Keeping the Monkeys Off

Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey? is a classic Harvard Business Review article on time management for managers. I can’t find it online for free, but here is a summary that is so good that you probably don’t even need to read the full article:

You’re 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 say, “Let me think about it.”

You’ve just allowed a “monkey” to leap from your subordinate’s back to yours. You’re now working for your subordinate. Take on enough monkeys, and you won’t have time to handle your real job: fulfilling your own boss’s mandates and helping peers generate business results.

How to avoid accumulating monkeys? Develop your subordinates’ initiative, say Oncken and Wass. For example, when an employee tries to hand you a problem, clarify whether he should: recommend and implement a solution, take action then brief you immediately, or act and report the outcome at a regular update.

When you encourage employees to handle their own monkeys, they acquire new skills—and you liberate time to do your own job.

  • Tyler

    Great post. Helps to know as a subordinate who doesn’t want to monkey his boss!