do you have on your back today? Get rid of them.

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