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Get the monkey off your back

First published on: Apr 15, 2018 10:11 PM

In 1974 William Oncken Jr and Donald L Wass wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review that is still relevant today.

The article “Management Time: Who’s got the monkey,” focuses on how managers can effectively delegate tasks to their subordinates and not become so overwhelmed with other people’s problems.  The monkey is defined as the “next move”.

Who can relate to this scenario.  You’re sitting at your desk trying to complete an urgent task and a subordinate walk in says “we have got a problem”.  You sit there listen and your response is “let me think about it and get back to you.”

So now the problem has become your responsibility and no longer your subordinates.  The monkey is on your back and you need to solve it. As a manager we can become so consumed solving another people’s problem that we can sometimes forget the bigger picture.

Onclen provides these 4 rules to help managers to effectively delegate without being accused of passing the buck.

  • Rule 1: Describe the monkey: effective dialogue must not end until appropriate next moves have been identified and specified
  • Rule 2: Assign the monkey: it should be owned and handled by your subordinate pending capability
  • Rule 3: Advising the solution: Make it clear whether the subordinate has the authority to act on decision and then advise you or whether they are to provide a recommendation to you and then act
  • Rule 4: Check on the monkey: Always have a follow up meeting

Four simple rules that will provide your employees with the ability to problem solve, take ownership, whilst allowing you to effectively manage your team.


Article written by: Gavin Knight  –  Founder and CEO | True North Business Advisory

Gavin Knight

About Gavin Knight

Founder and CEO of True North Business Advisory. True North Business Advisory's mission is to provide tailored strategic planning and advisory services to help businesses achieve long term sustainable growth.