The Art of Managing Monkeys

Do you ever go home feeling that you’ve spent the whole day doing jobs on other people’s “to do” lists instead of your own?  Do you feel that you’re doing more but accomplishing less?  Your life may seem out of control, but it doesn’t have to be if you learn the art of monkey management.

Several years ago I had a chance to work with the leading expert of monkey management, Bill Oncken, Jr., who authored, with Don Wass, one of the all-time best-selling articles published by the Harvard Business Review entitled Managing Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?  Bill and I joined forces with Hal Burrows to write The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey (Morrow, 1989).  It was a fabulous experience and I learned quite a few things about managing monkeys that still hold true today.

For those of you who are still scratching your head, allow me to explain. A “monkey” is the next move after two individuals meet, as illustrated here:  Say you meet an employee in the hallway.  He says, “Can I see you for a minute?  We have a problem.”  He explains; you listen; time flies. Twenty minutes later you know enough about the problem to realize you’ll have to be involved, but you don’t know enough to make a decision.  So you say, “This is very important, but I don’t have time to discuss it now.  Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”

The detached observer understands what just happened, but when you’re in the middle, it’s harder to see the big picture.  Before you met your staff member in that hall, the monkey was on his back.  While you were talking, the matter was under joint consideration, so the monkey had one leg on each of your backs.  But when you said, “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you,” the monkey moved squarely onto your back.

The problem may have been part of your employee’s job, and he may have been perfectly capable of proposing a solution.  But when you allowed that monkey to leap onto your back, you volunteered to do two things that this person was generally expected to do as part of his job:  (1) You accepted the responsibility for the problem, and (2) you promised him a progress report.  Just be sure it’s clear who’s in charge now, your staff member will stop in on you several times the next few days to say, “Hi!  How’s it coming?”  If you haven’t resolved the matter to your employee’s satisfaction, he may begin to pressure you to do what is actually his job.

To avoid this travesty, monkey management is necessary.

Managers must be careful not to pick up other people’s monkeys.  When they do, they broadcast the message that the employees lack the skills to care for and feed the monkeys themselves.  Managers who grab monkeys off their people’s backs often kill employee initiative, and everyone is left waiting for the boss to “make the next move.”

Nobody wins when you take care of other people’s monkeys.  You become a hassled manager and don’t feel very good about yourself.  And you have workers who look to satisfy their needs elsewhere, because they feel underutilized and unappreciated.  They often become dependent upon the boss.  The care and feeding of other people’s monkeys is the ultimate lose/lose deal.

Bill Oncken, Jr. developed four rules of monkey management to help managers give back monkeys without being accused of buck-passing or abdication.  They are:

1.  Describe the monkey. The dialogue between a manager and a staff member must not end until appropriate next moves have been identified and clearly specified.

2.  Assign the monkey. All monkeys shall be owned and handled at the lowest organizational level possible.

3.  Insure the monkey. Every monkey leaving you on the back of one of your people must be covered by one of two insurance policies:  (1) recommend, then act, or (2) act, then advise.

4.  Check on the monkey. Proper follow-up means healthier monkeys.  Every monkey should have a checkup appointment.

If you follow Oncken’s rules, you’ll stop viewing your people as the major source of your problems and will soon start seeing them as major solutions, because each of their backs can be a depository for several monkeys.

Try monkey management—it works!

What it Takes to Give a Speech

I often have people come up to me after I’ve given a speech and say, “Boy, would I love to be able to do that for a living—go around the country and give speeches.”  When I ask them why they don’t, they say, “Oh, I could never do that.”

Did you know that the fear of public speaking is higher on the list of fears than the fear of death? This probably doesn’t surprise any of you who have dreaded having to make a presentation. Some individuals have such an aversion to public speaking that they may even decline career opportunities based on the chance that they will have to speak in front of others. While this may seem startling or sad, the truth of the matter is that public speaking is a learnable skill. People who feel inadequate about themselves in front of a group can learn to become good speakers.

I firmly believe there are three things that can impact your performance in public speaking:  body language, routine, and your belief system.

Body Language. If you want to become a good public speaker, closely watch other public speakers to see what they do and how they carry their body.  For example, I have observed that good public speakers walk with their shoulders back and their heads high and use a lot of hand and arm gestures. If you are nervous, hold your head up and your shoulders back and say, “I am feeling good. I am feeling really good.”  Silly as it may seem, this actually works.  The mind does not know the difference between what it perceives and what you tell it to perceive. Think of a time when you were feeling very confident and productive in some area in your life.  How did you act?  How did you walk?  How did you talk?  What did you do?  It’s pretty hard to feel inadequate if you walk and act like you know what you’re doing.

Routine. What is the routine people use when they make a presentation?  When you see a good bowler, for example, they always start at the same mark, take the same number of steps, and release the ball in the same way.  By getting a routine established, you signal your brain that all is well. If the material I’m speaking on is new to me, I try to practice it several times with others—friends, employees, family—prior to delivering it to a group I don’t know. I get feedback each time, and I try to think of questions audience members are likely to have while I’m speaking.  I also use notes until the information becomes second nature to me.  Before I give a speech, I usually engage in deep breathing and a quick review of what I plan to say, which I may do with someone I’m with just prior to my presentation.  When I get on my feet, the first thing I do is tell some funny story that gets the audience relaxed and gets me relaxed. Then I can get into my speech. Now a lot of people tell me, “But I’m not good at telling jokes.”  Well, this too can be learned. Experiment with what works best for you in breaking the ice with a group.

Belief System. Finally, what are the thoughts and beliefs that you have about public speaking?  The late, great speech coach Dorothy Sarnoff used to suggest repeating these words to yourself before giving a speech: “I’m glad I’m here.  I’m glad you’re here.  I know what I know and I care about you.”  Repeating these thoughts can change your belief system so that you actually become glad you are there and glad the audience is there. You know what you know and you can then stop worrying about not being good enough or perhaps not being able to answer a question that is asked.  When you focus on caring about the people in the audience, it becomes difficult to be fearful of the same group or of the situation. Once you start saying this over and over, it will have a tremendous impact on your level of confidence.

After applying these principles, you need to practice, practice, practice to hone your skill.  Seek opportunities to make presentations or join a Toastmasters International club in your area.  It will then only be a matter of time before you can perform as a professional and experience the joy and excitement of sharing your thoughts and helping others in the process. Good luck!

Evaluating Partnerships

A lot of people ask me for advice about partnerships.  Many will tell me about a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” that a friend or associate has shared with them and asked if they’d like to participate.  Often, the opportunity involves either investing a significant amount of time or money, or a dramatic shift into a new career path, or both.

My advice to such individuals is simple.  First, I often ask them if it is something they really want to do; that is, do they truly enjoy this activity to the extent that they might even consider doing it without pay?  For someone to be successful at something, they first need to truly enjoy that activity—otherwise, they are likely not to have enough persistence during times of difficulty.  To me, enjoying what you are doing is an acid test in business as well as life.  If you are having fun, it’s more likely that you will confuse work with play and that you will be successful at that activity.

Second, whenever considering getting into a partnership, you should always ask yourself the question: “Could either of us do this without the other person?”  (Have the other individual in the potential partnership ask the same question.)  If either of you answer “yes,” or even “maybe,” seriously reexamine the need for the partnership.             If you’re uncertain as to how necessary the other person is in a new venture at the very best of times—the beginning—you will certainly doubt and likely regret your mutual involvement down the line; perhaps sooner rather than later.  If there’s a good chance you could do the activity on your own, go for it!  Life is apt to be a lot simpler if you do.

In a partnership, both individuals involved need to bring something to the party—and each person needs to recognize and value the other person’s contribution.  If the importance of each person’s role isn’t clearly recognized upfront, it most assuredly will be valued even less later.  In the event of failure, individuals often are quick to blame the other person for shortcomings.  In the event of success, most people are apt to feel the success was mainly a result of their own efforts. These reactions are human nature.  A clear initial understanding, agreement, and belief in what each person is contributing to the success of a joint venture will go a long way toward minimizing exaggerated perceptions and expectations of effort and worth at a later date.

Third, a piece of common sense advice I truly believe regarding partnerships is that to be effective you need more than a 50-50 effort of both parties; you need 100-100 percent effort.  Both parties need to give the venture 100 percent.  Fifty percent effort is only half-hearted!  If you are no more excited about the opportunity at hand than to feel you are only responsible for 50 percent of the effort, the partnership is doomed from the start. I feel that 100 percent effort needs to be given 100 percent of the time by both parties in any partnership. Such an all-out commitment forces you to move ahead at full speed in making the venture a success.  It forces you to rely on yourself, not someone else, to make things happen.  It also affords you the ability to give the other person the benefit of the doubt when his or her effort, interest, or time spent seems to be less than ideal.

I have found that it is many times more difficult to break up a partnership—especially if you want to do so on good terms—than it is to start one.  By following these simple rules of thumb, you might save yourself some unpleasantness (and possibly a friend) in the process!

If I Had My Life to Live Over

I recently saw a wonderful piece about “If I Had My Life to Live Over.” I thought it was worth sharing with you. It’s from the late Nadine Stair of Louisville, Kentucky, who wrote it when she was 85 years old:

If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax.
I’d limber up. Continue reading

Three Deep Breaths

Recently I spent some time with Tom Crum and his daughter, Alia. Tom’s a good buddy of ours and is an Aikido expert. He wrote a wonderful book called Three Deep Breaths. I think I probably have shared these at some point but they are worth repeating… You know, as you head off any day in the car – I think the car is a wonderful place to quiet yourself if you don’t listen to the radio.

The first breath is the Centering Breath – you just breathe in, into your center right below your belly button. Just center yourself and feel your breath. Continue reading