Medium 9781936763085

Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People From Liars, Criers, and Other Slackers

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Poor employees get a disproportionate amount of attention. Why? Because they complain the loudest, create the greatest disruptions, and rely on others to assume the responsibilities that they shirk. Learn how to focus on your good employees first, and help them shift these “monkeys” back to the underperformers. Through a simple but brilliant metaphor, the author helps you reinvigorate your staff and transform your organization.

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Chapter 1: It's a Jungle out There

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• Certain workers get away with shirking their responsibilities and even intimidating other employees?

• Management issues strict new rules and regulations that make life miserable for everyone, just because of a few goof-offs?

• Big signs in stores warn against shoplifting or breaking items, with such stern language that you feel uncomfortable just being in the store?

• You have to keep punching the answers to questions and sequences of numbers into the telephone when you're calling a company, only to have the person who finally gets on the phone ask you the same questions and insist that you repeat the same numbers?

These are just a few examples of how misguided leadership can damage a workplace, alienate customers, and otherwise make life annoying, even miserable, for lots of people.

Lately, these problems seem to be getting worse. Lots of ideas for dealing with them have been proposed over the years, but the “solutions” vanish as quickly as they arise because they miss the real issue, which is simple: monkeys are out of place. They've shifted to the wrong people's backs.

 

Chapter 2: Out-of-Place Monkeys

ePub

Let's follow Jim, a branch manager in a cable TV company who oversees the work of about thirty people. Jim dreads interacting with his employees because it seems that every time he does, he winds up taking on some of their duties.

One morning, the cable installers told him they had to cancel three installations because they didn't know how to deal with very old fuse boxes. Jim handled the problem by calling the installation specialist at company headquarters. Since Jim was not a technician, he had to spend a long time going over the installers' information to make sure he got it right and could explain it to the installers. The installers had additional questions, so Jim made four more follow-up calls to the specialist.

Obviously, it would have been much more efficient for the installers to call the specialist or study the detailed installation manuals the company had carefully prepared. Meanwhile, Jim took time away from his own duties, and the installers lost time making second trips to the three cancelled installations. Plus, three very unhappy customers told all their friends about the miserable service they received.

 

Chapter 3: Where is the Monkey, and where should it Be?

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1. Where is the monkey?

2. Where should the monkey be?

3. How do I shift the monkey to its proper place?

Have you ever gone to a store checkout stand, laid your items on the counter, and handed the clerk a twenty-dollar bill—only to watch her whip out a special pen, mark the bill, and hold it up to the light to see if it's fake? I don't know about you, but I feel defenseless when this happens. The only thing I can do is to take out my own pen and mark the change that the clerk gives back to me. Then I bite the coins to see if they are real.

Checking money happens a lot these days, but it is truly amazing when the clerk knows you. She might even smile and say, “Hi, good to see you again!”—as she then takes out that pen to mark your twenty. It's enough to make you wonder if you look like a counterfeiter, with ink stains on your fingers and a guilty look on your face.

Don't worry, you don't. What's happened is that the store has decided to treat everyone as potential criminals. Every bill larger than a ten gets the pen treatment, no matter who presents it, no matter how often—if ever—a counterfeit has been discovered. This common practice is a good example of how management can become so worried about protecting the organization that it risks offending all honest customers. In this situation, where is the monkey?

 

Chapter 4: Treat Everyone Well

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1. Treat everyone well.

2. Make decisions based on your best people.

3. Protect your good people first.

Treat everyone well. Doesn't that sound like a strange idea? Why should liars, criers, and slackers be treated well? Shouldn't they be scolded and forced to toe the line? While it may be tempting to scold, the truth of the matter is scolding doesn't work.

Up until now we've been talking about life in the business world, but as I've said before, monkeys shift in all areas of life. The principles for dealing with them—especially the first principle, treat everyone well—apply universally.

My wife and I love to go shopping for antiques, and we find ourselves in a lot of antique stores where we see signs that say something like:

Pretty to look at,
Nice to hold,
But if it gets broken,
CONSIDER IT SOLD!!!!

Now, my wife is completely driven by guilt. If she thought she had damaged something, she would run up to the store owner, apologize, pay for it, and then rush home to bake the owner a casserole as a token of apology. She's very careful about handling things in antique stores and has never broken anything yet. When she sees a stern warning sign, however, she starts to worry about spending too much time in the store. She fears that the longer she's in the store, the greater the chance she'll break something. Owners who post signs like this don't realize that many people are like my wife: they could become valuable customers, but instead they are much more likely to leave the store quickly because the sign makes them uncomfortable.

 

Chapter 5: Make Decisions Based on your Best People

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1. Treat everyone well.

2. Make decisions based on your best people.

3. Protect your good people first.

Sometimes people confuse shifting the monkey with “killing them with kindness.” These are actually two very different approaches. When you kill them with kindness, you direct all of your efforts toward the negative people. You try to be so nice that they'll see your point of view and change their behavior, or you shift some of the load off their backs until they can see what it's like to get caught up (which never happens), or something similar. Unfortunately, lavishing too much positive attention on the ineffectual folks can be very disheartening to the majority of people, the productive ones.

Consider your current management approach. If a few people are working too slowly, do you put a keystroke counter on everyone's computer? Install a punch clock because a few come in late? Make everyone fill out lengthy forms documenting this or that because a few slackers are not touching all the bases?

 

Chapter 6: Protect your Good People First

ePub

1. Treat everyone well.

2. Make decisions based on your best people.

3. Protect your good people first.

Suppose you're running the regular monthly meeting when Claude stands up, cuts you off, and says, “I just want you to know that I'm really unhappy about…”

He does this all the time: interrupts the meeting to talk about his personal complaints, even though they're not on the agenda. He's had plenty of opportunities to bring the issues up with you before, yet he's wasting the time of all the good people who need to accomplish things during the meeting.

For negative people such as Claude, dominating meetings is a standard technique. Unfortunately, you might accept the monkey by talking about the problem, as many leaders do: “OK, Claude, this isn't on the agenda, but let's take some time to talk about your concern.” All the good people roll their eyes. They know the meeting has been shot, and you're not protecting them (or yourself) against Claude. On the other hand, you might be tempted to respond with sarcasm instead, or even to berate Claude for wasting everyone's time—but that would upset the good employees who don't want to see you behaving in any way other than with a dignified manner.

 

Chapter 7: What Monkeys do you Shift?

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As leaders, we must learn to identify the myriad of monkeys the slothful, uncaring folks gleefully shift to anyone they can convince, or force, to accept them. These include the Fear Monkey, Guilt Monkey, Anger Monkey, Extra-Work Monkey, Resentment Monkey, Concern Monkey, and so on. Having read through this book, you now realize there are an unlimited number and variety of monkeys, and you could identify many I haven't mentioned.

We want to avoid creating inappropriate monkeys, but as leaders we must often shift monkeys ourselves. Many of these responsibilities are doled out due to necessity; work needs to get done! Sometimes, however, unnecessary monkeys pop up because of the inappropriate approaches we've used to deal with poorly performing workers and difficult people in our lives.

When we understand how our own actions create monkeys, we can learn to avoid them and substitute more positive actions. But first we've got to realize what we're doing that's causing the problem. Here's my top-nine list of monkeys that all leaders need to learn to stop putting on others' backs.

 

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