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  06.24.05 Issue #172

Feeling overwhelmed? Stop taking on monkeys!

Dr. Nancy Haller
Executive Coach
The McKenzie Company

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There's a classic Harvard Business Review article entitled, ‘Whose Got the Monkey?'. The premise is time management but it extends beyond that into empowering others to solve problems . Consider the following scenario.

Your hygienist complains to you about another employee, also a hygienist. She tells you her peer isn't cleaning up quickly enough at the end of the day, and is intentionally slow with charting to avoid helping out. Wanting to fix this quickly, you agree to talk to the other hygienist.

Right there, in that moment, you have taken on a ‘monkey'!

When you accept responsibility for an employee's problem or job duty, it is as though you have allowed a monkey to jump from their back to yours.

Over the course of a week you might be burdened with lots of monkeys. You can't attend to your priorities because you've taken on problems that belong to your staff . Even worse, you've restricted your employees' level of initiation.

An employee can show five levels of initiating behavior:

  1. Wait to be told what to do.
  2. Ask what to do.
  3. Make a recommendation, then take action on it.
  4. Take action but simultaneously advise.
  5. Act on their own, then routinely report it to others.

The most productive teams are composed of individuals at Level 5. The more employees you engage in Level 5 behavior, the most efficient and effective your practice will be. Empowering your staff takes time . There's no way around that. You need to invest in your staff if you want them to be productive.

Seem impossible? You're already short on time. You know it will be faster if you just do it yourself. In the short run, you're right. You probably will get it done quicker, maybe even better. But over time you will be overburdened with a heavy pack of monkeys on YOUR back!

  • Be an effective leader . Have a committed vision of the future. Don't be driven by an endless series of short-term objectives. If you want your employees to grow and develop, relinquish control for solving all the problems in your practice . When you empower your team, you unleash an enormous potential of productivity.
  • Make it clear to your team that they are not allowed to behave at Level 1 or 2. The exception is for new staff that need training. If you have seasoned employees who still wait or ask for direction, make time to review job duties and expectations as soon as possible .
  • When an employee comes to you with a problem, communicate your expectations so they understand what they are to do . Be sure that the workload is realistic and that he/she understands the scope of their job. Praise staff for sound decision-making and judgment.
  • Make appointments to deal with monkeys . Addressing problems in a casual hallway conversation diminishes the seriousness of the work. Instead, schedule a time to talk about the issue(s). Limit the meeting to 15 minutes. Set action steps , and the date for a progress report.

For the hygienist who complains about her co-worker, schedule a meeting. Spend a couple of minutes talking about the details of her frustration. The remaining time is devoted to goal setting. She needs to talk with her peer and the two of them – NOT YOU - must iron out a clean-up plan. Your job as the practice leader is to coach this hygienist to find her own solution . You can make suggestions but it's up to her to fix it. Establish a time frame for this to be completed, perhaps one week. In a follow-up meeting, discuss her progress. If nothing's been done, explore the obstacles and set another goal.

An empowered team is built on trust and mutual respect . Team building retreats are an excellent way to establish that foundation. Obviously that takes at least a day away from the office but it will pay BIG dividends in time. And your back will be free of monkeys!

To enhance your leadership skills or host a team building event, contact Dr. Haller at . She'll help you cage the monkeys.

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