June 3, 2022

Tame Your To-Do List with Monkey Management

Daniel Bianchini

One of my favorite books of all time is “The One Minute Manager Meets the Money” by Ken Blanchard, William Oncken, and Hal Burrows. Written in 1985, this short, light-hearted outlook on successful managing likens every next move as a “monkey”. The book argues that to be an effective manager, we must learn to manage the monkeys.  

To stay fresh with my managing skills, and because I thoroughly enjoy the book, I’ve added The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey to my annual reading list. This annual read reminds me of easy to understand and immediately rewarding principles that I can apply to my day-to-day both at work and outside of it. Let’s unpack what goes into monkey management as well as how this applies to our world in Healthcare IT.  

To set the stage for the story and the rules of monkey management, it is important to take a moment to reflect on our work and everyday life. Do you relate to any of the following scenarios?  

  1. I take on others’ responsibilities 
  2. I have trouble finding time to complete my own work 
  3. I cannot stay organized  
  4. Others look to me to know what to do 

If you relate to any of this, you may find that you are not appropriately managing your monkeys. Monkeys are next steps, and it is our job to find the appropriate home and system to manage those monkeys. While we as individuals may be highly responsible and find that we have the skills or expertise to own many next steps in our day-to-day world, an effective monkey manager knows that owning all the monkeys creates a bottleneck and is not effectively using the resources around us. Likewise, we are not creating an environment for others to grow or distinguish themselves.  

The authors provide four rules to monkey management that we can reference to get us started. While the book describes a manager/staff relationship, this can apply to many aspects of your work and everyday life:  

  1. Describe the monkey — Dialogue must not end until the appropriate “next moves” have been identified and specified  
  2. Assign the monkey — All monkeys shall be owned and handled at the lowest organizational level consistent with their welfare 
  3. 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 

  • The insurance you choose is based on your assessment of the risks and staff capabilities. When assigning a monkey, make sure to ask yourself the following questions: Is this person capable of identifying the appropriate steps for addressing this monkey? Is the monkey a high-risk monkey?  
  • Ultimately, most staff begin at Level 1 insurance and get promoted to Level 2 as they prove their skills 

     4. Check on the monkey — Proper follow-up means healthier monkeys — every monkey should have a follow-up appointment 

While the authors are giving steps outlining effective delegation and management, I find monkey management also effective in my own self-management. When presented with a next step in life or work, I am most effective when I review the 4 rules of monkey management as both the manager and the staff. And when I find myself most disorganized or time burdened, I make sure to write out the answers to each rule to re-establish good management practices and put structure around the loose monkeys.  

As participants in the Healthcare IT world, things can be very hectic. Staff departures, new software implementations and upgrades, and new government requirements can eat away at our time. When stressed or busy, even effective monkey managers will slip up and fail from time to time.  

There are a few quick things we can do to help avoid slip-ups and reestablish ourselves as effective managers:  

  1. Automate the monkey management steps — This can be found by structuring your 1:1s or Team Meetings with the four rules of monkey management in mind. Start by describing the monkeys and progress through the four rules. 
  2.  Utilize tools to assist with monkey management — Project management tools and project plans are great tools that can be crafted with monkey management in mind. Load the monkeys into the tools and delegate ownership to your staff with a tool you can quickly reference to check back in on all the monkeys you’ve assigned. Reminder: keep it simple! Monkey management should not be complicated. 
  3. Seek advice  — With a similar goal to rule #4, it is important for us to seek advice and get a regular check-up on our monkey management. Find a peer, outline your monkey management process to them, and establish regular check-ups for them to help you meet your goals.  

Monkeys come in all shapes and sizes. Likewise, good monkey management should be tailored to the manager and their staff. Find the system that works best for you and then follow the rules as you define them to find freedom in your work and day-to-day life.  

If you find yourself needing help with establishing good monkey management practices or are looking for help from a seasoned monkey manager, the team at The Wilshire Group is here to help. We provide revenue cycle expertise alongside polished project management skills and are ready to tackle any challenge. If you would like to learn more about our team and offerings, contact us at info@thewilshiregroup.net and let’s start a dialogue about how we can help.  

Daniel Bianchini

Work with me