Every manager should concentrate on as little possible and primarily on strategically important tasks. In the hectic pace of everyday operations, however, it frequently looks quite different: The manager has to attend to many, often unimportant things. Because employees approach the manager with their questions, problems and topics (the so-called “monkeys”) by means of e-mail messages, telephone conversations, in meetings or by speaking to them personally, handily transferring responsibility, and the corresponding workload, from “below” to “upstairs”. Approaches such as: “Boss, we have a problem here that you should absolutely take a look at”, or “Sir, we are not making any progress here and could use your support”, are typical for this type of situation, and they all have the same drawback: A permanent danger lurks that the manager is involved in the topics of day-to-day business, while really important matters are left undone.
Who does the work?
When employees come with their questions and problems, the manager at first feels good, because he feels that he is needed, or because he wins information and continues to have everything under control. However, the workload shifts almost imperceptibly and increasingly to the superior. In the long term, this leads to a shift in focus: The manager will increasingly be driven by the necessities and activities of everyday business, instead of concentrating on objectives and results: He does “more and more things himself”, instead of letting “matters be handled by others”. He is increasingly subject to remote control, instead of exercising influence himself.
The monkey trap
The experience in working with approximately 35,000 managers has shown: Every second manager has a monkey problem, and almost 20% of all managers find themselves in the monkey trap: This means that the manager is so busy every day, in handling a mountain of operative tasks, e-mail messages and similar items, that he no longer recognizes the basic problem of “ineffectiveness” or, paradoxically, does not have any time for solving his time problem. The fact of “working increasingly harder” simply leads him further away from the goal, because the more “monkeys” he has handled, the more new ones he attracts. It means that the severity of the problem increases. Instead of working “more”, the manager has to start with working “differently” (“Don’t work harder, work smarter”).