The other day seemed like any typical workday. We worked diligently, ate lunch, and were greeted by a flying screaming toy monkey with a 50-foot flight range.
Our VIP/CIO brought the flying monkey to the office for some lighthearted humor. This monkey also serves as the mascot for The Flying Monkeys, the TBC baseball team. The flying monkey at the office did provide us a bunch of laughs and motivation to play ball after work. It also served as a reminder of the theory, “a monkey on your back.”
A “monkey on your back” is something that you are forced to do and can’t get away from – as if a monkey was clinging on your back. That theory was the foundation behind the famous Harvard Business Review article “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” The article became one of the two best-selling reprints in the history of the publication.
In the article, William Oncken and Donald Wass described the concept of management time as it relates to the interaction between managers and their bosses, their peers, and their subordinates.
Okay, so what does all of that have to do with monkeys? Let’s take a closer look.
The Idea in Brief
You are racing down the hall. An employee stops you and says, “We’ve got a problem.” You assume you should get involved but can’t make an on-the-spot decision. You reply, “Let me think about it.”
The issue? Well a “monkey” has just leaped from the subordinate’s back to yours. Take on enough monkeys, and you won’t have time to handle your actual job!
How do you avoid accumulating monkeys? Read up on the following advice from Oncken and Wass and get ready to return monkeys to their proper owners.
Examine your own motives
Some managers may worry that if they encourage subordinates to take more initiative, they’ll appear less strong and more vulnerable. Put aside those fears to relinquish direct control and support employees’ growth.
Develop employees’ skills
Employees try to hand off monkeys when they lack the desire or ability to handle them. Help employees develop problem-solving skills. While it is initially more time consuming than tackling problems yourself – it does save time in the long run.
Developing employees’ initiatives requires a trusting relationship between you and your subordinates. If they are afraid of failing, they’ll keep bringing the monkeys to you rather than working to solve their own problems. To promote trust, reassure them it is safe to make mistakes.