Problem-Solving Success Tip - Controlling Monkey Behavior
by Jeanne Sawyer
Who has the monkey?
Have you ever told a manager or coworker about something, intending simply to inform them about a potential issue, only to have them jump in and start "doing things" to take care of it? That this is bad for the manager involved is well known (though it doesn't stop many from doing it), but if you're leading a problem-solving effort, it's bad for you, too. These issues are the monkeys, and they readily jump from one person to another.
Controlling your problem-solving project means you must not only know who has all the monkeys, but ensure that the right person has them. It's ok to transfer a monkey from one person to another, but only as a conscious agreement from both people. Although occasionally you'll have someone grab one from you or the monkey will seem to jump all by itself, here are some techniques that can help you control the monkeys.
• Describe the monkey and who has it. Keep written action item lists that state clearly what action is required, who has responsibility and when it's due.
• Make sure that, if a monkey jumps, it's on purpose. Keep the lists up-to-date. Highlight changes to help everyone see them, and make sure to distribute the lists to all concerned.
• Clarify who has the monkey whenever there's a chance the monkey has tried to jump. When discussing an issue, be explicit about the purpose of the discussion. Tell the participants if it's a "heads up" (but you still have the monkey), request for ideas/information (you still have the monkey) or if you want the person you're talking with to do something (you're giving them the monkey). If appropriate, follow up with a written summary of the discussion, stating explicitly who has the monkey. Update the action items if necessary.
This concept of monkey behavior, presented by William Oncken and Donald Wass in 1974 (Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec 1974; p 75-80), was originally intended to help managers control their time better by not taking on monkeys inadvertently or unnecessarily.
Jeanne Sawyer is an author, consultant, trainer and coach who helps her clients solve expensive, chronic problems, such as those that cause operational disruptions and cause customers to take their business elsewhere. These tips are excerpted from her book, When Stuff Happens: A Practical Guide to Solving Problems Permanently. Find out about it, and get more free information on problem solving at her web site: http://www.sawyerpartnership.com/.