Why is it that some managers are typically running out of time while their staff are typically running out of work? The reason is often down to ‘monkey’ mismanagement.

The monkey-loving manager becomes so busy “helping” their staff that they no longer have any time left for their staff – ironically the people they were trying to help in the first place!

These 5 Tips will help you see things differently – and become more monkey savvy:

1. Management time – 3 types

The management of time demands that managers get control over the timing and content of what they do. A managers’ time gets spent in three key areas:

A. Boss-imposed time – is the time you spend doing things you may not be doing if you did not have a boss. Clearly, it’s to your advantage that the boss is satisfied with your work. Keeping bosses satisfied takes time, but dealing with dissatisfied ones takes up even more time!

B. System-imposed time – is the time you spend on the administrative and related demands from people other than your boss and your own staff. It includes completing procedural documentation, red tape, bureaucracy, the meetings you must attend, and phone calls you must handle.

C. Self-imposed time – is the time you spend doing the things you decide to do, not things done strictly in response to the initiatives of your boss or staff.

Self-imposed time comes in two varieties: good (discretionary) and bad (staff-imposed). The latter includes time spent working on your staff’s monkeys (this is obviously self-imposed because you can choose whether to pick up their monkeys or not!). 

The remaining portion is called discretionary time – the time in which you do the things that make your work truly rewarding. Although precious to us, discretionary time is often the first to disappear when the pressure is on!  

2. What is a ‘monkey’?

A ‘monkey’ is NOT a problem, issue, question, complaint or challenge – a monkey is simply the next move in resolving any of these things.

Whoever has that next move…has the monkey!

If you say to me “leave it with me and I’ll get back to you” then you will have the monkey (the next move).

So it’s quite possible that whilst I have the problem – you now have the monkey!

And so… I will now take no further action on my problem until YOU deal with the monkey.

3. “We’ve got a problem”

Imagine that you’re walking through the office and you see one of your people, David, walking by. David greets you with, “Morning boss. By the way, we’ve got a problem… you see…”

As David continues, you recognise in this problem the same two characteristics common to all the problems your staff kindly bring to your attention. Namely, you know (a) enough to get involved, but (b) not enough to make the on the spot decision expected of you.  Eventually, you say, “So glad you brought this up. I’m in a rush right now. Let me think about it and I’ll let you know.”  Then you and David part company.

Let’s analyse what has just happened…

Before the two of you met, on whose back was the monkey? David’s of course. Staff-imposed time begins the moment a monkey successfully makes a leap from the back of one of your staff members to your back and does not end until you return the monkey to its proper owner for care and feeding.

Whenever you hear words like “We’ve got a problem” or “We’ve got an issue”, WAKE UP and see the monkey heading your way – fast!

4. Worker & supervisor

For every monkey, there are 2 people involved: one person to work it, another to supervise it.

The critical issue is who’s got that next move? Because the person who has it … has the monkey!

As a manager, you’re officially in charge of your members of staff (i.e. their supervisor), however from the instant you say to one of them “David, leave it with me and I’ll get back to you” and pick up that monkey (next move) – you hand this supervisory role over to the other person – and YOU take on the worker role!

In accepting the monkey, you voluntarily assume a position subordinate to your own staff member. You have allowed David to make you his subordinate by doing two things a staff member is generally expected to do for their boss:

To make sure you do not miss this point, David will later stick his head in your office and cheerily ask, “How’s it coming?” (This is called “supervision!”)

5. Why does it all happen?

Managers are often told they must help people solve their problems… have an open door policy. This is fine, yet if overdone… can easily create monkey problems – and staff members learn to become reliant, they stop thinking, stop taking responsibility and stop using their initiative.

“I don’t need to think at work, I’ve got a manager to do that for me!”

“When the going gets tough – simply dump it on the boss!”

This all happens because you and your staff member assume at the outset, wittingly or unwittingly, that the matter under consideration is a joint problem.

The monkey (next move) begins its career astride both your backs. All it has to do now is move the wrong leg, and hey presto the staff member’s responsibility to do anything deftly disappears!

You’re left with another acquisition to your menagerie. Of course, monkeys can be trained not to move the wrong leg. But it is easier to prevent them from straddling backs in the first place!

The only way to develop responsibility and initiative in people… is to give them the responsibility and initiative.

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