Don’t. Take. The. Monkey.
Ever had someone stop by your desk, tell you about a problem, and walk away, leaving the mess in your hands? They just gave you a monkey. And what’s worse is that you let them do it.
If you’re not familiar, there’s a common phrase this relates to, which is “monkey on your back.” It’s a metaphor for an unwanted burden that it’s difficult to get rid of. When you accept someone else’s problems, you’re taking the monkey off their back and putting it onto yours. Don’t do it. Don’t take the monkey.
How to avoid monkeys
- Take the time to tactfully, yet directly, ask, “What would you like me to do about this?” Often times, the person will back off. At that point it’s no longer a problem to be solved; it’s just an employee blowing off steam.
- If the problem turns out to be a real issue but isn’t worth dealing with at the current time, simply let the employee know that the other priorities come before the issue at hand. They walk away with the monkey and nobody gets hurt.
- Push back on the employee to handle the issue. Take a moment to agree with them that the issue exists, but explain why they are better suited to handling the problem and request that they return a solution to you. Again, they walk away with the monkey, leaving you to complete your work without the added stress.
I’m guilty of creating monkeys and also taking them on, so this post is based on pure experience (a surprising number of my posts are just me telling myself to stop being an idiot). I also found a great resource to go along with this if you want to check it out. Click here for a great one-page tool on “monkey management” and how to avoid taking on unwanted monkeys in the course of your day job.
If you’re interested in learning more about the HR side of project management, check out the HR project managment guide.
Okay, let’s be honest. Who else has created monkeys out there? How did you (or your manager) handle it? Do you accept monkeys from your staff?
How the “boss” card damages your leadership potential and how to avoid it
Why? Because I said so, and I’m the boss, that’s why.
If you’ve ever heard those words, you’ve probably transported yourself back mentally to a time when you were a young child being chastised by an adult. If you spend any amount of time around kids, there eventually comes a time when you’ll have to say, “Because I said so” in response to a protest.
We’ve all seen that scene play out in its various flavors and settings in the parenting world, but the real question is still unanswered.
Why is it so common in the workplace?
Let me clarify-I’m not talking about doing day to day tasks that are routine. Most normal people wouldn’t challenge their manager with regard to the little things and how they are done.
I’m talking about situations and scenarios outside the norm where the question is clearly laid out there: is this going to be your way or mine? Continue reading
Recently I was asked about human resources tips that managers need to know. There are quite a few, but I was able to narrow the list down to 6 good ones.Â Please feel free to copy this post and email it to all of your managers if you think it would be valuable for them! I’ll be sneaking it into our upcoming supervisor newsletter so our own leaders get a sneak peek into the mind of their friendly neighborhood HR pro.
6 things you’ve always wanted to say to your managers (but never did)
- Take responsibility. Retention, culture, and recognition are your job, not ours. We can help provide tools, but in the end you are in the critical position to succeed wildly or fail miserably.
- Bad to the bone. Just because we have to be “the bad guy” sometimes, we don’t necessarily like it. Use us to develop “carrots” more often and you won’t have to use us as the “stick” nearly as much.
- We’ll teach you to fish. Need help with something? Just ask. All too often we get “the call” after something has already gone wrong. By then it’s too late for the easy route.
- If only you knew. Ha! You complain about your “problem” employee left and right. If I could only tell you about the time I was on the verge of being cursed by a crazy voodoo lady during a termination meeting, you’d realize how lucky you are.
- Don’t micromanage and expect autonomy on demand.Â If you spend every waking minute overseeing the tasks of your employees and suddenly need them to handle a project on their own, don’t be surprised when they are unable to accomplish the task. You’ve trained them to be helpless without your input, and you’ll have to train them how to get along without it.
- Everything. Flows. Down. People treat customers like their managers treat them. You can blame the economy, the company, or whatever you like when your employees have issues. But research tells us that employees leave managers, not companies. Whatever you do has the ability to deeply affect your employees for good or bad. Let’s make it good, shall we?
Okay, I know youÂ have a lesson for your own supervisors. What have you always wanted to say to your managers, but you never had the guts to say it out loud? Here’s your chance!
This snippet appearedÂ in a postÂ on the Ask a Manager blog a few months back. Thought it was a good topic to jump start a post as well as a great reminder from Alison on the dual roles of HR.
Sometimes when I read an article advising a reader to go to their HR department for help, I wonder if this is really a solution that will benefit the worker. I\’ve been privy to situations where it seemed that HR became involved not to mediateâ€“but to fast-track an employee to the exit door. I\’m looking for perspective. It seems as if HR works to shield management, and is rarely a real resource to resolve issues workers may have with folks in a manager\’s role or higher. What does your experience say?Â
HR is there toÂ serve the needs of the employer. In some cases, that means helping out employees â€” because it\’s in the best interests of the employer to retain great employees, hear about and address bad managers, stop legal problems before they explode, and so forth. But plenty of other times, what\’s best for the employer is not what\’s best for the employee. It varies by situation. In general, though, when I read advice suggesting that an employee take a problem to HR, about 75% of the time it strikes me as an inappropriate thing to do; HR people aren\’t therapists or priests or mediators. Unless something is a legal issue or truly egregious, you should deal with your manager directly. (And a good HR department will tell you to do that.)
First off, I think this is a great summary of what HR does from a manager’s point of view. Most of them don’t have this concept down just yet, and it shows in how they interact both with the HR team and with their staff. I have a unique perspective because unlike a lot of HR pros, I work right next to the people I get to serve. I’m always willing to help with the routine questions, but I really enjoy when people ask for those more in-depth things like how a mutual fund in their 401(k) works or how a manager can use incentives to reach one of his team members.
The not so fun side
In my daily work, I run into people who assume it’s their job to tell me every little detail that’s going on with them. Sometimes it’s an obvious attempt to try and excuse poor performance. Other times it’s clearly a call for help, though the person is trying to keep it hidden. Working in small office makes those random complaints of inappropriate behavior much tougher to handle.
And when we truly have a performance issue, we bend over backwards to give the offender plenty of opportunities to get it right. Why? Because while we do “serve the needs of the employer,” we also realize that we’re dealing with people. We’re fallible. Acknowledging it doesn’t mean we have to accept it as the answer to the problem. It just means we are more willing to offer innovative solutions to the problems facing our people.
I attended a new supervisor training session a few years ago, and it left me with some strong feelings about how to run a supervisor training program. I think the way it’s traditionally been done is a poor method for teaching managers what they need to know, but I haven’t decided on the right combination of teaching tools/methods that would be most effective. The one thing I know for sure is that it needs to change.
I ran across this site recently and had to laugh. It is a common theme that I’ll get a call because I’m the “computer guy” in the family. With Teach Parents Tech you have the option of sending video links directly to those who need assistance. That allows you to indirectly teach your parents/grandparents/in laws/whoever how to do computer tasks from simple (changing your computer’s clock) to advanced (changing your email address).
Why can’t we do that?
Then I started thinking about other applications. What if you could do the same for your supervisors? What if there was a neat way like this to teach them the basic principles of good management? Would you use the tool?
For instance, a new supervisor runs into a situation (giving feedback on poor performance, motivating employees in a slump, giving a presentation to senior management, etc.). They don’t have someone available to ask for help, so they pop onto the web and find the video that corresponds with that particular situation.
No, it’s not a perfect substitute for an in-person chat with someone who already knows how to do the task, but it’s better than going into the situation blind-folded. Just a little bit of preparation could go a long way in most instances.
A few situations I think would be neat to cover:
- How to give accurate, honest feedback
- Why documentation is essential
- The wide world of terminations
- Harassment, discrimination, and lawsuits, o my!
- Safety and security in the workplace
- How to train someone
- Coaching and mentoring your staff
- Building and managing teams
- Developing and pursuing a vision
- And tons more!
What do you think? Are there other scenarios that you think they run into on a daily basis that they could use some new supervisor training on?
Retention management is a responsibility that is pushed from HR to managers to executives and back again. As the ones closest to the action, supervisors can have a positive impact on employee turnover if they take the right steps.
â€œPeople leave managers, not companies.â€
Marcus Buckingham in First, Break All the Rules
Whatever your turnover rate is, it could always be better. Especially when the estimated cost of turnover is 30-50% of the position\’s salary, and that can jump to 400% for highly specialized or senior level positions! There are many ways that you as a manager can influence this statistic. Don\’t believe me? Here are 11 ways to improve your retention rate.
- Feedback-providing regular, honest assessments of someone\’s work lets them know you care
- Regular meetings-take the time to be transparent about what you know
- Explanations of work-remind people of the end purpose/goal for the work they are performing
- Goals for the future-help your team members develop positive, challenging goals
- Work/life balance-when work and life come into conflict, don\’t make them choose between work performance and family
- Professional development-give opportunities to learn and grow; people appreciate the managers who challenge them to be better
- Ask for (and seriously consider) input/opinions-when they know you are honestly asking for input, they\’ll be honest with you
- Focus on strengths-give tasks based on strengths when possible; it gives people something to look forward to and ensures the work is being done well
- Serve them-servant leadership beats fear-based leadership every single time; if you\’d rather be feared than respected, it\’s time to hang up your manager hat
- Clear expectations-if you want something from them, make it obvious; hinting and beating around the bush just frustrates everyone involved
- Internal equity-treat your high workers well and challenge your low performers to get better; treating both parties the same is a recipe for disaster
If I had to boil that down to two short and sweet actions, it would be walk and talk. Get out of your office/cube and go see your people. Take opportunities to not only talk with them about what you know, but to ask them for feedback on your performance.
One question I often receive is â€œbut what about my low performers, isn\’t that good turnover?â€ If we\’ve taken the time to put an employee through the disciplinary process and they still aren\’t turning around, then yes, there are sometimes no other options. But that is to be exercised only after you\’ve attempted activities like those listed above. It\’s a last resort, not a quick fix to a performance problem.
While we have a well-established process for performance appraisals, that annual/semi-annual conversation should be a restatement of the facts you both already know and understand. Neither party should be surprised during review time, so make sure you are regularly building in opportunities to provide two-way feedback. Your people will appreciate you for it!
Sometime last year I ran across Dale Dauten’s website when I found out he was coming to the Alabama SHRM conference to speak. My post on killing the status quo focuses on that session, but he also has created a list of rules for work that I think most people need to learn. It’s titled “The Contribution Ethic.”Â I’m going to add my own comments behind each main idea to clarify what each means to me. After I share the ten points, I am going to challenge you to pick one to focus on today, so try to figure out which one you need to work on the most.
- Just help-Make yourself useful. Don’t make someone ask for your help; just do it. It’s one of the single largest ways to differentiate yourself from everyone else at work.
- A great player is worth less than a great teammate-A great player may not improve the group’s performance, but a great teammate always does. Be careful when hiring “all stars” who don’t play well with others. If you have to spend twice as much time managing that “star’s” attitude, then it wasn’t really that good of a hire, right?
- Your half is 60 percent-Focusing on “doing your half” and then stopping is no way to go through your working life. Do more than what people expect. Or do the hard part. Or whatever it takes to make it easier on your teammate when you hand the project back to them in an unfinished state.
- Innovation is a subversive activity-Organizations are built for continuity, not creativity. Don’t let someone tell you the idea isn’t worth trying if you truly believe it has merit. Someone else somewhere believes in that idea, too. Find them and co-opt their influence to help you.
- Giving time without attention is an empty gift-wrapped box-Managers, I’m looking at you. Don’t make your people wonder, “Am I good enough?”
- Assume the best-Dale says this best: If you assume that every tenth person in the world is a jerk and that you’re a jerk a tenth of the time, then you can meet the world with a smile… You willÂ run into people that are pretty much terrible human beings. How youÂ react in those situations is what matters most.
- Being right is overrated-Keep trying. Worry less about who is right and when and more about how you are going to reach the end goal.
- Being wrong is underrated-I always like to say, “Everything I know how to do well I screwed up the first time.” Being wrong is just one more opportunity to learn something new.
- Always bring something to read-I am a huge fan of reading, and I think it’s one way to separate good employees from great ones. If you don’t have a corporate library, maybe you need one. This great quote I heard yesterday says it all: I not only wrack my brain when I come to a difficult issue, I wrack the brains of others through reading and discussion.Â One of my favorite authors also talks about books being our way of learning from our past mistakes so we don’t repeat them. If you aren’t reading, you are missing out. I feel like this point is combating the complaint from many that they “don’t have time.” If you have a book with you at all times, you’ll find little snippets of time throughout the day to read without impacting anything else you have going on. Ten extra minutes per day is an hour a week of reading that you wouldn’t otherwise be doing!
- Think like a hero; work like an artist-Heroes attack the dragons, save the maidens, and win the day. Artists put relentless passion into their work and refuse to let anyone tell them it’s not worthwhile. Combine the two and you’ll be an unstoppable force.
If you’d like to download the original PDF of The Contribution Ethic, here’s the link.
Is there an item in this list that you can focus on today in order to better yourself? Which one?Â