Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey by William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass is what has to have been a proginator for the book Mulitpliers by Liz Wiseman. There are simply too many similarities for it to be a coincidence, but the latter does not directly reference the former. So maybe the points are actually valid and were independently “discovered”? Another interesting similarity is that the article, as published, has a afterword penned by Steven Covey and the second edition of Multipliers has a foreword penned by the same Steven Covey. While the article was originally printed in 1999 and the second edition in 2017, the foreword does not mention the article. Strange. Oh well.
Who’s Got the Monkey is entirely focused on how a manager can avoid their own burn out and at the same time ensure their team is growing. This is possible by the manager not accepting the workload that their reports should be doing (not letting “the monkey” jump from their reports back to their own). This acceptance can happen in a number of ways: the manager may want to help a report succeed and so take on work to ensure it is done correctly, the manager may ask to review some work and then not have time to do so when it is provided, and many other more subtle situations. Every one of these is also present in Multipliers and given a name. To me the most damaging and growth-preventing of the behaviors, as named in Multipliers, are the “Rescuer” and “Rapid Responder” because these compound. A “Rescuer” is someone that sees a problem developing and will drop in to solve the issue without giving those already working an opportunity to learn either “on the job” or via the outcome of their efforts. By not allowing this learning the rescuer has actually stymied future efforts from those same people, especially if those people learn by doing as opposed to reading/watching. And a “Rapid Responder” is someone that cannot stop themselves from immediately reacting to a stimuli. Sometimes this can be good, as in an emergency where decisive action must be taken. But in the more mundane day-to-day situations a person that is always the first person to responde and grab a task is going to be the only person that has an opportunity to learn and grow. Early bird gets the worm and all that. Imagine an area where one person is already considered an expert/resource regarding a topic but the company wants to spread that knowledge out to avoid a bus factor of 1. If the initial person is always the first to grab every possible issue, even the most basic, then that leaves no opportunity for others to gain hands on experience. I think it is pretty clear how both of these behaviors will negatively impact a team in not much time.
Oncken suggests the best way to avoid this responsibility shifting is to inform reports that you will not take on any of their work but will be available at pre-scheduled times to discuss those responsibilities and work together to unblock forward progress. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and is able to work independently. By freeing themselves up a manager can execute on their objectives while ensuring their direct reports are continuing to fulfill their own. Further, it gives the manager’s direct reports the opportunity to grow and learn and demonstrate abilities they may not have known they possess. All of this is also covered in Multipliers, which if you can’t tell, I think is worth reading.