Effectively managing people is somewhat of an art form, and not something that everyone can do well. Skilled delegation, despite the current “open office, team empowerment” business jargon of the day, is still part of effective management. And as many of us know all too well, there is a fine line between delegation and dumping.
Merriam Webster tells us that “delegating” is “the act of empowering to act for another”. Good delegators manage tasks by assigning useful elements to competent people; there is an element of both development and trust associated with it.
Dumping, on the other hand, is merely the handing off of an unpleasant task or problem, with that of the “problem” variety almost always involving a monkey on someone's back.
That damn, stinking, pooh flinging monkey.
Here is the thing that many don’t realize when it comes to delegating or dumping. Delegating is generally a “top down” activity, performed from boss to subordinate. There are team environments where a collective body can agree to delegate tasks, but delegation largely is a one way street. Dumping, on the other hand, is a bi-directional thoroughfare, and that makes it one of the most dangerous roadways around for the manager left unaware.
And why would that be, you ask?
Simple. Many bosses make it too easy for employees to dump problems on them; to pass the monkey on their back up the chain of command to another unsuspecting soul.
It works this way:
An employee enters their supervisor’s office and says, “Boss, we have a problem.”
The boss replies, “Really, What is our problem?”
The employee says, “The disgronificator on the Milliewapatron is not working right. We had to run three rounds of Gertinlupen to get even a base reading that made sense.”
The boss says, “Hmph, I’ll go down to the factory floor and look into the Milliewapatron’s disgronificator.”
And with that, the recently unencumbered employee goes back to surfing porn in his cubicle, while the boss adds another unexpected task to his day.
The monkey hath been transferred.
There is such an easy solution to this. What the boss missed in this simplified scenario was the opportunity to convert an “upward dumping motion” into an effectively executed delegation. And it could be performed with as little as one simple question. One easy peasy query would’ve allowed that supervisor to beat that monkey like he owned it (which, by the way, he now does).
All he had to do was ask: “And what do you think we should do about it?”
With that simple question, he gives the associate ample opportunity to solve his own problem. He could analyze and suggest alternative solutions. And the boss could provide input, and advise where needed on various solutions. In the end, the employee could be tasked (delegated) with implementing a solution to the issue they tried to pass up the chain of command.
I learned long ago that the people who can bring you problems – those who know enough about the operation to offer a significant diagnosis, very often also have the potential solutions. My parents owned a motel and restaurant when I was growing up. We always noted that on the rare occasion when they would try to take a day off, the phone would ring several times with employees asking about one particular problem or another. They would often know what to do, but would automatically default to the highest available person to make a final decision. It was my father who pointed out, however, that when we were out of town and unavailable the decisions just got made; any problems were dealt with by employees who knew the business and had no choice but to call the shots when needed.
And far more often than not, they called the correct shots.
When it comes to empowering employees to produce solutions, all a manager need do is ask. People I work with generally do this as part of their nature. Good people may need a sounding board, or want to make sure their ideas are within the acceptable scope for the company, but empowered to think outside the box, can deal with the monkeys on their back quite effectively.
Effective managers don’t have employees that bring problems. They have employees that bring solutions. And that saves you the trouble of having to beat those pooh flinging bastards with a stick. And by pooh flinging bastards I of course meant the monkeys, not your employees, just in case there is any confusion.
I should also note that no monkeys were harmed in the writing of this article.