Who's got the monkey?
How managers end up adopting their subordinate's issues.
Happy St. Patrick’s day.☘️ As many of you might have already heard, I am writing a book that is due to be published in Dec 2021. The first draft of the manuscript is due in May and I am spending these days wrangling with book research and storytelling. Trust me. If someone had told me that writing a book is this hard, I would have never started.
I am doing my best to get this newsletter to you guys on time, but I end up falling behind. Also, you might have noticed that the length of the newsletter articles is shorter these days so that I can balance my time between the book and the newsletter. Hope you guys will enjoy this one!
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The monkey on the back.
The monkey on the back is a metaphor in management that is used to refer to tasks or issues that are imposed upon you by others. For example, You go to a meeting empty-handed and return with a “monkey” on the back. Now the monkey becomes your problem to take care of.
The idea was originally published in the 1974 issue of HBR and has been one of the publication’s best-selling reprints ever. The article talks about how managers usually get caught up taking care of monkeys (issues or tasks) that are imposed are imposed upon them by their subordinates.
Each monkey is kind of unique and needs special knowledge to be taken care of. So, whenever a subordinate comes into the manager’s office with a monkey that he/she is unable to handle, the manager ends up adopting the monkey. Now the manager is stuck with the subordinate’s monkey instead of working on the things that a manager should be actually doing.
In accepting the monkey, the manager has voluntarily assumed a position subordinate to his subordinate. -William Oncken, Jr.
As more subordinates show up with new monkeys, the manager’s office gets crowded with monkeys that need to be taken care of. The article goes on to talk about how managers need to train their people to take care of their own monkeys and other strategies to reduce the passing around of monkeys in an organization.
If you are someone who has a similar monkey problem in your office, I highly recommend that you read the original article on HBR.
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