Monkey Management - The Art of Delegation

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Monkey Management

A classic definition of management is: getting things done through others. Hence the people skills and organisational skills that allow us to delegate to others is of key importance to managing well.

Much has been written about delegating. However the missing part element in much of the writing is that of how to get people to carry their own responsibilities well. Monkey Management is a great metaphor for the process of delegation and brings this core concept to the fore.

Imagine each task is a monkey that lives on someone's back. How many monkeys are there on your back? How many on the backs of those you lead?


Monkey is the NEXT MOVE to make on a task or responsibility
The whole group of Monkeys we carry

Onken's rules of Monkey Management

The dialogue between a boss and one of his or her people must not end until all the monkeys have:

  1. Descriptions: The next moves are specified
    • Describe the monkey: the dialogue must not end until appropriate “next moves” (monkeys) have been identified and specified.
  2. Owners: The monkey is assigned to a person
    • Assign the monkey: All the monkeys shall be owned and handled at the lowest organisational level consistent with their welfare. [The best way to develop responsibility in others is to give them responsibility to learn with. However be careful not to sacrifice the organisation to this goal!]
  3. Insurance policies: The risk is covered
    • Insure the Monkey: Every Monkey leaving your presence on the back of one of your people must be covered by one of two insurance policies:
      1. Recommend, Then Act
      2. Act, Then Advise
    • Practice hands-off management as much as possible and hands-on management as much as necessary. This means encourage Level 2 policies as much as possible and and only Level 1 as much as necessary.
  4. Monkey feeding and check-up appointments: the time and place for follow-up is specified
    • Check on the Monkey: Proper follow-up means healthier monkeys. Every Monkey should have a check-up appointment

Assigning involves a single monkey: Delegation involves a whole troupe of monkeys!

Don't just practice Monkey Management yourself – teach it to others!

(From The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, by Kenneth H. Blanchard, ISBN 0688103804)

Interesting Metaphors

Monkey assignment
Making sure that your people know what their monkeys are, what is expected of them, when they should report and how to care for their monkey, only give monkeys when you both know what will happen if the monkey dies and that you are prepare to have the monkey die on you
Monkey re-assignment
The task of a leader to assign the right monkeys to the right persons back. Do not allow people to pass you their monkeys! (e.g. "What do I do here Boss?", "Why don't you go away and make me some proposals of what to do then we can talk about it?" or "What do you think we should do?")
Insurance Policies
setting some guidelines for making sure that the Monkey does not die or cause trouble for the organisation. Ensure that each “next move” is either “Recommend, then acted upon” or “Acted upon and then informed about”.
Caring for your monkey
Feeding it, making sure you don't kill your monkey through neglect! You are responsible for your own job!
Compulsive Monkey Picker-upper
A person with the irresistible urge to pick up responsibility, fight fires, and claim all monkeys for your own. Causes: insecurity, desire for stimulation (problem solving is fun), perfectionism, lack of trust in others
Stimulation trap
picking up Monkeys because we like the stimulation of problem solving and fire fighting. The bi-product of this is that people abandon their monkeys to us to care for and don't learn to take initiative and solve their own problems.

Some questions for Reflection

  • How many monkeys are there on your back?
  • How many on the backs of those you lead?
  • Are there any monkeys dying through neglect, overcrowding or starvation?
  • What was the last Monkey that you assigned?
  • What was the last Monkey assigned to you?
  • Are you a Compulsive Monkey Picker-upper?
  • How could your boss improve with his or her monkey management?
  • What one area of Monkey Management do you most need to improve? How could you get help to improve?
No Monkeys were harmed in the production of this article!