Oncken, W. & Wass, D.L. (1999). Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey? , Nov-Dec 1999.
Many are the times managers find themselves overwhelmed by tasks, responsibilities, and duties in the workplace. Indeed, given their position of responsibility, it is not uncommon for managers in an organizational setting to have their over by demands from subordinates, peers, as well as superiors. However, for some reason, managers still tend to allow their subordinates to transfer too many problems to them. Using the metaphor of a monkey-on-the-back, Oncken and Wass point out that by endlessly accepting tasks (i.e. monkeys) from subordinates, a manager ends up assuming (voluntarily) “a position subordinate to his subordinate.” As the backlog of tasks keeps on mounting, managers caught up in such a scenario end up loosing control of both their system-imposed and boss imposed activities.
Some managerial experts according to Lussier and Achua (2009) point out that the failure to delegate remains one of the top by those in positions of leadership. Using the monkey analogy, Oncken and Wass have yet again proved that this assertion is indeed true. Time according to Imundo (1993) remains one of the most important commodities in an individual’s life. For this reason, successful leadership is in most on how well those in leadership positions manage their time through the effective delegation of tasks. Taking over the tasks of a subordinate according to Oncken and Wass does not seem like prudent time management. As the authors point out, managers should not allow the indiscriminate hopping of monkeys from the backs of subordinates to their backs. The authors advise that managers should strive to keep most monkeys firmly on their employees’ backs so as to ensure that they do not keep donating their discretionary time. They recommend that this be done by adopting what they refer to as the “Care and Feeding of Monkeys” rules.
Although Oncken and Wass present this article in a somewhat simple way, the relevance of the information contained therein cannot be overstated. Effectively, time management in the opinion of Imundo (1993) boils down to activity management. For this reason, the better an individual is able to manage his or her own activities, the more effective the said individual is likely to be when it comes to time management. Managers must therefore ensure that monkeys do not keep being transferred to their backs. In the words of Oncken and Wass, “managers should try to increase the discretionary component of their self-imposed time by minimizing or doing away with the subordinate component.” This way, they can get all the time they require to better manage their other more pressing duties.
It is important to note that in most cases, managers as Lussier and Achua (2009) note believe that they can accomplish tasks more effectively than their subordinates and for this reason, they refuse to delegate. Indeed, effective delegation of tasks has always been a challenge for most managers. In their article, Oncken and Wass provide managers with not only a reason to delegate but also a tutorial on how to go about it.
In the final analysis, this particular article is all about embracing delegation. It is through the effective delegation of tasks that a manager finds the time to attend to other more urgent (and in most cases more important) undertakings (Lussier and Achua, 2009).
Oncken and Wass have a unique ability to present an otherwise serious issue in an easy to understand way. Their gift of storytelling ensures that in addition to following, the audience also relates with what is being presented. The information contained in this article would be useful to corporate executives and many other individuals in positions of leadership.
Imundo, L.V. (1993). The Effective Supervisor’s Handbook (2nd ed.). New York, NY: AMACOM.
Lussier, R.N. & Achua, C.F. (2009). Leadership: Theory, Application, and Skill Development (4th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.