Monkey Management

Throughout my career, the one thing that I’ve observed time and again is poor monkey management whether that be by myself doing it or watching others.

I am in awe at the ripple effect that a poor decision can have further down the line.

This short piece is designed to introduce the concept of Monkey Management and, if you’re not familiar with it, give you a better understanding of what the term ‘Monkey’ means and the steps in how to deal with it, which will in turn release you to get on with your priority stuff.

What is the Monkey?

In simple terms, the Monkey is the next step that moves towards an outcome, It’s the next activity or task.

For example, a team member approaches you asking if a particular product is in stock as a customer needs to know – the task of finding out if that product is in stock is the Monkey.

The Monkey was firmly on the shoulders of the team member who was asking the question although now, one foot is firmly on your shoulder.

Because you don’t have the information to hand you may say to the person “leave it with me and I’ll find out” – the Monkey now climbs on your shoulders and, needs feeding (completing).

That Monkey is with all your other Monkeys that you’re carrying around with you (i.e. all your own tasks for that day).

So What?

Problems can arise if we don’t effectively manage these Monkey’s:

  • You have too many things to do during the day and some don’t get completed (your own Monkey’s don’t get fed).
  • Team members get into the habit of passing their Monkey’s on to you which can hinder their development (I’ve worked with some people who, if passing the Monkey was an Olympic sport, they’d be in the medals).
  • Other problems can arise if the Monkey isn’t adequately looked after…….

Consider a different response in the example given above so, it now goes like this:

Team member: “Do we have product XX in stock? Customer A wants to know”.

You: “I have no idea”

Team member: “OK” – and they walk away.

Customer ‘A’ (phoning 2 hours later): “Do you have it in stock or not? Somebody was supposed to get back to me. Do you not want our business as there are plenty that do” etc. etc. etc.

In the ensuing, high stress activity of placating the customer followed by the inquisition of how it happened the team member states “I told you about it” to which you reply, “I told you I didn’t know” – justifiable or not, the fact is there is an unhappy customer on the books due to a Monkey falling from both yours and the team members shoulders and ending up on the floor.

So, what can be done?

The first step in changing old behaviours and learning new skills is becoming aware that you need to change.

  • Do you hear yourself saying things like, “I’ll get back to you” or, “leave it with me” even, “send me an email to remind me…”. All indicators of poor Monkey management
  • Are you often left with unfinished tasks at the end of the day that need to be added to tomorrows to do list? Does your boss offer advice/ tell you off /criticise you for taking on too much work? Some more indicators.
  • Do you sometimes find other team members ‘lounging around’ while you’re up to your neck in it? A further indicator.

Take a good look at what you do and be honest with yourself, are you guilty of any of the above? You may feel as though in the example given earlier, that the team member was at fault (and most people would) although, making excuses or blaming others won’t placate an irate customer.

Throughout the day, become aware of your behaviour and notice when you do any of the above. Alternatively, at the end of the day, reflect on how it’s gone and if any of the above has happened.

If it has, follow the rules that William Oncken provides in his book.

Rules for managing the Monkey

Rule 1. Describe the Monkey. 

Be clear on what the Monkey is. In the example given earlier, the Monkey was ‘finding out if the stock was in’, quite easy to identify and deal with. Things can get a bit trickier the more complex the Monkey becomes, e.g. you are given the task of improving the customer experience, a big monkey that’s likely to have a family of monkeys with it – for the purposes of this piece, we’re not going to get into that – start off with the simple stuff first.

Rule 2.  Assign the monkey. 

This is going to depend on the skill and experience of the people involved. In the earlier example, even a person with the most rudimentary skills and experience could find out what’s in stock. Again, the more complex it is, the more consideration it needs.

Rule 3.  Insure the monkey. 

When you pass a Monkey over to someone, what authority do you need to give with it? Oncken recommends one of two insurance policies that people need to comply with:

  • recommend, then act, (tell you what they’re going to do then do it), or
  • act, then advise. (do it and tell you what they’ve done).

Rule 4.  Check on the monkey. 

Make sure that what was agreed has been done. In the example, a quick question along the lines of “is that product in stock then?” with the team member will ensure the Monkey has been fed (and the customer is happy).

In summary

The theory behind Monkey management is pretty fair (personal opinion) and it gets a point across, it doesn’t really deal with the reasons why we take on other people’s monkeys or how we feel when we’re inundated with work (and all the pressures that brings) although, It never claims that it does.

Utilising the principles behind it, is a step in the right direction towards making things that bit easier for yourself. Most of the time, it’s these small changes that can have the biggest impact.

Right, I’m off to have a word with the International Olympic Committee about a new sport they could include. Good luck with managing your Monkey’s and make sure that while you’re learning this new skill………you enjoy the experience.

Interested in our work?

If you’ would like to find out more about how JAMES L&D can help you to improve you, your team, your business? Drop us a line and………. we’ll get back to you 😊.


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