The Principles of Monkey Management

The One Minute Manager Meets The Monkey


If maybe you don’t know much about me yet, I’m currently working in the construction industry.

The other day we were in one of our late night meetings where we review all of our internal and external action items to make sure as a team we knew who and what had to be done.

At one point during the meeting my mentor, Tyler, pointed out we were mismanaging one of our issues. We quickly realized we were creating a roadblock for our success.

Our success as construction managers is based on our ability to maximize the profits, quality, and safety of our project.

Right away, Tyler stopped the meeting and had me purchase 10 copies of the The One Minute Manager Meets The Monkey by Ken Blanchard for everyone on the team. This book was one that helped him advance in his career and become the successful manager he is today.

Our team is full of the construction professionals that completely know what they’re doing but it was clear with the complexity of this project we needed a little reminder of how to better manage ourselves, our people, and our project.


Our Project – April 2016

The construction industry is loaded with risk and a simple mistake or mismanaged situation can quickly spin out of control and cost somebody a lot of cash.


In this article I am going to summarize what I learned about the principles of monkey management, and what I am going to do to become a better manager myself. I believe that no matter what business you’re in, you can benefit from learning monkey management.

Monkey book

I think it’s safe to say if you would like to bring your company OR your business success, you must strive to be a great manager.

The book preaches to the reader an important lesson; how to save time to do what you want & need to do.

Here is how it typically works. A manager’s subordinate will have a problem. While the employee is explaining the problem the monkey is on his back. As the manager is thinking of solutions and offering help, they’re sharing the monkey. The monkey has one leg on the manager and one leg on the subordinate. Finally, the manager decides that he has to put some more thought and do some research on the problem. The monkey has now moved completely onto the managers back and the subordinate walks away 20 lbs lighter.

A monkey is defined as the “next move.”

A monkey is not a project or a problem. A monkey is the next move. Who ever has the next move has the monkey on their back.

For every monkey there are two parties involved: one to work it, and one to supervise it.

The monkey metaphor is a nice way to describe how tasks get pushed toward managers when they really need to be kept away to improve efficiency.

The greater problem is opportunity cost. Spending all of your working on other people’s monkeys means you have no opportunity to work on your own. The manager telling the story in the book says “I was not managing, I was being managed. I was not proactive, I was strictly reactive. I was merely coping.”

When it comes to management, you should avoid becoming a “rescuer” – someone who was doing for others what they could do for themselves and in the process giving them the message they were “not okay.”

He says every time one of my people came to me and shared a problem and I took the monkey away from that person, what I was saying, in essence, was “you’re not capable of handling this problem so I had better take care of it myself.”

Here’s the problem with that strategy. I had this in my mind before, but the book confirmed it.

The indispensable managers can be harmful, not valuable, especially when they impede the work of others. Individuals who think they are irreplaceable because they are indispensable tend to get replaced because of the harm they cause. Even more important, higher management cannot risk promoting people who are indispensable in their current jobs because they have not trained a successor.

The goal of management is to get your people to care for and feed their own monkeys. They’re really managing the work themselves.

That frees up your discretionary time to do planning, coordinating, innovating, staffing, and other key managerial tasks that will keep your unit functioning well into the future.

Here is the breakdown of the process of Monkey Management. The author breaks it down into 4 simple rules. The book references them as Oncken’s Rules of Monkey Management.

Oncken’s Rules of Monkey Management

The dialogue between a boss and one of his or her people must not end until all monkeys have:

Rule 1 – Descriptions: The “Next Moves” are specified.

Describe the Monkey: The dialogue must not end until appropriate “next moves” have been identified and specified.

Rule 2 – Owners: The monkey is assigned to a person.

Assign the Monkey: All monkeys shall be owned and handled at the lowest organizational level consistent with their welfare.

Rule 3 – Insurance Policies: The risk is covered.

Insure the Monkey: Every monkey leaving your presence on the back of one of your people must be covered by one of two insurance policies:

  1. Recommend, Then Act
  2. Act, Then Advise

Rule 4 – Monkey Feeding and Checkup Appointments: The time and place for follow-up is specified.

Check on the Monkey: Proper follow-up means healthier monkeys. Every monkey should have a checkup appointment.

The way you measure success in monkey management is not by what one is able to do, but what you are able to get other people to do.


  1. I’m going to clearly measure my success by what I am able to get my people to do, not what I do myself.
  2. When I assign a monkey, the first thing I am going to do is acknowledge and schedule a time for following up on the progress of that monkey.
  3. With the time I hopefully free up from assigning monkey’s, I’m going to use it for self-imposed learning. I’ll use that time to focus on becoming more knowledgable in my industry. The goal with this is to be able to manage bigger projects and more monkeys in the future.


The purpose of the rules of monkey management is to help ensure that the right things get done the right way at the right time by the right people.

Using these simple rules you will help you gain more control of your own time. Rather than working on every problem in the office, you will have your employees doing most of the work while you check in now and then to find out how they’re doing.

The best way to develop responsibility in people is to give them responsibility.

As I read this book I was reminded the true definition of management:

Management is getting things done through others.

By that definition, the ultimate measure of management is results – the staff’s output resulting from a manager’s input. The greater the ratio of output-to-input, the more effective the manager is.

Let’s crowd-source this thing shall we? What are some of your management philosophies or techniques? What have you learned from other effective managers? Also if you feel comfortable, share your action plan for how you intend to improve as a manager.

Leave a comment below.

Much love,

Kyle Nitchen

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