My summary of “The One Minute Manager meets the monkey” by Ken Blanchard

A few weeks ago I did my first book summary of the famous The One Minute Manager, which was also co-authored by Ken Blanchard. Since then I needed to read another related book during my onboarding here at Dynatrace, called “The One Minute Manager meets the monkey”: Free up your time and deal with priorities”. Thus, I thought to myself, why not do it again?

The “new manager”

The book is about an ambitious lad. Let’s call him the “new manager”, who after working hard and celebrating successes as an individual, gets promoted to a management position. In the beginning, he and his team start into this new situation with drive and motivation and things seem to work out. However, after a while the reverse happens and the performance of him and his team starts to drop.

In those days, the longer and harder I worked, the more I got done. That formula seems to be working in reverse now

The problem? Our new manager more and more takes on tasks of his subordinates. He does so because he often believes his subordinates are just too inexperienced at times, which is why thinks that he “has” to intervene.

By doing so, he sends his subordinate the message that it is ok to go to him and “ask for his help”. Or, as we later learn in the book, they start to give their “monkeys” (=next moves, more on that in a bit) away to our poor new manager, who becomes the official owner of them. His behavior ends in a downward spiral where he increasingly receives monkeys of his subordinates. Thus, while drowning in monkeys, he has less and less time for his own work. He constantly ends up working late and throughout weekends and because of that does not see his family any more. At this point he realizes, he needs to change something.

As a first step, he approaches his boss and tells her about his situation and the fact that he constantly has to do the job of his subordinates too.
Surprising to our new manager, his boss tells him to take care of this himself and only gives him the advice that it is his job to get his subordinates ready.

At this desperate moment our protagonist meets the “The One Minute Manager” — we already know from the first book — for lunch to seek his help. During the lunch, the new manager tells him about his current situation and more specifically tells him stories about how he works together with his subordinates. He also tells him that he even already attended a time management seminar. But while things got a little better for a while and he managed to take on even more work, he ultimately ended up with the same problem, just doing more work.

The management dilemma & a vicious cycle

As one of his responses, The One Minute Manager tells our new manager that he is a victim of a fundamental management dilemma:

Why is it that some managers are typically running out of time, while their staff is running out of work?

My interpretation: This is particularly true for working in Product Management. To explain this with my own words I provide you with my own experiences. Whenever I tried to step in and compensate for a lack of expertise-which is the equivalent of our new manager taking on tasks from his subordinates, in my team, I ended up getting important things done, while I failed to do the most important, which is proper leading! I did not just become a bottleneck for these tasks but I took away the opportunity for others to learn and the change to do the stepping up themselves. For instance, whenever I tried to do screen designs, or whenever I also coded. Even worse, sometimes I had to switch back to actual Product Management work and then did not have the proper time to finish my stories or do a proper pull request, by which I became the ultimate impediment to my team. The result was that my team either did not know what to work on next or worked on random stories instead of important and the impactful ones.

What’s even worse, which is also described well in the book, is that new tasks kept coming for our new manager and he confesses that at some point, he started to procrastinate. He entered a vision cycle, where every additional monkey makes made it worse and worse.

My procrastination made me a bottleneck to my staff; immobilized by me, they became bottlenecks to people in other departments.

Diagnosis of a self-inflicted problem

Another interesting aspect of the conversation, also connected to the dilemma, is when our new manager tells The One Minute Manager that maybe he shouldn’t complain about people constantly asking for his help. Maybe being indispensable is securing his job in such times and a good thing. Particularly since his boss already told him that she is nervous about this.

The One Minute Manager disagrees and explains that an indispensable manager might be more harmful than valuable, especially when they become an impediment to the work of others.

Individuals who think they are irreplaceable because they are indispensable tend to get replaced for the harm they do.

In short, our new manager starts to realize how self-inflicted his problem is and The One Minute Manager gives it a name

Your problem is…MONKEYS!

He further explains that monkeys are the next move. And that by taking on the monkeys he also owns them. For instance, whenever he answers a question of a subordinate with “Let me think it over and get back to you!”, he then owns the monkey. In turn, his subordinate won’t come up with a solution in the meanwhile and wait until his manager gets back to him.

In their remaining conversation they go over further examples and our manager starts to reflect on his actions and how he eventually even facilitated all this. As a response, The One Minute manager describes another important thing:

For every monkey
they are two parties involved:
one to work it and
one to supervise it

At this point, the problem was quite obvious and therefore The One Minute Manager tells him about a seminar called “Managing Management Time ”, held by William Oncken, which he believes to be our new manager’s solution to his diagnosed problem.
While our new manager is skeptical about it at first, The One Minute Manager lets him know that this seminar is different because it does not teach you to do the things right, but to do the right things! Or, in the words of The One Minute Manager, it teaches you:

Things not worth doing are not worth doing well!

The awakening

After lunch, our new manager attends the seminar and in essence learns monkey management! This means he learns that currently his subordinates aren’t working for him, but he is working for them. And that there is only one way to change this, which is leading and working according to the four rules of monkey management!

The four rules of monkey management

From here on I make it brief and only add a few sentences of my own interpretation to each rule, since understanding the rules should be a matter of reading the book and/or experiencing them yourself.

Rule 1. Describe the Monkey: the dialog must not end until appropriate “next moves” have been identified and specified.

My interpretation: Take a meeting for example. How often did it happen that you attended a meeting where you discussed a topic at length but no next steps where formulated at the end of it. You left not knowing what to do next. Yes, this is why you should always question the next moves and not leave such meetings before they are agreed on.

Rule 2. Assign the monkey: all monkeys shall be owned and handled at the lowest organizational level consistent with their welfare.

My interpretation: I believe only the second part of the sentence needs an explanation. The idea is that people down the ranks are usually the most knowledgeable and experienced within their field, which is why they should also be the one to own and drive them. This means to come up with the recommendation or the next moves.

Rule 3. Ensure the monkey: every monkey leaving your presence on the back of one of your people must be covered by one of two insurance policies:

  • Recommend, then act
  • Act, then advise

My interpretation: In short whenever you “assign” tasks to others there might be the case where your subordinates first need to consult you before they act because its crucial not not to make mistakes. Or, there might be cases where it is ok for your subordinates to act first, according to their level of confidence, and only advise you later on.

Rule 4. Check on the Monkey: Proper follow-up means healthier monkeys. Every monkey should have a checkup appointment.

My interpretation: This is particularly important if you only assign tasks or if your subordinates are not yet confident in leading and driving whole projects on their own. Thus, to help them make it to the finish line, you do regular checkups together. There you might also do the insurance and obtain recommendations for the next moves.

Between checkups, my people are fully responsible for their projects (unless we encounter a problem that requires my intervention).

The rest?

Well in the rest of the book our new manager:

  • Returns his monkeys
  • Has more and more time for his people and gets more “accessible” to them
  • Teaches you the monkey rules based on his learnings along the way
  • Measures himself on what his team achieves and not what he achieves

There is always one more thing, Delegation!

Quite at the end of the book our manager describes a last important concept, called Delegation and how it differs from assigning monkeys, well described in the following quote.

Assigning involves a single monkey, delegation involves a family of monkeys.

Unlike assigning, delegation requiring less and less of all the monkey rule activities described in the rules. In essence, its teaching people to work and decide for themselves.

The best way to develop responsibility in people is to give them responsibility

In the book, the word “coaching” is also mentioned. For me, coaching is to not solve your subordinates’ problems but to gently lead them to their solution. Put differently, learn them to question themselves.
The book describes the benefit and purpose of coaching as follows:

The purpose of coaching is to get into a position to delegate!

Conclusion

I would definitely recommend this book to everyone who occasionally needs to assign or delegate tasks or projects to others.What I took away is to always question myself whether the monkeys I own should be mine or are actually someone else’s. To not become a bottleneck and impediment to others again.

Hands-off management as much as possible and hands-on management as much as necessary

Another important message of the book to me is that your primary goal should be to develop others and give them the chance to level-up at their games. As the quote before states, intervene only as much as necessary, but as little as possible. In short enable and empower others!

All right, this being said, watch out for shoulder leaping monkeys!

Hi, I’m a Product Management enthusiast at Dynatrace, a dad, a husband, and an idealist who believes that we can make the world a better place.