success in business

Managing monkeys: The key to effective problem solving


Have you ever felt like things would not get done if it wasn’t for you? The truth is, there are times when our expertise is needed. But many times we take on other people's jobs and challenges instead of choosing to train them or equip them in problem solving on their own.

Karen called my office recently describing the challenges of her growing business.

“I’ve been working 7 days a week for the past 6 months. Everything seems to fall on me if it is going to be done correctly.“

As Karen began to describe her dilemma, she talked about situations in which her staff would come to her with production, human resources or other business related issues. Since she started her small business a few years back, she has grown accustomed to taking on the challenges and helping employees. Now that the business is growing the assumed workload has become overwhelming.

Karen’s not alone in her management style. I’ve been guilty of assuming other people's problems with great intentions of helping them. But what often ends up happening is their problem becomes my problem and I take the responsibilty of problem solving out of their control. We call this Monkey-on-the-Back Management: an employee comes into a meeting with a monkey on their back and leaves with the monkey on your back.

Think about the last time an employee walked into your office with a problem, or monkey on their back. The monkey may have been an issue with IT, HR, accounting, or a difficult vendor. How did you respond?

Help your employees develop problem solving skills

The goal is to equip your team to take care of the problem. Have them come up with solutions. Don’t let them dump the problem on you. Don’t let them leave their monkey in your office!

In the book The One Minute Manager, authors Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson provide some practical ideas on keeping the monkeys out of your office. The book presents several studies in medicine and behavioral sciences that clearly explain how equipping others is more effective for your time management than solving their problems.

Next time an employee comes to you with an issue, take a minute to determine if they are capable and equipped to solve the problem. If they are, start by asking questions that help them talk through the problem. Often times when they process the problem out loud, they will start to offer potential solutions out loud as well. This provides you the opportunity to guide and train them in addressing the issue without taking over. Sharpening their problem solving skills is not only beneficial for you in the long-run but it allows an opportunity for the employee to understand and find encouragement in the value that they bring to the team.

Unless you are a zoo keeper, keep the monkey’s out!

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It's not my fault; A lesson in personal accountability


Fulling_Management_Personal_Accountability_largeWe've all been in a position where we've seen people blame everyone except themselves for a problem. And if we're honest with ourselves, we've probably been in the same boat. One thing I've recognized, personal accountability is becoming a dying trait. A number of years ago I met with a perspective client whose company was struggling with cash flow. The owner, for the sake of this post I'll call him Brad, was doubtful he would have enough money to cover the upcoming payroll for his 15 employees. As I listened to him describe the situation, he made it clear that the declining economy and slow customer payments served as the root cause of his business problem.

Before bringing on a new client we typically go through a fair amount of due diligence. In most cases we review items such as business plans, QuickBooks data, recent tax returns, and other relevant information. It’s amazing how that data can provide some telling information as to the health and management philosophies of the ownership.

As I reviewed financial information from Brad’s company, I noticed a couple months prior to the decline in his cash flow that he had written two checks to himself for a total of $30,000. While there is nothing wrong with an owner distribution, I found it a bit odd that he would take such a large amount in the midst of an impending cash flow crunch. There was probably a good explanation.

Fulling_Management_Personal_Accountability_quoteWhen I asked him about the owner distribution checks and how the money was used his answer was, “That’s none of your business.”

In the book QBQ – The Question behind the Question, author John G. Miller, describes the lack of personal accountability as a problem that has resulted in “an epidemic of blame, complaining, and procrastination. No organization, or individual, can achieve goals, compete in the marketplace, fulfill a vision, or develop people without personal accountability.”

As it turns out, Brad used the $30,000 to purchase two boats for himself earlier in the year. While the down economy and slow customer payments didn’t help the situation, the real cause of the dilemma had been caused by the owner himself. Unfortunately, the lack of personal accountability had a devastating effect on his company.

Fulling_Management_Personal_Accountability_smallWhile you and I may not be out buying a new boat with needed cash flow from our company, we can all learn a lesson from Brad’s example. As a business owner and in your personal life, many of the situations you face today are a direct result of the decisions you made (or didn't make) yesterday. So don't take the easy way out by passing blame. Instead, be a leader that takes personal accountability seriously. Not only will it help you with items such as cash flow management, but personal accountability is a trait that will help you build trust and buy-in with your employees.

As a reminder of improving my own personal accountability, my wife Pam and I will be leading a college and young adult group this fall from the book Taking Responsibility for Your Life: Because Nobody Else Will by Andy Stanley. You can check out the intro of the series here.

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