Monkey Business: The 4 levels of insight

Whenever you are working on a task that actually somebody else should be working on, but this person somehow managed to transfer the task to you, you have fallen victim to monkey business. It comes in a variety of forms of which the most common is the so called “back-delegation”: You are assigning a task to an employee, but the employee asks you to do some kind of preparation for you, so that he or she can start the task.

But there are other more vicious forms:

  • Simply not completing a task, which urges the manager to completing it him-/herself.
  • Finishing the task in a minimal form so that the manager has to do all the work that surrounds the task.
  • Finishing the task wrong although the employee should be totally capable of performing it correctly so that the manager has to redo the task.
  • Finishing the task by sending the result back to the desk of the manager for “approval” or “feedback”, an activity the manager is resistant to refuse because of his own high standards.
  • Asking the manager for decisions that the employee is totaly capable of making.

There are several other forms which I refrain from mentioning. The point is: Every manager is exposed to some form of monkey business and if (s)he does not manage it well, (s)he will shortly be overworked and uneffective.

When you first recognize the problem, you might be tempted to think: “Well, I just avoid letting it happen.” And you can find a lot of techniques and tips on the internet or in the literature that will help you with that encounter. It turns out, however, the problem is more complex than that. In my experience there are four levels of insight:

Level 1 – Monkey Victim

After reading the intro you are actually already past this level. Here you are a total victim of monkey business and are basically doing the work of your employees. If you are in this level, you will probably recognize at some point that something is wrong and will try to change something.

Level 2 – Monkey Avoidance

Now you realized that you want things to change. So you try to repel every task that an employee should do, but soon you find out, that that’s not the whole truth. You realize that some employees are not capable of the tasks they are doing, some are fighting back with more cunning monkey business and some are lacking the confidence of performing well without you. This is when you reach level 3.

Level 3 – The company goes first

In “the minute manager meets the monkey” ken blanchard makes a very important statement. He writes that you should not jeopardize the company success for the sake of being a good manager. What is meant is that you – as a manager – sometimes have to accept the monkey business and step in for your employees, if you find out that you will not reach the desired output, if you let the employees do the work.

This sometimes, however, becomes an ongoing question of conscience, because you constantly feel obliged to step in for your employees in order to save the company from severe damage. You are in danger of falling back to level 1. But there is a way out: Level 4.

Level 4 – The company will be fine

After a lot of difficult projects and a lot of crises I have learned one thing: The company will be fine. Of course you should have high standards and of course you should step in, when it’s really important. Most of the time though, the company will be fine, even when someone screws up. If you live in the constant fear that your employee’s work will ruin the company, you are probably to anxious a person to be a manager.

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