Get Rid of the Monkeys!
Working with businesses here at the Maine Small Business Development center I have to opportunity to work with different challenges all the time. That’s why I enjoy the job so much. But occasionally things come up that make you sit back and reflect on management and how much it has changed – and at the same time how much it has stayed the same!
Meeting with an existing business owner, we got in to a discussion on management practices. There were some issues in managing staff that brought me back. One of the biggest problems for him was that of managing others and how he ended up not having time for his family despite putting in very long days. When I asked a few questions about how his day went and how the business was doing I realized that he really needed to go back to the basics.
I suggested that he read an article that many of you may have read years ago. Originally published in 1974, the article appeared in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review, the article has been around for a long time in today’s business world! It has been used in classrooms and has been reprinted. It is the classic, “Who’s Got the Monkey”. William Oncken Jr. and Danald Wass wrote the original and when it was republished in 1999 a commentary by Stephen Covey was added. If you have not read it I would suggest that you do.
The article talks about three kinds of management time. The first is Boss-imposed time. The second is System-imposed time. The third is Self-imposed time. The Self-imposed time is the only time that we as managers can actually influence.
Using the analogy of a monkey on the back, it looks at the way that we sometimes allow burdens to be shifted from our employee’s burden to one that we take on as a manager. The key is then to not accept the monkey that may rightfully belong not to us, but to our employees. It was clear that my client was in such a stressful situation due in large part to letting his employees give him the monkeys. He further compounded this by not having any real written policies in place. In effect, he was letting his employees run roughshod over him. They were dropping everything in his lap at the end of the day and going out and using the company credit card he provided to have a few drinks after work. He was left to work nights and weekends to try and keep up. A key quote from the article is “In accepting the monkey, the manager has voluntarily assumed a position subordinate to his subordinate.” He was never going to actually never going to be able to get caught up or be truly in charge of his destiny.
If you manage a small business and this sounds anything like where you are today, I urge you to go and read the article. Some of the “oldies but goodies” still apply today, although they have evolved. By all means get the article form the 1999 reprint. It contains a second part “Making Time for Gorillas” that is Stephen Covey’s follow up. It brings some of the points more up to date perhaps, but it also ties in to management today. After you have read it, think about how you might be able to get rid of a few monkeys!
(Originally published in MaineBiz 6/13/2016)