Management Time

Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?

How to return monkeys to their proper owners?

Avoid discussing any monkey on an ad hoc basis.

Set up an appointment to discuss the issue.

Ask that the employee prepare a memo > issue…goals…issues…options…action steps


At no time while I am helping you with this or any other problem will your problem become my problem.  The instant your problem becomes mine, you no longer have a problem/job.

In those rare instances where the next move turns out to be mine, you and I will determine it together.  I will not make any move alone.  

Delegation: Specify Level of Initiative

Your employees can exercise five levels of initiative in handling on-the-job problems. From lowest to highest, the levels are:

  1. Wait until told what to do.
  2. Ask what to do.
  3. Recommend an action, then with your approval, implement it.
  4. Take independent action but advise you at once.
  5. Take independent action and update you through routine procedure.

When an employee brings a problem to you outlaw use of level 1 or 2.  Agree on and assign level 3, 4, or 5 to the monkey. Take no more than 15 minutes to discuss the problem.

Agree on a Status Update

After deciding how to proceed, agree on a time and place when the employee will give you a progress report.

Examine Your Own Motives 

Some managers secretly worry that if they encourage subordinates to take more initiative, they’ll appear less strong, more vulnerable, and less useful. Instead, cultivate an inward sense of security that frees you to relinquish direct control and support employees’ growth.

Develop Employees’ Skills

Employees try to hand off monkeys when they lack the desire or ability to handle them. Help employees develop needed problem-solving skills. It’s initially more time consuming than tackling problems yourself-but it saves time in the long run.

Foster Trust 

Developing employees’ initiative requires a trusting relationship between you and your subordinates. If they’re afraid of failing, they’ll keep bringing their monkeys to you rather than working to solve their own problems. To promote trust, reassure them it’s safe to make mistakes.

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