Kenneth Blanchard is well known in business circles as co-author of the best selling ‘One Minute Manager’ series of books. These quick and easy to read books (all around 150 pages) can be found on the bookshelf of any serious self-development book advocate, right alongside Blanchard’s other well known publications, ‘Raving Fans’, ‘Whale Done’ and ‘Gung Ho’.
Although published in the late 80’s it’s basic principles on dealing with day to day operational issues still apply today.
So what attracts you to this book? For me it was the title. A little quirky and begs you to pick it up and read what management could possibly have to do with ‘Monkeys’!
The cover too poses two questions that every owner or manager has asked themselves at some point in time:
- How do I free up my time and deal with priorities?
- How do I stop taking on a problem if it isn’t mine?
Early on in the book Blanchard draws on a quote accredited to Benjamin Franklin’s Grandfather – “It’s tough to work for a nervous boss, especially if you are the one who’s making your boss nervous”! I think this is a great quote to have on the office wall in any organisation.
The book asks the question, “Why is it that some bosses are always running out of time while their employees are always running out of work”? I had asked myself this same questions many times and felt compelled to read on to get the author’s response. I was a little perplexed when the answer was “Monkeys”!!
Again, this response drew me into the book to read on. Blanchard goes on the explain that in the context of this book, the definition of a monkey is “the next move”. ‘Ah-ha’, I thought. ‘That’s interesting’!
The author goes on to explain using this example:-
In the hallway, an employee raises a problem with the boss. The boss shows some interest in the problem, and quickly the brief discussion has become a 20 minute session, which is abruptly ended when the boss has to attend a planned meeting. The discussion ends with the boss saying “I don’t have any more time now, let me think about it and I’ll get back to you”.
And so began a vicious circle….
By agreeing to take the ‘next move’ the boss has taken the ‘monkey’ from the employee and put it on his own back. The employee now has one less problem to take care of, and the boss now has one more.
Why did the business owner take the problem (the monkey)? Because he wanted to. He wanted to do good, solve problems and take responsibility. He’s a do’er. In fact many business owners are compulsive monkey pick-uppers and do-gooders.
In the work environment, many employees are great at managing their manager rather than doing their job. What better way to manage the manager than to constantly seek his guidance on everything? The manager will be flattered that you want his help, while at the same time be the one to take the fall if things go astray. The manager will most often pick up the monkey and the employee moves on, to offload another monkey.
Or the reverse situation: Insecure bosses like to be involved, so that fewer “errors” occur.
Each chapter of the book is ‘flagged’ by a quick one-liner. Again as I finished each chapter I was lured into the next by the quote. I won’t go into each chapter but each was a well told story around one-liners such as:
- For every monkey there are two parties involved, one to work it and one to supervise it
- Things not worth doing are not worth doing well
- Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you
- The more you get rid of other people’s monkeys, the more time you have for other people
- All monkeys must be handled at the lowest organisational level consistent with their welfare
- The only way to develop responsibility in people is to give them responsibility
- Practice ‘hands off’ management as much as possible and ‘hands on’ management as much as necessary
- Never let the company go down the drain simply for the sake of practicing good management
- If you always agree with your boss, one of you is not necessary
- The purpose of coaching is to get into position to delegate
So who is this book relevant to? In my opinion this is a must read for managers, business owners and coaches. Managers and business owners will often fall into the trap of picking up monkeys, but I believe that as coaches, we too may face the same challenge when working with business owners.
The book is a guide to Monkey Management that is on how to achieve the goals of a do-gooder, but do it with employees, not on your own. And to realise that in the process of constantly helping others inevitably you are crippling those you are trying to help by making them dependent on you. And the more an employee becomes dependent on the owner, the more his self esteem and confidence erode. This inevitably hurts productivity.
The core theory of the book is the four rules of monkey management.
Rule 1: Describe the Monkey: The dialogue must not end until appropriate ‘next moves’ have been identified and specified.
Rule 2: Assign the Monkey: All monkeys must be owned and handled by the lowest organizational level consistent with their welfare.
Rule 3: Insure the Monkey: Every Monkey leaving your presence on the back of one of your people must be covered by one of two insurance policies.
- Recommend – then act
- Act – then advise
Rule 4: Check on the Monkey: Proper follow up means healthier Monkeys. Every Monkey must have a check up appointment.
(Once you have grasped the concept that every Monkey is simply the next move for any given task, the book is quite a lot of fun to read.)
So in future, when someone approaches you and says “we’ve got a problem…” you must reply, “no, there is a problem, we must find out if it is yours or mine. If it’s yours, I’ll help you only on the condition that it remains your problem at all times”.
The book is not a challenging read and is not heavy on theory, but it is excellent when it comes to describing how to deal with every-day problems, its relaxed and fun approach makes it a feel good (and quick) read. It may alter your entire perception of what it entails being a manager and ultimately may create a better working atmosphere at work!
Book Review by Don Butler