Who’s Got the Monkey?

HBR CLASSIC. Management Time —- Who’s Got the Monkey? by William Oncken, Jr., and Donald L. Wass

Rule 1. Monkeys should be fed or shot. Otherwise, they will starve to death, and the manager will waste valuable time on postmortems or attempted resurrections.

Rule 2. The monkey population should be kept below the maximum number the manager has time to feed. Subordinates will find time to work as many monkeys as he or she finds time to feed, but no more. It shouldn’t take more than five to 15 minutes to feed a properly maintained monkey.

Rule 3. Monkeys should be fed by appointment only. The manager should not have to hunt down starving monkeys and feed them on a catch-as-catch-can basis.

Rule 4. Monkeys should be fed face-to-face or by telephone, but never by mail. (Remember—with mail, the next move will be the manager’s.) Documentation may add to the feeding process, but it cannot take the place of feeding.

Rule 5. Every monkey should have an assigned next feeding time and degree of initiative. These may be revised at any time by mutual consent but never allowed to become vague or indefinite. Otherwise, the monkey will either starve to death or wind up on the manager’s back.

Empowerment often means you have to develop people, which is initially much more time consuming than solving the problem on your own.

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