How to become an Effective Delegator through 'Monkey Management’

As a management consultant, I’ve seen many business leaders struggle to delegate. Whether it’s a reluctance to let go of responsibilities, or failure to bring in professional management to deal with burgeoning administrative workloads, failure to delegate can stop business growth in its tracks.

In this article I want to look at the art of delegation and how an approach known as ‘monkey management’ can help increase workplace productivity at all levels of management.

What is Monkey Management?

Monkey management is a delegating technique developed by William Oncken Jr. and Donald L. Wass in 1974. The ‘monkey’ in the analogy refers to the next stage in any given task or problem. So when one of your staff comes to you with a problem and you agree to take it on, they have effectively shifted the responsibility for their problem onto your shoulders. In other words, you now have their monkey on your back.

Monkey management is a set of rules that allow managers to avoid directly taking on ownership of other people’s monkeys, by agreeing to manage them instead. In effect it allows managers to manage their own time properly and focus on their own workloads by delegating responsibilities for problem solving to their staff.

We’ll go through the when, what and the how in a bit, but for now I want to talk a little bit about the why.

Why is Delegation Important?

There are two very important benefits to responsible monkey management. The first is to do with time management and the second is to do with creating independently minded staff and managers who are able to deal with problems autonomously. Let’s look at each in turn.

  • Time Management
    I have written before on the importance of understanding and analysing how your time is spent and how simple but powerful time management tools like Covey’s Matrix can help managers develop strategies to increase productivity. In the Covey model, work defined as not urgent and not important is identified and then either dropped or delegated. These tasks, such as some incoming calls, emails and meetings, as well as dealing with staff’s problems are unnecessary distractions. In the latter case, monkey management can keep these distractions to a minimum and ensure managers can focus their skills on their role.
  • Staff Development
    Another benefit of good delegation is the development of a more independent workforce. By helping staff help themselves they will learn to problem solve. You avoid a culture of buck-passing, creating instead a culture where reliance is supplanted by a more collaborative approach in which problems are shared not offloaded.

Both these benefits can have a direct impact on your business model as it develops, allowing managers to deal with their own vital workloads and freeing up their time to innovate and work on new projects.

How to Manage Monkeys

The art of monkey management starts with learning to say ‘no’. This doesn’t mean abdicating all responsibility and leaving your team member to do the best they can – that attitude could be counter-productive, as inexperienced staff may get things wrong without any help and this could reflect badly on your team and even negatively impact the business.

The solution instead lies in the halfway house of managing people’s monkeys. This involves four distinct phases, which I’ll go through now.

  • Define the Monkey

As I’ve mentioned the monkey only represents the next stage in a given task. It’s important therefore to define the next stage in the task and to keep dialogue open until this has been reached.

  • Assign the Monkey

Monkeys should be handled at the lowest organisational level possible to ensure more senior management time is preserved. This is about ensuring appropriate skillsets are best utilised throughout the business.

  • Insure the Monkey

All monkeys must be covered by one of several ‘insurance policies’ once they leave the hands of the manager. These vary from the cautious (wait until told to act) to the more autonomous but higher risk (act and advise or act and routinely report). The higher the risk the lower the premium the manager pays in time.

  • Feed the Monkey

It’s important not to operate an open door policy when it comes to monkey management. Monkey owners should book in a scheduled check-up to discuss their monkey and progress made. This should always be face to face or by phone and never by email. Oncken and Wass refer to this as feeding the monkey.

Whilst monkey management isn’t a silver bullet for sustained and stable business growth, with all the predictable crises that this involves, it is a powerful technique in the art of delegation. And like so many of these things, it’s important that the business leadership and founders get to grips with it to ensure it is promoted and engendered at a company wide level.

Kim Jones is Director of Bristol based management consultancy, High Growth Knowledge Company. She has many years of experience working with established companies and organisations in a number of industry sectors, from healthcare to retail and higher education, helping directors and business leaders overcome the challenges of managing sustainable growth. You can connect with HGKC on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn or call them on 0117 332 1002.