Time management: Who’s got the monkey ?

whos got the monkey Time management: Whos got the monkey ?Management Time: Who’s got the Monkey” is probably one of the most popular management article published by the Harvard Business Review. It’s been written by William Oncken and Donald Wass in 1974. It’s been reprinted several time since then and the message is still very true. This is a must read for everyone who has trouble delegating and ends up doing their subordinates or peers work.

If you can relate to the following situation, you should definitely read the article:

Let us imagine that a manager is walking down the hall and that he notices one of his subordinates, Jones, coming his way. When the two meet, Jones greets the manager with, “Good morning. By the way, we’ve got a problem. You see …. “As Jones continues, the manager recognizes in this problem the two characteristics common to all the problems his subordinates gratuitously bring to his attention. Namely, the manager knows (a) enough to get involved, but (b)not enough to make the on-the-spot decision expected of him. Eventually, the manager says, “So glad you brought this up. I’m in a rush right now. Meanwhile, let me think about it, and I’ll let you know.” Then he and Jones part company.

You’ve just allowed the actual problem or “monkey” to leap from your employee back to yours.

Imagine taking too many monkeys and you won’t be able to handle your actual job ! The problem your employee might have is probably very important to solve, but it’s his own problem, not yours and you should as much as possible encourage your employee to take responsibilities for their own problem. Now, your goal as a manager at any given level, is to be able to develop your employee’s initiative and sense of ownership. For some people you might need some coaching to help them figure out their own problem, push them to ask themselves the right question, consider different options. The GROW coaching model is something I’ve been using for that purpose during my career for employee who were not able to manage their own problem or question. In a nutshell, it stands for Goal – Reality – Options – Will.


  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What is the desire end state?


  • What is the situation?
  • What are the facts?
  • What is the context?
  • Who is involved?


  • What can you do?
  • What are your alternatives?
  • What else can you do?


  • What will you do?
  • When will you do it?

The 4 steps and their related questions should help your employees get the full picture of their problems and allow them to take appropriate action. It’s rather simple yet effective. There is a reasonable entry in Wikipedia you might want to check out.

The monkey theory should not be seen as a way to get rid of problems but should be seen as a way to empower each and everyone to handle their own problem in order for anyone else to better manage their time.