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Two managers working in an organisation have similar jobs, education and experience. They arrive at work at the same time; one manages his time well and leaves on time, while the other is the last one to go home with a briefcase full of work to finish. The reason for this manager’s predicament is not lack of time management but because he chooses to indulge in ‘monkey management’.

The term ‘monkey management’ is inspired by one of the all time greatest articles published by the Harvard Business Review in 1974 called ‘Managing Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?’ by William Oncken Jr. and Donald L. Wass. This article was quoted years later by Stephen R. Covey in his bestselling books Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) and First Things First (1994), and republished in the early 1990s in the Harvard Business Review because of its proven effectiveness.

According to the article, the incomplete tasks of employees are ‘monkeys’ that managers unwittingly take ownership of, and as a result, they end up doing their subordinates’ work. Their workload increases, and the strategic tasks they have been assigned to do for the organisation are left incomplete, or not given their due importance.

You can prevent being a ‘monkey manager’ by empowering your subordinates to recommend solutions, trusting them to make their own decisions and handling their workload. In other words, you should ask your employees to handle their own monkeys because only then will they acquire confidence and expertise.

Ken Blanchard, the author of the best selling management book One Minute Manager wrote another interesting book called One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, in which he further explores monkey management and provides effective solutions that can ensure that “the right things get done the right way, at the right time, by the right people”.

Give these books a try; they will prove to be a great way to avoid getting bogged down with your employees’ work instead of your own.


– Zeeshan Lakhpaty

The writer is a professional corporate trainer.