I am a person that is born with a drive to take over responsibility. That causes many problems in my life because I tend to end up with too many responsibilities on my plate.
Things get often delayed because of that, while some of my co-workers are not working to full capacity.
Usually, this works according to the following pattern: someone stops by my desk, tells me about a problem, and then walks away, leaving the mess in my hands.
According to the Monkey Management theory, this is when this someone just gave me a monkey. And what is worse is that I let them do it.
Stop The Monkey Habit
I stopped this habit as soon as I stumbled over this one-page tool on “monkey management” and how to avoid taking on unwanted monkeys in the course of your day job. https://www.lce.com/pdfs/SPL_LP_Monkey_Management.pdf
Since I know this, whenever someone tries to leave me with a job that he himself is supposed to do, the first thing that I do is to recognize the monkey.
The monkey is not a problem, an issue, a question, a complaint or a challenge – a monkey is simply the next move in resolving any of these things. Whoever has that next move has the monkey! If I say that I will take care of the next move, I also take over the monkey.
I decided to no longer do this. That is another reason why we have an organizational chart in our firm. It helps me to locate the person that is responsible for that monkey.
But that is not the most important point. I found that when I just ask the person that tries to his monkey with me “How can I help you?”, that person backs off and takes the monkey with him. It turns often out that this person just wanted to talk about the issue in order to get some input about how to better solve it.
It may also turn out that the problem is important and a real issue but it is not urgent, I usually simply let my co-worker know that my other priorities come before his current issue, and to come back at a later time. They walk also away with that monkey and his issue does not sit on my desk.
The Basic Message
The basic message is to delegate as many tasks as possible down in the hierarchy of your organization, and possibly also to outsource them to a freelancer, and to focus only on works that nobody else can do in your company.
Watch this video about Monkey Management. I like it because it is short and provides more insights.
And all this originates from William Oncken’s 1974 HBR (Harvard Business Review) article, “Who’s Got the Monkey?,”. It has been one of the publication’s two best-selling reprints ever. You can read it for free here.
Call to Action
The next time someone wants to give you a new task, try to discover the monkey and then act accordingly.
Martin “Zoo” Schweiger