Get Those Monkeys Off Your Back!

Yesterday, we talked about the problem with “monkeys”: If you are not careful, colleagues and subordinates will try get the monkeys perched on their backs to leap onto yours. Be alert for this kind of “reverse delegation.” The smart manager, William Oncken, author of “Monkey Business,” argues, makes sure he spends only a minimum amount of time each day taking care of other people’s monkeys so he can have the free time he needs to accomplish his own goals. That makes sense.

But what do you do if you’re already besieged by monkeys? How do you unburden yourself from work you shouldn’t be doing? Here’s my suggestion: Call in the subordinate who gave you the monkey. Explain to him that you made a mistake, that you robbed him of the opportunity to solve his own problem. Tell him that you have no intention of giving him a solution but that you will be happy to review and approve of the solution he comes up with. Give him some guidelines if he needs them, along with a deadline.

When he leaves the office, the monkey should be squarely on his back. Do this over and over until you have no more monkeys on your back except your boss’s and your own. Now, here’s how to keep them off … Next time someone tries to put a monkey on your back, say this: “George, that sounds like a serious problem — one that requires a good and quick solution. Tell you what. Come into my office tomorrow at 9 a.m. with three sheets of paper. Each sheet should be an outline of a different solution. I’ll spend 10 minutes with you looking at each of your three suggestions and choose one. Can you do that for me?”

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]