How to manage your monkeys | Amazing If (2024)

00:00:00: Introduction

00:00:26: Thank you, George

00:02:43: A "monkey" explained

00:04:56: Giving and taking monkeys

00:08:05: From a management point of view…

00:11:04: Coach-yourself Q1: direction of monkey travel

00:13:40: Coach-yourself Q2: managing other people's monkeys

00:16:51: Coach-yourself Q3: saying no to a monkey

00:19:07: Map out your monkeys

00:20:38: Idea for action 1: dependency versus helpfulness

00:24:41: Idea for action 2: have a "nocabulary"

00:28:52: Idea for action 3: level 5 initiative

00:33:18: Final thoughts

Helen Tupper: Hello and welcome to the Squiggly Careers podcast. I'm Helen.

Sarah Ellis: And I'm Sarah.

Helen Tupper: And this is a weekly podcast to support you with your career development, whether you're experiencing some brilliant ups, or maybe a few challenging downs, we are here behind the scenes to help you with ideas for action and things to build your belief. That's what this podcast is all about, and there are over 250 episodes to support you with your career development.

Sarah Ellis: And before we dive into today's topic, which is all about managing your monkeys, which might not sound like your career, but I promise you it will help you to take control of your time, we did just want to say a quick thank you and shoutout to our producer, George, who has produced the Squiggly Careers podcast, nearly every episode; I think he was with us nearly from the very beginning, and you won't really ever see him or hear him, but we love him --

Helen Tupper: We do!

Sarah Ellis: -- and he makes us sound better than we probably would otherwise. You might not believe it, but he does edit out some of where we go really wrong or sound very rubbish, or get interrupted by cats or kids. So, without him, you wouldn't have the podcast that you have today, which is very much credit to George, and he always listens to every episode, and he sends us really lovely emails as well.

So, he sends us emails with feedback, he does "What worked well, even better if…" I feel like he's really taken to heart everything that we talk about. When he let us know that he's off to do some really exciting audio projects, he even said listening to Squiggly Careers has really influenced him and helped him to make those decisions, which on one hand made me really happy and I was thinking, "I feel really proud that we can be useful for people". And on the other hand I was thinking, "But please don't leave us". So, it's a bit of a catch-22 occasionally, career development that actually works, but we wanted to say thank you to him.

Helen Tupper: And also, we can't be territorial about talent, because that what's we taught to organisations, that's the wrong thing to do.

Sarah Ellis: I know, it's so annoying, isn't it? It's so annoying when you have to practise what you preach!

Helen Tupper: Good luck, George, and hope you are listening to us in the future, and thank you for helping us to find our listeners today. The Squiggly Careers podcast isn't going anywhere, everybody, there's going to be another George, it's just George has been pretty special so we wanted to say thank you.

Sarah Ellis: So, onto managing your monkeys. This episode is inspired by one of Harvard Business Reviews' most popular and most read articles, which was all about this idea of managing your monkeys. Now, slight word of warning, I've re-read that article and it was written in the late 1970s, so some of the references don't really hold up today. I was saying to Helen, there is a bit of chat about heading onto the golf course, as if that's where business happens! But as long as you take it with a slight pinch of salt, some of the principles and the ideas about managing your monkeys, I think are still really relevant. So, let's talk a little bit about what this is and what it means, and then we'll get into ideas for action. So, a monkey is essentially a job to be done. A monkey is an action that you need to take, or a task that you need to do, and we all have lots of monkeys to manage. We probably all feel like we already have too many of our own monkeys to manage at any one point in time. The real challenge is that we often end up adopting other people's monkeys too, so that we have even more work to get through, it probably causes us to feel overwhelmed, and it probably also means that your own monkeys don't get looked after. Now, you can get really caught up in the monkey metaphor, believe me.

Helen Tupper: I know. When I was writing it, I was holding my monkeys and feeding my monkeys, and is it bad to say killing a monkey? And I was like, "Just leave the analogy behind somewhere, Helen!"

Sarah Ellis: Well, apparently, and this will tell you a little bit about when this was written, one of the original authors of that article apparently used to walk through airports in the US with a monkey on his shoulder, because he was almost famous, because he was on the speaker circuit!

Helen Tupper: How strange!

Sarah Ellis: I know, it's really strange, but I was enjoying getting way too deep in a weird rabbit hole of when this article came out. They basically created a whole career around this one article, it's fascinating. But the point being, when we are trying to get control of our time and make progress on our priorities, so I think there's a really strong link here with prioritisation, if we've got all of these monkeys flying all over the place and clinging on to us, it means that we can't see the wood for the trees and we're probably not doing the right things in the right order. Sometimes this happens, I think, because someone may be in a position of power. Maybe that's your manager, maybe that's somebody else with influence gives you a monkey and you feel like you can't say no. Maybe you're naturally really helpful, so you end up almost proactively adopting these monkeys, maybe without even realising you're doing it; or you're just doing it to be useful, and then you suddenly realise you've got too many of them. And I think we are often all a bit unrealistic about our own capacity about what we can do in the time that we've got. So, this skill of managing our monkeys, I think, is relevant for all of us.

Helen Tupper: It did make me think about whether you're more of a monkey-taker, for the reasons that you just said there, or a monkey-giver; or, maybe you're a bit of both. And just thinking about, as well as what monkeys you might be taking and why, what monkeys are you giving and to who, and how effectively and fairly do you give those monkeys? So, I was reflecting on me and I was thinking that sometimes when I give people monkeys, so some different things to do to help support me, because I'm not very good at asking for help, I don't give my monkey with lots of care instructions, as in I don't say, "This is the monkey and this is how to help the monkey"; I'm just like, "Here's something that I need some help with", and I just drop it and I hope someone will catch it". But because I don't think I'm a very good monkey-giver, I'm trying to give my work away, because either I don't want to do it or can't do it or think someone could do it better, and because I'm not very good at asking for help, I don't think I do a good monkey handover, was my reflection for myself on this.

Sarah Ellis: Yeah, it's interesting, because I think one of the things that you and I have talked about is, naturally I think one of my strengths is I'm good at asking for help and I am a good prioritiser. In the main, I'm quite good at being focused, in terms of what needs to happen when. But I do also think there is a tipping point, where I think I give people monkeys that shouldn't belong to them, that probably I should keep for longer. So almost the same as you, but I think for very different reasons. I think I give my monkeys to other people, probably don't do that in a way that's useful and probably give too many away. I should probably hold onto more of them, or maybe for longer, or don't give them at the right time. So, we'll keep exploring them, but it is a two-way street, I think. The more I thought about this, because originally the article was written from the perspective of managers, of managers feeling like they were being given all of the monkeys of all the people in their team, in quite a command-and-control environment, which I think for most of us, we are moving away hopefully from working in a way that feels "tell" and where it's all about hierarchies. But I think we all have a natural tendency to be slightly more one or the other. I would say you're more of a monkey adopter overall, if you're thinking about which way do you skew; you definitely want to help.

Helen Tupper: Yeah, I do, I keep the monkeys for too long, and I've talked a bit later about being a monkey hoarder, was how I put it! I was thinking about it myself. I think you're definitely a monkey-giver, and the challenge is that you give a lot of monkeys all at the same time; you do, you're like, "And this and this and this!" And the slight challenge is that I think in your mind, you know which are the most important monkeys; but because you're generating monkeys so quickly, I don't think other people do sometimes. So, you'll have an expectation about which monkeys are going to get sorted first, but other people are just trying to catch them. So probably I'm hoarding them, holding them for too long!

Sarah Ellis: I'm throwing them, these poor little monkeys, I'm throwing left, right and centre, "How about this one? Try this one, try this one". People are juggling all these monkeys all over the place.

Helen Tupper: And I'm like, "Don't leave me, keep me company, monkeys!"

Sarah Ellis: So needy!

Helen Tupper: That's the worst things, oh God! Oh dear, moving on…

Sarah Ellis: And we're going to talk about this less today, because we're really going to focus on you and you managing your own monkeys, but I do think there are some important conditions that need to be in place that help everybody to manage their monkeys. So, if you're in a position to influence and to impact team environment, organisational culture, I think just thinking about how people's ability to do this is also impacted by things like trust. So, where you've got high-trust teams and psychological safety, that means it's much easier for everybody to be able to manage their own monkeys, because if you were worried about making mistakes or failing, perhaps you then feel like you have to give your monkeys away too soon, because what happens if you get it wrong? So, perhaps that is where managers end up with too much work. Or perhaps you seek other people's approval too often, because you get nervous and scared about what are the implications if people didn't feel involved all of the time? I've definitely been in teams where that has felt quite true. You feel like every step of the way, you need to involve lots and lots of people, because you aren't just trusted to get on and do things.

There's quite an interesting link to trust here. There's also a link to problem-solving skills. So, there needs to be an emphasis in organisations on, if you want people to take initiative and to have accountability and ownership, which everybody does, everybody describes that as, "We want people to have more accountability", then you've got to give that as well. You've got to give people the skills to solve problems, you've got to give people the space and the ability to experiment and to try different things out. So, I think we can't say on one hand, "We need everyone to be really good problem-solvers", but then equally not help people with how might you do that; what are some of the skills that could be useful.

What this doesn't mean, and we don't want to make this mistake, is it doesn't mean that you don't ask for help, or that you involve other people. I think there could be an implication as you work through some of this that you think, "Does that mean that I should do everything by myself?" That's absolutely not true. It's much more about being really clear on about who is accountable for what, and at what point do those things change, and I think often being quite conscious about the choices that we are all making, about the work that we do, and the order in which we do that work. The more I read about this, the more I got to that as a conclusion, I thought, "That's what we're trying to do", because if we are conscious of the choices and we also do that together, we will all be more in control of our time. And when we feel more in control, we do better work, we feel like we have more freedom, we feel like the work we do is more meaningful. So, we're all looking for that control, but I think these monkeys often leave us feeling quite out of control.

Helen Tupper: They're very cheeky, cheeky monkeys.

Sarah Ellis: Cheeky monkeys!

Helen Tupper: So, we have three useful coach-yourself questions; we think they're useful, you can tell us if they are; but to basically get you to the level of awareness that Sarah and I have got to about what's our behaviour around these monkeys that take away our time, or that we use to take away other people's time. So, the first coach yourself question is, "What direction are my monkeys coming from?" To give you some examples here, they might be coming from above, so maybe they're coming from your manager, your manager's shooting quite a lot towards you; maybe they're coming from your side, maybe your colleagues are giving you quite a lot of monkeys from their projects, for example; maybe they're coming from your team, if you manage a team, maybe like the original article, maybe it's the people that work for you that are giving you lots of monkeys, for whatever reason; or maybe they're coming from the centre, maybe you are self-creating yourself a whole load of monkeys, for whatever reason that might be. I was thinking, I think a lot of my monkeys, Sarah, are self-created.

I can see Sarah on the camera now, everybody, and there were some raised eyebrows at that point! But I do start loads of things off and I create things, because I think they're going to be helpful for other people, but then I keep them for too long, and I think I'm not always the best person to grow that monkey up, should we say. What about you, Sarah, what direction do you think the monkeys that you have come from?

Sarah Ellis: I think similar to you, that I definitely create my own monkeys, and then I think I make some choices that I often don't involve other people in, in terms of what order do I think I should do those monkeys, because I'm quite independent and I like working by myself, and I think that's also partly from being an introvert. So, I think sometimes I'm not very good at involving people in, "What am I doing and in what order?" back to that point. So, I do think it is slightly different to you. I think lots of the direction of my monkeys are from me to other people.

That was quite a big revelation for me. As I was going through this, I was thinking, "In some ways, I think that's good thing". I don't necessarily think we're saying it's bad. I think I'm confident in delegating, I'm good at prioritising. That does make me good at what I do. I keep telling myself that! I feel like I need to keep telling myself that, like it's true; the more I say it, the more it will be true, mantra!

Helen Tupper: A monkey mantra!

Sarah Ellis: I was like, this is a good thing, I am good at this, but I think there might be times, as you described, where am I always doing that in the right way, in the most effective way? I've sort of got a skill that maybe needs some honing, or I need to get some more feedback on, because I don't think I've ever really thought about it in this way. I actually think probably I've just thought, "Oh, this is something I'm good at; that's useful", whereas this has added a layer of nuance where, exactly as you've described, "Okay, brilliant, I'm great at getting rid of those monkeys, but then am I really understanding how that feels for other people; am I really helping people to do those monkeys in the right order?" all those kinds of things we've started to describe. So, I think my directions go from me, my monkeys go from me to other people.

Helen Tupper: So, the second coach-yourself question is, "What does managing other people's monkeys look like for you when you're doing it?" So for me, for example, with monkeys, I often think that it's quicker to do it myself, so I'll just take someone's monkey on, because I'll be like, "Yeah, you could keep it, but if I do it, it will be quicker". I rarely think it will be better. I never go, "I'm better at this", I just often go, "I can do it quicker, I can make it happen faster", and I think that attraction to quick work makes me grab at monkeys. I'm like, "I'll take that one, I'll take that one", and then sometimes I drown in monkeys and I don't get anything done. That's my slight problem with that kind of approach. What about you, Sarah?

Sarah Ellis: This is about managing other people's monkeys. If I'm honest, I think I just don't do it!

Helen Tupper: I'm going to give you some, I'm going to give you some of mine.

Sarah Ellis: I know, but I was thinking of examples of things you've given me. I just think I just don't do it, and I think I just become a bottleneck.

Helen Tupper: I want to give one now and I can't think of a monkey that you've taken off me.

Sarah Ellis: Exactly, I don't think I do. Or sometimes, I think you suggest it, and I sort of go, "No, it doesn't sound like a job for me". So, I definitely hold on to monkeys, because I do feel like sometimes, and this makes me sound awful, but I can become a bottleneck. So, I think sometimes when I become very attached to my monkeys, there's no way I'm going to let anyone else close to them, because I'm like, "They might ruin it".

I do definitely get a bit too attached to them, but I think that's a slightly different thing. But I don't think I spend very much time managing other people's monkeys, because I think sometimes people probably try and send a monkey my way and I go, "Yeah, no thanks", and I can't work out yet whether that's a good thing, because the point is, we don't want to be managing other people's monkeys; but at that point, there probably is some sort of underlying question around, "Okay, if sometime is trying to do that, is that because they need help; is that because they think that they're not the right person to do it; or is that something we should choose to deprioritise together, rather than you just getting one more monkey on your list?" because that might be what happens. I think sometimes you try to give me a monkey and I'm like, "Yeah, no!" and then you think, "She's not going to do it", probably true, and so you just add it onto your list; versus us being honest about it and saying, "Okay, it feels like neither of us have got time for that job to get done right now so, Sarah, ultimately this should be your monkey, this should be your accountability, but we are consciously recognising we're going to wait until this moment, or until that project's done" versus you just adding it on to someone really long, random list.

Helen Tupper: I think as well there's a point, and this is not me passive-aggressively saying you're not supportive because you're very supportive, but I think sometimes when somebody has a lot of monkeys on, even if you don't want to do the monkey, you might just say, "I'll adopt it for a week". You're not really owning it permanently, but you're just going, "Look, I'll take that on, I'll sort that project out [or] I'll go to that meeting [or] I'll work with that client", or whatever it is, just to support somebody whilst they're managing monkeys that might be their own, but have just become a bit unmanageable for whatever reason. Maybe one monkey's become a bit challenging, or a bit bigger than it was planned to be, and just that little bit of adopting it for a moment might help someone take control of their monkeys as well. The third coach-yourself question is, "What is stopping you from saying no to a monkey?" So, Sarah, you seem to be very good at this. What's helping you to say no to a monkey, is a better question, I think!

Sarah Ellis: Well, I think my default and automatic response to a monkey is not "yes" and I think for lots of people, it is. People are like, "Oh yeah, I can help", or they feel like they should say yes, so they start with yes and then have to work from there. Whereas, I think I'm annoying and I start with a question, or I want to make sure I really understand, and so sometimes I probably interrogate that monkey; I interrogate and think, "Why are we doing this; why is this important; how does it link to our objectives; how does it relate to the other priorities we've got at the moment?" probably all good, interrogation-style questions. Those questions then do mean that that monkey is less likely, I think, to transfer to me, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

That just helps maybe that person to figure out, "Oh, okay, well I was a bit stuck", and maybe I've unlocked somebody's thinking, or helped them to figure out what they might do next. And to your point about support, hopefully then still continuing to offer some support with that person to manage that monkey, but rather than just taking it. So, I think because I have a naturally questioning approach, and I don't default to yes, or being super helpful straightaway, that probably helps me. It's not like I'm saying no outright, but I don't have a default of yes either.

Helen Tupper: I think what stops me saying no, I found this quite a useful question actually, is I think some unhelpful patterns of behaviour I have link to my confidence gremlin. So, one of my confidence gremlins is around a fear of coming across as a difficult person, and that stops me in loads of ways asking difficult questions, all kinds of things. But I think I have a learnt pattern of behaviour, because of that confidence gremlin, which sometimes gets in my way of saying no to a monkey, because I don't want to come across as difficult, because of that confidence gremlin.

So, if I could reframe my thinking so that saying no is not difficult, actually saying no means I could do other things better, then I could probably be much better sometimes in saying no to a monkey. But I still have a learning journey to go on, I think, with that.

Sarah Ellis: So, I do think it's quite interesting to almost map out your monkeys. So map out your monkeys: how much time do you spend on your own monkeys, how much time do you spend on other people's monkeys, where are those monkeys coming from? I start to visualise this flow of these monkeys all over the place. Even asking all of those questions and thinking the things through that we've just talked of, I think both of us have come to new awareness and insights that perhaps were lurking, but it sort of brings them to the surface, in actually a really helpful way.

Helen Tupper: Yeah, it's so tangible I think, isn't it, just us having that context to think time management through?

Sarah Ellis: And probably even better if you can do this. If you have got a high-trust team, even better if you can do this together. So, you might want to do some of this thinking for yourself first, but I think conversations with your manager about this, conversations within small teams, as we've started to describe this, I think this is most useful actually for our Amazing If team, as well as for yourself; it kind of makes it even more powerful. So, that's also just something for everybody to have in mind. So, let's talk about some ideas for action now, and these ideas for action we hope will really help you with what could you do differently to spend more energy and effort on your own monkeys, so on those things that are important, that matter to you, that are going to help you achieve your objectives and do the things that are important in the role that you do; how can you make those changes in terms of spending time on your monkeys?

The first one is about the difference between dependency versus helpfulness. So, dependency is doing it for someone, so that is, "I've adopted someone else's monkey and I have done their job for them", essentially; and helpfulness is helping someone to help themselves. And I think this is particularly useful if you are a natural helper, sometimes people describe it as a people pleaser. I talked about my default is more to ask questions and maybe no. I think loads of much nicer people's default is to say yes straightaway and just to be really helpful, and we feel good when we help. We get that natural helper's high and so it's really understandable why this happens. And I think the reality is sometimes, I think as you've described, Helen, the other reason that we create this dependency is we think, "Well, if I do it for them, I can just do it quicker". Maybe our ego does sometimes get in the way and we think, "Well, if I do it for them, it will be better", if we're being really honest. Sometimes, maybe you're just a natural helper; sometimes, it's about pace and speed.

Maybe sometimes, it is about your own judgement in terms of getting to a good outcome, getting a good job done really well. So, I think there's loads of reasons why this dependency happens. I even remember, Helen, you describing this sometimes in some of the leadership roles that you've been in, where you think you've noticed a point where you've created almost an unhelpful dependency in your role as a manager. So, to give a specific example of how this might show up, I was trying to think about, in my working week, what might this look like. Let's say somebody has shared a presentation with you. I think a dependency is thinking, "There are some changes that need to be made to this presentation", and you just make those changes directly. So, you just go in, you take over that presentation, so you're taking that monkey and you go, "Right, I'm going to mess around with that slide, I'm going to change that, I'm going to sort those words out", and you just sort it and there's no explanation to that other person about why you've changed anything or what you've changed. You just make those changes and then it's done, so the job is done. But what happened there is you've created a dependency on someone else going, "Well, I need to give that presentation to Sarah, because she then needs to do those things before we can do anything with it, so that's essentially creating a bottleneck.

Helen Tupper: I see myself in that, Sarah.

Sarah Ellis: I see you in this. As I was writing, I was like, "This is Helen"! Or, the alternative, and this alternative does sometimes take longer, because you are adding to a process, is when you get that presentation, you provide feedback. So, if I think about how I try to give feedback on presentations, I try to resist the temptation to actually change the presentation, and I try instead to write comments and to explain the changes that I would recommend, or that I'm suggesting, and also explain why I think that might be a useful thing to do. But I don't make any changes directly on the presentation; it goes back to the person whose piece of work that is, and then that's up to them to then make those changes. At that point, you have still supported and been helpful. I think it both takes longer, and you have added to that process. But what you have done, by the definitions that I wrote for us, so there's no science behind these definitions, is I do think you have helped someone to help themselves, because you have helped someone to get better. It's very much a growth mindset attitude to learning and developing. Whereas, in that first example, all you have done is got the job done, but you've not helped the person to learn and grow.

Helen Tupper: All this is making me think is that you have a very harsh approach to managing your monkeys, which is quite effective, and I have a desperate need to get better; that's what this is making me think.

Sarah Ellis: You say harsh; me?

Helen Tupper: Yeah, just ever so slightly. Well, I think idea for action number two might help me with that capacity limit.

Sarah Ellis: Okay, you've already said that I look harsh and now you're just going to make me look even worse!

Helen Tupper: No, this is another idea for development for me; I think you're fine. This is about saying, "No", or, "Not yet" to a monkey, which it turns out you don't even think about, you just do by default!

Sarah Ellis: Okay, let's help people with this then.

Helen Tupper: Yeah, let's help people, let's help Helen, then I've got more capacity to deal with the other stuff that we need to do. So, this is about having a "nocabulary", a vocabulary for saying no, basically. Part of my problem is, because I might not have a different option to say, I say yes by default, because no feels harsh and I'm not harsh. But no feels harsh and awkward for me, so I might default to a yes, just because I've not got a better thing to say that feels okay to me. So, having a nocabulary in your back pocket can help you to not automatically adopt monkey. So, some things that might be useful for you here are if/then statements. So, rather than going, "Yes, of course I can", instead try if/then. So, "Okay, Sarah. Well, if I take that project on, then we're going to have to look at what doesn't happen this week", and I hear that from Sarah all the time. Sarah says that all the time, it's really powerful.

Sarah Ellis: And that's okay, right?

Helen Tupper: It is really powerful, it doesn't come across as harsh. It always makes me think, "That's really irritating, because that means that we have to stop something", but I always know it's the right reason to feel irritated. I'm not irritated by you, I'm more irritated by, "Oh, you're right"!

Sarah Ellis: I don't know, borderline at the moment, I'm sensing!

Helen Tupper: I promise not. It's more it's an irritant, and I'm like, "That is the right thing to say", and it's more that it calls me on, "I would have just done that". The if/then, very, very helpful. The other thing that you can do is to challenge the urgency of the monkey. So sometimes, you might say, and you might make assumptions. I sometimes create the deadlines and I don't even validate them with people, so I'll be like, "Yeah, of course I will".

Sarah Ellis: I don't even know why you do this.

Helen Tupper: Because I like urgency, don't I? But I create myself the urgency, I'm like, "Yeah, of course, no problem at all. Friday, is that okay?" and they're like, "Yeah, Friday's great, thanks!" I'm like, "Oh, you sound a bit too enthusiastic about me getting that to you by Friday; I probably could have done it two weeks later". So, I think asking somebody, "When does that need to be completed by?" and even if they say -- most people actually give you a fair deadline, I think. I think the most challenging deadlines are the ones I create for myself. So for me, even just saying to people, "And, when do you need that by?" often comes with a much fairer deadline. And even if the deadline that they do share is a challenging one, you can then bring back in the if/then thing that we just talked about.

So, using those two in tandem can be quite useful. The third tactic that could be useful is, when you feel like, "No, I shouldn't take this on", but no feels a bit harsh, think about the no being, "Not me". So, this is where you might play back. So, Sarah might say, "Oh, Helen, we've got this project that needs picking up", and I might say to Sarah, "Okay, what are some of the skills that we think that particular project needs?" and then you can talk about, "Okay, well if what we need is someone with attention to detail and who's really good at finishing things, realistically I don't think I'm the best person for that, but I do know that this person in the team has those skills and might be a better fit for that thing we want to take forward". So, it's a way of you basically doing the, "No, not me", so the monkey still gets picked up, but by someone who's much more appropriate to do it. My one caveat is, just be careful about throwing a monkey around and being, "No, not me, someone else is going to catch it today"; do it very specifically with an understanding of who would be a better fit to take it forward.

Sarah Ellis: And also, to our point earlier, I think doing this together is important, because you might think, "Oh, somebody else would actually really enjoy working on this monkey [or] someone else is really well suited to this", but having a conversation with them in terms of what is their capacity at the moment, what would they need to stop, doing that if/then, I think we can also all help each other with this. Even as we've talked today, there are things you'll be able to help me with, in terms of the way I just give other people my monkeys --

Helen Tupper: You monkey-breeder, you!

Sarah Ellis: And, I'll be able to help you, and helpfully do help you, with some of those things like if/then, like I do challenge you on the urgency, and I see you don't like it, but I just keep doing it.

Helen Tupper: You're so good at it, that's why.

Sarah Ellis: So I think, because this is hard, if this was really good, we would all feel in control of our time all of the time, and none of us ever feel like that. So, this is why, I think, being able to almost have somebody to help you stay accountable to managing your monkeys, and hopefully that might be a brilliant manager, but I think that could also be a peer-to-peer relationship, or just someone you get on really well with at work, I think, can help you with this just as well. So, idea for action three is this idea of level 5 initiative. So, this does come from the original article, the HBR article, which we will link to as part of the podcast, and this is this idea that, for every monkey that we have, it's worth thinking of the level of initiative and ownership that you can have over that monkey. And the idea here, and this bit I have made up, to be clear, is aiming for 80% level 5 initiative. So, let me talk through the levels of initiative, and then hopefully this will become clear. So, level 1 initiative is waiting to be told, so very passive. I sit here and wait for Helen to tell me what I should do.

Level 2 initiative is I ask what to do, so that would be me asking Helen, "What should my monkeys be; can you tell me what to do in what order?" so I'm asking Helen. Initiative level 3 is you're recommending for approval, so maybe I'm working on my monkey on a project, and then I don't take decisions. What I do is I describe to Helen or I say to Helen, "This is the work that I've done, this is what I think we should do", but there is very clearly an expectation that Helen is the decision-maker. And we can all recognise projects we do, I guess, that feel like that. I can certainly think of loads of examples of things I worked on that would have been level 3 initiative. Level 4 initiative is independent action, so you're taking the action to yourself and you share as you go, so you're keeping somebody very informed and involved on an ad hoc basis. So, let's say I'm working on a project.

Almost every time I take a medium or big action, I'm letting Helen know. So, she could probably describe to somebody else, at any one point in time, exactly where I am on that project and exactly what I've done, in quite a real-time way; so, it's quite high involvement from Helen as my manager. Then, level 5 initiative is where we are taking independent action, and rather than feeling like you have to share as you go, we share at an agreed moment that happens as more of a kind of routine. So, Helen and I have, let's say, a bi-weekly one-to-one. And we agree that in those meetings, that is the moment where I will update Helen on how I'm getting on with that project. I'm not recommending stuff, I'm not checking my actions as I go, there will be moments where Helen won't be 100% up to speed, but I will always be the person the most up to speed, because I am managing that monkey with level 5 initiative. I think the most useful thing about this, when I read it, was thinking for each of your really big monkeys, the big projects you're working on, things you're spending lots of time on, knowing what level of initiative have you got, and agreeing that really explicitly with your manager; and everybody understanding the implications of those levels of initiative, because the lower the levels, the more likely it is that somebody else has to share that monkey with you, which gets confusing, or someone else is basically having to do quite a lot of work on your monkey.

So, if I have lots of things that I have to recommend to Helen for approval, that means that it's difficult for me to manage my monkeys by myself. I'm relying on Helen, Helen becomes a bottleneck, I'm always waiting for her. That doesn't feel like you've got control over the work that you're doing, and also it doesn't feel like you've got trust, back to that high-trust teams environment.

So, just being really explicit and actually asking those questions around, "How do you need me to involve you in this project; when should we talk about this; would this work for you; does a weekly email update work; shall we wait for our monthly one-to-ones?" and actually feeling like you've got the space, freedom and autonomy to manage your own monkeys, I think is really important. Often, these things do go unsaid, and we sometimes also don't challenge them. So, I can even think of things within Amazing If, where I think the team would come to Helen and I for approval, and I think we should be giving the team more space to either be level 4, so to share as they go, or level 5, and just to share as part of one-to-ones. But probably because it's the nature of the business that we have, and people would see, "Well, you're the two co-founders, so it's your brand", I think then that means it sometimes creates less initiative than actually we would want, and it happens almost accidentally, and I think it happens unconsciously sometimes. So, I think you've got to be transparent and try and create an environment where 80% of the time, everybody has got level 5 initiative over their monkeys.

Helen Tupper: So, we hope that that has been useful. If nothing else, it's been an insight into how Sarah and I work together, and also to our state of mind right now, which is all kinds of, you know, last week Sarah had COVID, and we're in the midst of a book launch, and there's all kinds of things happening. So, hopefully you've got a bit of an insight into us at the moment, and time management is always top of our priorities, because it helps us to increase the impact through the work that we do. So, hopefully it's been an interesting conversation, but it's one that's very important to us as well.

Don't forget, you'll be able to get the PodSheets, so all of these things will be summarised on the PodSheet for you, so that you can reflect in your own time. And next week's episode is another very exciting one; it's You Coach You live. So, we have taken the You Coach You live event that we did in London, the You Coach You live event that we did in Manchester, where we talked to lots and lots of different people to get their insights, Sarah and I shared some ideas for action all around resilience as well, and we've pulled into one podcast for you. So, do not worry if you couldn't make either of those events. The majority of people couldn't, so don't worry, but the majority of people can now listen to the podcast that's coming live next week. So, we hope you find that one interesting.

Sarah Ellis: So, as always, thank you so much for listening. If you have any topics that you want us to cover this year, if you've got experts you'd like to hear from, remember you can always get in touch with us. We're just @amazingif, or , and we always want your recommendations and your feedback and your ideas. Other than that, thank you so much for listening. We hope it's been a useful episode, and we'll be back with you again soon.

Bye for now.

Helen Tupper: Bye, everyone.

How to manage your monkeys | Amazing If (2024)


What are the four rules to manage monkeys? ›

The Care and Feeding of Monkeys
  • Rule 1. Monkeys should be fed or shot. ...
  • Rule 2. The monkey population should be kept below the maximum number the manager has time to feed. ...
  • Rule 3. Monkeys should be fed by appointment only. ...
  • Rule 4. Monkeys should be fed face-to-face or by telephone, but never by mail. ...
  • Rule 5.

How to keep the monkey off your back? ›

Top 10 Tips for Delegation – How to Keep the Monkeys Off Your...
  2. LEARN TO LET GO. ...
  5. FEEDBACK. ...
Jul 2, 2014

What is an example of monkey management? ›

For example, if a staff member comes to me and says “I can't find this” or “how should I do that”, what do you think is happening? They are passing their “monkey” to me: They identify a problem and immediately pass it to me. I take the problem and offer a solution.

How to deal with monkeys? ›

Ignore the monkey and walk away calmly. Do not ever hit any monkey. Keep hitting the ground with a big bamboo stick to make monkeys leave your house or garden. Presence of big dogs in premises shall make monkeys leave the area.

How do you discipline a monkey? ›

Issue stern commands.

The best way to let your monkey know that you are in charge is to issue a stern command that they stop any aggressive behavior. Issuing a simple command such as “No” or “Stop” is enough. Say your command quickly and clearly, speaking loudly without screaming the command.

What should you not do around monkeys? ›

It may seem like innocent fun and other people may be doing it, but please: do not feed the monkeys. Consider your body language. Avoid smiling at monkeys or making any sort of gesture that shows or bares your teeth. To a monkey, a big toothy grin is a sign of threat and aggression.

What is the 7 monkeys strategy? ›

The 7 Monkeys is a way of enabling students to learn a concept, process or idea independently with minimal teacher input. Each 'monkey' is a different activity that the students undertake to support their learning. The end point is students answering a question with a piece of extended writing.

What is the principle of monkey management? ›

Monkey management is a set of rules that allow managers to avoid directly taking on ownership of other people's monkeys, by agreeing to manage them instead. It allows managers to manage their own time more effectively and focus on their own workloads by delegating responsibilities for problem solving to their staff.

What are monkeys behaviors? ›

All gregariously social primate species should display social behaviours, including physical behaviours and vocal and visual displays relevant to the species. These include, but are not limited to, social grooming, food sharing, communal resting, and interactive play that's applicable to the species.

What are monkeys scared of the most? ›

Most wild-reared monkeys showed considerable fear of the real, toy, and model snakes, whereas most lab-reared monkeys showed only very mild responses.

Are pet monkeys hard to take care of? ›

Overall, monkeys are not good pets. Yes, some can be quite sweet for a time. But the reality is monkeys are capable of causing too much harm and need too much care and attention to thrive in a human household. These issues are equally as important when it comes to apes (chimpanzees, orangutans, and gibbons).

What are the three monkey rules? ›

The phrase "See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil" first emerged in Japan in the 17th century and then was later adopted worldwide as a message of peace and tolerance due to Mahatma Gandhi's visual metaphor of the three monkeys, with one of them covering his eyes, the second his mouth, and the third his ears.

How can monkeys be controlled? ›

In most of the farmland areas, farmers guard their fields with sticks and use trained dogs to scare away the monkeys from their fields. To protect the crops, farmers deploy labours to protect the crops.

What is the 7 monkey theory? ›

The 7 Monkeys is a way of enabling students to learn a concept, process or idea independently with minimal teacher input. Each 'monkey' is a different activity that the students undertake to support their learning. The end point is students answering a question with a piece of extended writing.

What is the 100 monkey rule? ›

The hundredth monkey effect is an esoteric idea claiming that a new behavior or idea is spread rapidly by unexplained means from one group to all related groups once a critical number of members of one group exhibit the new behavior or acknowledge the new idea.

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