On Content People, host Meredith Farley interviews creative professionals and leaders to get a behind-the-scenes look at their career experiences and turn that into actionable advice for listeners. Tune in to hear from experts in various media, and get inspired to find contentment in your own creative career.
Episode #9 Summary
If you’re a manager who wonders why you’re working late nights and weekends while everyone else is off, this one is for you.
In this episode, Meredith Farley chats with David Snyder, Brafton’s Chief Services Officer.
They tackle their favorite management article “Who’s Got the Monkey?” It has excellent guiding principles for managers who need some help balancing “monkeys” — that is, everyday work problems. Here’s how to get your monkeys in a row.
Are you a manager? Have you ever wondered why you’re working late nights and weekends while everyone else is off? If so, the ninth episode of Content People is perfect for you.
This time, I’m chatting with David Snyder, Chief Services Officer at Brafton, about the seminal management advice article, “Who’s Got the Monkey?”
This is a little bit of a more casual convo. Dave and I worked together for nearly 10 years and really wanted an excuse to do an episode together. We both love the advice in this article and are frequently sending the link around to other managers. So — it seemed like the perfect focal point for our conversation.
We take a deep dive into the article, what we can learn from it, and even where we disagree with it. We also discuss management, delegation, and what leadership should look like in the modern workplace. Here’s a quick look at what we explore:
- How to keep from making everyone else’s problems into your problems.
- When and how to set smart boundaries.
- Why it’s important to encourage open, honest conversations.
- How to avoid people-pleasing and burnout.
- How to develop management skills throughout your career.
We had a lot of fun talking about this. Hope you might enjoy it, too.
Thanks for listening!
– Meredith Farley, Creator and Host of Content People
More Content for Content People
Monkey Problems: Read the original article, “Who’s Got The Monkey,” by William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass.
Brafton: Take a break from your monkeys and enjoy our digital marketing newsletter.
Meredith’s newsletter: Check out Meredith’s newsletter (also called Content People).
Meredith: Hey everyone and welcome to Content People of Podcast, where we talk to creatives and leaders to uncover actionable advice. For listeners, I’m the show’s creator and host Meredith Farley. I’m here as always with our producer, Ian. Hey.
Ian: Hey, Meredith, today’s episode is a conversation with you and Dave Snyder, Brafton’s own Chief Services Officer, and someone who I’ve worked pretty closely with since I started at Brafton.
Meredith: Yeah, back when this was recorded, I was still with Brafton and I was Dave’s manager, but happily I can now just call him my friend. If you are a manager who has ever wondered, why am I working late nights and weekends while everyone else’s is off? This episode is for you. In the combo, we talk about the classic management article Who’s Got The Monkey by William Onken.
I don’t know if I’m saying that right. It’s O N C K E N. Dave and I are both longtime fans of this article’s advice and we are constantly sending the link around. I’ve definitely referred to it as an absolute banger of a management article, and I stand by that. The gist of it is don’t let your subordinates’ problems immediately become your problems.
And if you’re gonna help them with a challenge, you need to set clear boundaries and expectations for the ways in which you will support them in their problem solving. And it has great monkey imagery. There are elements of the language that are a little old school, and by that I just mean formal. For instance, it just inspired me to use the word subordinate, which kind of feels like borderline offensive today.
It was first published in 1974, but the principles I believe are still very applicable today and I think it also stands in really helpful contrast to, to some of the more nurturing coaching style management combos and ideas that we’ve talked about on the show so far. I believe it is imperative to support your teams but your teams also need to support you and to get things done. This article can be a helpful and empowering reminder that you are the boss, which as funny as it may sound, I know sometimes can be really necessary and helpful to managers. This is definitely a bit more of a casual episode. I hope you might still enjoy it and get something out of it.
Either way. If you manage or hope to manage a team, definitely check out the article. We’ll throw a link to who’s got the monkey in the. And if you haven’t already, give my newsletter. Also call Content People a subscribe, send start in February. A link will be in the show notes. Dave, thank you so much for doing this.
Meredith: Hi Dave. Welcome to Content People.
David: Thank you for having me.
Meredith: So I will say for our listeners, whomever they may be that Dave is. Well, Dave, I’ll let you introduce yourself, but I’ll say that we have worked together for 10 years and I’m super excited to get to have a nice conversation with you about some of the things that we talk about all the time and also have an hour of slightly less structured theoretical conversation than we usually have the time to have. So thanks for doing this. And so you are our VP of services at Brafton. Do you want to kind of express what you do in a little bit of your history at Brafton so far?
David: So I am the VP of services. I started a little over 10 years ago as a writer with Brafton hired by you actually.
I , I eventually after being a, a writer for about three years, I believe it was, I had moved up to, I believe my title at the time was Head Writer. That was when we introduced, when you introduced. Team at brafton, the project management team I, well, was intrigued by the notion I applied to be part of that team.
I was accepted as one of the inaugural members, . Eventually I became the manager of that team. And then eventually that. Team grew until the point where it needed to be split to multiple teams. I eventually assumed my current role, VP of services, where I oversee all of our project management department, which is comprised of three teams, and then also our consulting department, which is also now comprised of effectively three teams, general consulting, P p C, and now email marketing.
Meredith: The rule of three is strong with your structures, does seem to be, oh, That’s fine. I don’t rem I didn’t remember that I hired you. Yep. Do you remember your interview? I’m sure you do. I do. People remember inter they remember
David: Well, I was, I was interviewed by someone else who, whose name does actually escape me.
But as, as I’m sure you remember when we when Brafton was first, you know, starting or when I was first starting with Brafton you didn’t start as a salaried employee right away. You started, I was essentially a freelancer. So I’d been doing some effectively freelance work for some time and. And then eventually was, you know, made an offer for a full-time salary position.
You were the one who made that, that that offer to me. So I do remember it was a brief conversation, but I do remember that, you know, formally I think of you, you as the one who officially hired me into a full-time role at Brafton ,
Meredith: I would formally like to say, I am desperate for you to come on as a full-time writer, Aren you.
That was probably. internal script there and work out pretty well. Yeah. What year would, so that was 2012? Correct. Wow. That I also too started in that freelance capacity. And then I think same thing, a few months in had a full-time writing role in the office. It’s always, I know we’ve talked about it, but it’s funny because we’ve all, like, there’s two raft adversaries mm-hmm.
that could come up. Yeah. and everyone’s always giving me like, Hey, happy BRAF anniversary on the date that I don’t think is my annual date. Likewise, yeah. . Well, all right, cool. So yeah, you’ve had quite a wild ride at Brafton and as you said, we both started as writers, which I feel like I always appreciate about.
I think it’s really helpful at Brafton to. the experience of, or in any company really to know exactly what it’s like to do the roles that you’re managing or overseeing or working with and the kind of empathy and insight that it gives you is really valuable. And also love that about your origin story, from copywriter to VP of services in 10 years.
and I’m sure you’ve got some really good advice for a lot of folks who are at different points in that career journey or trajectory in, in agency or creative environment. So I’m really excited to get to talk to you about some of those pieces. Great. But one way well, so let’s see. I’m gonna pull up that you and I kind of have a, a slightly, we have a few things that we’d like to hit on.
One is that the article, who’s got the monkey? is something that you and I talk about a lot. It is a seminal classic management article about essentially, I think mindset and delegation, and I have found it, I know to be one of the most important management articles slash concepts that I think I’ve come across or engaged with in the last five or so years.
I know you and I have talked on it quite a lot and I want us to dig into it because I feel like it speaks to some really key elements of being successful managing in an agency environment. So I’m excited for us to dig in there and then also talk about, you know, how we apply some of those principles for new managers, what some basic takeaways might be when some of the concepts in that piece don’t work.
And then also, You know, the article and, and so many bits of management advice talk a lot about managing down, but I feel like you and I have talked a a lot about how we’ve found success and found that for both our staff and ourselves, how we manage up is really imperative toward how we, you know, how we get things done and how we progress.
So I’m excited to, to kind of pick your brain about that a little bit and then kind of get some of your advice out. for folks that are just starting out or in management roles, looking to move up into VP level positions and kind of advice that you wish you could give your younger self. So I’m really excited to touch on all those things with you.
But first, alright, so who’s got the monkey? We’re linked to this in the show notes. This is an article that it’s in Harvard Business Review. We have talked on this. Dave and I have talked on this at length because we both. , I’ve given it out to so many new managers. We talked about in the Brafton article Book Club.
Dave, I feel like this is a link that you probably send around to some of the managers on your team sometimes as well. Is that right?
David: I’ve definitely, I’ve definitely shared it and definitely made references to it on numerous occasions.
Meredith: Okay. All right. So I recommend anyone who has not heard of this article gives it a read asap.
I find it to be incredibly calming and clarifying advice around delegation. creating boundaries around ownerships of problems. I also think there are some issues with this article. It is from, I think it’s from the early nineties. Lemme see. 19 90, 99 was when it was first published. Oh, what were you gonna say?
Maybe you’ve got, I
David: think it’s actually originally published in the seventies and that was reissued as part of a Harvard Business Review compilation in the 90.
Meredith: You are right. All right, so I’m reading the editor’s note now. Mm-hmm. , it says, originally published in November, December, 1974 issue of HBR and has been one of the publication’s, two best selling reprints ever.
So it’s been around, I do think there are elements of it that feel dated. You know, it’s crazy. This article’s almost 50 years old. It’s 48 years old. And there are some pieces, as I read it now, I think. Mm. That’s not gonna, that doesn’t work in today’s environment. You’re, if you said that to a member of your team, they might quit within the next week on you.
So I, I’m curious to roll through those things first, but first, like what? I’d be curious for your summary of what you think the article is aiming to convey its salient points and why it feels.
David: So I think the, the article is ultimately, as you said, it’s, it’s around you know, delegation more, more than anything else.
So the, you know, the metaphor that the, the, the writer uses throughout the, the, the, the piece I believe the writer William Ankin Jr. And Dan Donald Wass, I might be mispronouncing those. But the, the metaphor is that problems are monkeys and the, one of the pitfalls that managers can fall into is taking on.
Monkeys problems from their subordinates to such a degree that they are not able to adequately resolve those problems. And what’s more, while those problems are with the manager, while the monkeys are with the manager, the, the staff members are not working on those problems and perhaps are not working on anything whatsoever.
And so ultimately, by taking so many monkeys on the the workplace is inefficient, the manager’s overworked and unproductive. Nothing gets done. And the the, the management advice that is ultimately being given throughout the. It’s around how important it is for the manager to make sure that they do not take on too many of these monkeys, but rather ensure that staff members, monkeys stay with them and, and they are able to keep their monkeys fed and healthy and and manage leaving the manager with more time to work on other a aspects of the business, working on system-wide issues working on supervision as a more general concept, which is just not possible when there’s, when all their time is consumed.
Trying to maintain dozens upon dozens of monkeys that they’ve allowed to climb onto their own backs. And so that, that’s the, that’s the, the, the question of who’s got the monkey. If, if the manager has too many monkeys, then the, the, the office environment is going to, to suffer. It’s important to ensure that the number of monkeys on a manager’s back remains reasonable.
Meredith: Yeah, totally. And as you, so as you said, I, I think one key point here, there’s this visual throughout the article that monkeys are problems. And I love that visual because whenever I read this article, I picture people walking around through the halls of maybe a 1970 something workplace with like actual monkeys on their backs,
And there’s this one bit that I’m gonna read. It’s just a few sentences. So, The paragraph is, let us imagine that a manager is walking down the hall and that he notices one of his subordinates Jones coming his way. When the two meet, Jones greets the manager with Good morning, by the way, we’ve got a problem you see?
As Jones continues, the manager recognizes in this problem the two characteristics common to all problems his subordinates, gratuitously bring to his attention. Namely, the manager knows A enough to get involved, but B, not enough to make the on the spot decision expected of him. Eventually the manager says, so glad you brought this up.
I’m in a rush right now. Let me think about it and I’ll let you know. Then he and Jones Park Company. . So then, you know, the article goes on to talk about there was a mistake made here, which is that the monkey literally now transferred from fictional Jones’ back to fictional managers back. And the next steps and the thinking on this problem are now solely with the manager and throughout the piece.
The advice is essentially that if someone on your team has a problem, What you need to do is to keep them present and engaged with and maintaining official ownership of the problem. So I won’t continue to read on, but I think that what the article would suggest and manager actually does, if someone comes up and is like, Hey, guy, woman, boss, whatever.
I’ve got a problem. Manager should. . Okay, great. Thank you. I’d like to discuss this so I understand it and can advise, please book time on my calendar. I’ll ask you to brief me on it and I’ll support you in thinking through action points. Done. And I think I love this because I think those tiny habits are so impactful in number one, helping your teams embody and own.
an ownership mindset around their own challenges and problems. I think that by removing, you know, keeping things off of your list as vague challenges that you need to think about book time to talk about, create ideas around and like own the solutioning. , keeping those things off of your to-do list and compartmentalized with the folks who will ultimately be responsible for actioning and solving those problems is wildly freeing to your calendar and your headspace.
You’re compartmentalizing the problems and you’re not losing track of them. They’re not falling onto some you know, they’re not falling onto a a to-do list that is never gonna get complet. Someone else knows that they own it and they’re gonna, it’s, you know, you’re gonna be in control of, okay, let’s meet again on this in two days.
Let’s meet again on this next week, et cetera. So it keeps things from falling by the wayside that those are the main things that I take away from it, and I find really freeing. And also, I wanna get down, go down a little further and talk about the way that article supports the reader by giving some specific language.
But I’m curious, you might have different takeaways or what’s like, , how does this article kind of like empower or help.
David: Yeah, no, I mean, I, I don’t disagree with anything you said, and I, I was thinking, you know, in preparation for this conversation, you know, what, what about this article really, you know, spoke to me, continues to, to speak to me.
And I think that what it ultimately comes down to is well, for one thing, I think that this is the sort of this is a, a problem that I was having when I first, especially first started getting into management. I think it’s a, a common problem. Taking on too many monkeys. And so, you know, it really resonated with me.
Cause I, I, I immediately related to it on that on that on that footing. I think that, you know, in, in line with that, but also beyond it, the, the management problems and advice that, that I, I find myself most drawn to and the discussions I most enjoy taking part of surround those aspects of management where, what seems like good manage management behavior, what seems like, you know, admirable management actually cause.
Problems. And yeah, those are the sorts of pitfalls that especially new managers, I think are likely fall into. Because on the surface, when you, you know, you describe to that that anecdote with the, you know, manager walking down the hall and coming across Jones, the manager response, I think to most people, he, you know, it makes sense and it seems reasonable, and I think especially someone who is new to management would, you know, they’d want to, as a good manager, they wanna be supportive and helpful.
That sounds like a supportive, helpful approach. And so it seems like the way to, to handle the situation, and it’s only upon further reflection and looking at the, you know, the broader perspective, looking at the implications and consequences of this sort of, At scale, they realize why it can be so damaging and why it can be so untenable for a, you know, healthy organization.
So I really, I really appreciate and I like, you know, I’m drawn to those sorts of aspects of management where the, you know, the correct approach is in some ways, you know, to someone who’s not as well versed in management is sort of counterintuitive. You have to be. kind of, you know, almost meaner, or you have to be a little bit more, you know, less, you have to seem less supportive.
But ultimately that is the more supportive approach for the broader team and the broader health of the, the organization and the environment. It’s, it’s, I, I, I, I, I think that when I first started game management, I very much had the same mindset of like, let me help, I’ll, I’ll help you, I’ll help here, I’ll help there.
I’ll try to take these things on. And it’s just not tenable and it causes all these other, you know, further down the line problems that you don’t see at that, at that time. And I think that you just need to, through, through, you know, through hearing the sort of advice and through, through being a manager, you start to realize, you start to realize how in some cases you need to take a, you know, a firmer line or you need to draw, you know, you need to draw barriers and that actually is for everyone’s benefit, not just your own.
Meredith: absolutely. I totally agree with that. and I, I have lots to say about what, what you just said, but I also feel like we should express to that a little further down in the article, it kind of paints a picture of the manager who doesn’t have the good boundaries. You’re talking about who is maybe taking the overly amenable, Mimi people pleasing approach to things and has, you know, he, the example is that it is a Sunday and this manager goes into the office.
He or she has so many monkeys to sort through. They need the quiet time without folks around them to get their team’s work done essentially. And you know, they look out the window, which is serendipitously right across from the golf course. Mm-hmm. , where all of the direct reports are having a nice Sunday golfing.
And then on Monday, one of the direct reports comes in, knocks on the door and. , Hey, how are we doing with that problem of mine that you said you’d work on? And I bet ton, you know, there are tons of people who could read this and ex be like, oh, I have been there. Yeah. Where I suddenly feel like I am now the subordinate of the people who report into me, and they’re waiting on me to take next steps with these big problems that I have.
inadvertently through subtle elements of mishandling made holy my own. Mm-hmm. . And, and I think what you said, oh, sorry, go ahead.
David: Well, one other, I think that that’s exactly right. I think it’s a very evocative you know, metaphor and just, there’s one other element of that that also really you know, stood out to me again when I was rereading this article preparation is that the people on the golf course, the direct reports are talking about how the manager can’t make a decision and is holding everything up.
And if only they would. You know, just, just move things along then, you know, everyone would be able to get their jobs done. Meanwhile the manager is, like you said boarded up in their office trying to handle the feeding of 60 monkeys and still struggling to try to get everything under control.
Meredith: Yeah. Yeah. I love that the article gets that in there because I feel like no manager should ever be subject to having to hear what everyone who reports to them complains about when they come out on a Sunday. Like psychological impact of that is just too but yeah, I totally, totally agree with so much of what you said.
And I also think to your point, that when new managers come into the. , there is often a desire to please and support and do well by, and they want to allow situations and dynamics that let their reports feel like, oh, thank God for so and so because they fixed this for me. Mm-hmm. Et cetera. But really over time, I think especially if you’ve got a lot of things to manage and a lot of things to get done, I think the healthiest approach, which there’s article.
I think it, it could go further, but you know, it espouses boundaries for sure. An incredibly clear and precise delineation and assignment of ownership of problems. And I think we should talk a little bit about some of the language it gives around that. I think that, for me, what I take away is that good management is about good, clear, established.
Now, I think that what the article doesn’t go into sufficiently is that as a manager, you also have discretion about when you are going to reach your own boundaries and decide for whatever reason, that actually you’re gonna own something that you would prefer the team to own. For reasons around, for, for myriad reasons around the context of the problem, which I think we can talk on in a little bit.
But I want to pull up and just chat through a little bit around. . Hmm. Okay. So this is like very 1970s language, but in the story at this point, the manager’s so fed up with his Sunday working while his team golfed and asked him how things are coming, that he comes up with basically really good, healthy boundaries and he meets with one of the subordinates on a Monday or Tuesday morning, and the article reads, When the subordinate with the monkey on his or her back and the manager meet at the appointed hour, the next day, the manager explains the ground rules in words to this effect.
At no time when I’m helping you at this or any other problem, will your problem become my problem? The instant your problem becomes mine, you no longer have a problem. I cannot help a person who hasn’t got a problem when this meeting is over, the problem will leave this office exactly the way it came in on your.
You may ask my help at any PO appointed time and we’ll make a joint determination of what the next move will be and which of us will make it. In those rare instances where the next move turns out to be mine, you and I will determine it together. I will not make any move alone. The manager follows the same line of thought with each subordinate until about 11:00 AM When he realizes he doesn’t have to close his office door, his monkeys are gone.
They will return, but by appointment only, his calendar will assure this. one. I have to say I do love this, but. And maybe this was appropriate in 74, I just cannot use, I would could convey this to someone at this point, but I could never imagine using this language, right. To say this. I feel like you’d get a blank stare and someone would be like, what the hell is wrong with you but I do like that the article gives helpful language because I feel like, especially for newer managers, so often finding your management style is actually just finding. , the language that you use to articulate what feels to be right to you and the the ground rules and approach that you essentially wanna establish.
So I would never recommend anyone use that script. Mm-hmm. . But I do think finding a modern, more collaborative and less condescending way to say that is really helpful when trying to kind of make this shift. , what are your thoughts on that part?
David: Yeah, no, I, I completely agree. I mean, the senti, I think the sentiment is, is, is admirable and it’s, you know, I I very much in, in line with what I was, you know, saying before, it sounds harsh, it sounds, and it is harsh, and it’s, again, language is overly harsh, but like the, even the concept sounds harsh.
The concept of saying, you know, this problem is your problem, it’s not going to become my problem. That seems like a very, you know, it seems like a very confrontational and, and and adversarial thing for a manager to say to a subordinate. But the reality is like, this is. Any workplace needs to function.
The manager has their own problems, their own monkeys that are coming from other directions and from up above. They can’t take on every problem. Their j their job is to manage, not to, not to just do everyone else’s jobs for them. And that’s what happens when the monkeys keep landing on their, their back.
So the, the notion of drawing that line and being very firm in that line, I think is, is is spot on. But yeah, to your point, I think both the literal language and also I think some of the sentiments behind it are, are rather rather extreme. And I definitely would think that anyone who. Receive that sort of conversation from their manager would, would feel unsupported.
And, and I think reasonably so. There’s ways of essentially conveying the same notion of, generally speaking, your problems will remain your problems. I will be there to help guide you and help you you know, determine the, your course of action, but it’ll remain your course of action. I think that is, I, I think that’s the correct sentiment.
I think that though, the, you know, one of the things I know we’ll talk a little bit later on around some of the, Quibbles we might have with, with some of the article, despite how much we like it. For me, one of the things that, you know, does stand out, and I think this is common in, in many of these sorts of managerial guides and, and essays and such, is does treat every monkey as the same and, and the, as the solution for addressing these monkeys as the same across the board.
And I think, you know, there’s a lot of different species of monkeys out there, and I do think that there will be different approaches warranted for different situations. This approach, this, you know, hard line barrier approach. Might be correct 99% of the time. But I would have to imagine that even in this 1974 workplace, there would be some situations where it does make more sense for the manager to say, let, I’ll take that monkey, that specific monkey.
I will take that one because I, I, for whatever reasons I have, but the 99% of other monkeys will remain with my staff. But you know, the essay does just, you know, it doesn’t open the door to that possibility.
Meredith: Yeah. . I think what the SAP presupposes is that the staff members have the ability to effectively and efficiently actually resolve these issues.
Mm-hmm. , and there are certainly moments as a manager where you might come across a problem and you think, Hmm, I have the problem that I have a team member who can’t solve their own problems. I feel like in that instance, you know, sometimes you’re like, well, this person. probably through a fault of my own.
Like I’ve put this person in a roller position that is not best serving them or us. So like, how do I resolve this? But I think very often it’s actually this person needs some support, guidance, and training about how to do this in the future. And then I think some of these boundaries and principles still apply, for example, I can think of newer managers that I’ve worked with where I would still, you know, say, say we had a a new manager of a team and there are one, this person I feel is the right fit for the job, but I know they’re gonna need lots of mentorship and training over the next year to really get there.
So a few basic things are, number one, do we have a rolling agenda doc that they. That’s true of me for everybody. I think. True of you. For everyone too. Yeah. But I feel like it’s especially important in this moment because as problems come up throughout the day via email, in meetings we use Gchat, like Slack, whatever.
It’s helpful for you as the manager to say blank, can you please add this to our agenda for tomorrow? Yeah. And then number two is really frequent, like daily meetings with those folks so that you can with them in real. work through the challenges sometimes in front of them. You know, I’ve done stuff like writing emails, policy docs actually doing whatever spreadsheet work needs to get done, like in front of people.
And sometimes they might be like, can I just get off this call if you’re just gonna do it? I’m like, no, no, no, . If you can’t do it, that’s okay. But you gotta watch me do it and ask questions so that next time you can do it in front of me with my support. And then in six months from now, you do this and we never talk about it.
So I do think that the by appointment only and the compartmentalization and the official ownership of problems can all still be helpful even when you’re doing so much mentorship, training, et cetera. And I feel like you take similar approaches. , I dunno, what’s your, what are your thoughts on that? I feel Yeah, do you, I feel like you do kind of the same thing.
David: Yeah. Well, I, I, I think I, I think I know where I Lear learned those techniques from from, you know, I, I, I have been the the person I’m sure in the, in in some of the situations where, you know, working through, you know, have show you, showing me you know, how to, how to do some of these things. And then I do, you know, take it to heart and try to then, you know, own that, that process going forward in the.
So that we don’t have to do it together in, in the future. And then I’ve taken that same approach with people who are report to me, managers and otherwise you know, I, cause I, I do, I very much agree with it and I’ve appreciated the, you know, the, the experience myself o over the years. I do, I do definitely think that like, like you’re saying the, the, a lot of these situations, it’s important to recognize that there is a twofold problem.
You know, short-term, long-term. The short-term problem is whatever the actual. Need is the, you know, the, the, the client is upset. The, the policy needs to be written, the communication needs to be rolled out wherever the case may be. But then there’s also the problem that this person who ideally owns that problem, doesn’t know how to solve that problem.
And so the solution that’s, you know, the way it’s presented in this, in this article you know, I think it does open the door to having a conversation around how we will work through it together. But they, they make such a point though. And, you know, that essay writer makes such a point of, of saying, you know, this will still be your.
you know, you will be the one doing it. I will just weigh in on it when I think that you are entirely correct, that like there are those times and makes sense for the manager to do it themselves, but to solve the, in order, to solve the short-term problem. But they’re also solving the long-term problem by training and teaching and now reducing the likelihood that the same sort of situation appears in the future.
And I think that that does actually speak to the, you know, one of the key. Key elements of this article as a whole, which is I think that in a vacuum any given monkey that is, you know, that appears it might make. In and of itself for the manager to just take care of it by themselves. You know, like that might be the most efficient thing to be done in that moment.
But it’s when you look at the holistic situation, when you, when you try to do this at scale, then it becomes completely untenable for the manager to take on all those, all those monkeys, and so, it is. I think you know, it’s, it’s really speaks to me in, in regards to the broader framework of management in that, that you do need to have this, this, this broader perspective as a manager than you do have as a, you know, as a, as a staff member.
And the broader perspective requires that you are not overloading yourself and also that you’re not leaving problems just in the wind. You need to be working to solve those problems, but also working. Create a system that doesn’t allow those problems to be either continually created or at the very least, make sure that those problems don’t continually fall onto your back out of necessity.
Meredith: Yeah. As you’re talking on, I’m thinking too how I feel like this approach, and even if you’re in the middle with someone that you’re kind of mentoring, supporting through elements of this approach. . It’s twofold. And that number one, it’s so important to like reducing burnout because if you feel that you own every problem that could pop up across your teams, mm-hmm.
the mental weight of getting up in the morning and signing on to see like what fresh hell awaits you on email is awful existentially. Terrible not sustainable. And, and I think, you know, totally could lead to burnout. 100%. So I, I think these boundaries also allow you to, one, sometimes just feel a little happier, or for me at least, to feel happier as a manager.
I don’t want every single thing that goes wrong to become my problem on the spot or in the future. And also, I think long-term, these practices are imperative to building out a stronger and more autonomous. by doing this work, even if it’s a more modified version of it, where you’re working with people but not doing their work for them, you are training and developing a team that in two or three years is going to be, you know, light years ahead of where they’d be if you just solved their problems for them.
And that, I have to say, I feel definitely this way with. Aren’t you like our, our, the creative production and service management team across the board, generally, I’m like, man, everyone is just doing so well right now. Like, I am in a spot where I get to weigh in, advise, supervise, give input, but I don’t feel like everybody, you know, I don’t wake up and think what’s gonna happen today?
Who owns this problem? So for, yeah, for me it’s been like freeing and incredibly imperative to my general happiness. But I do think, like, so let’s talk about the stuff that we think wouldn’t work today. For me, I’d say that I feel like a couple things. One, communication, so in line with like that dated language, I feel like now we’ve evolved so much in the last 50 years as like professional norms have changed so much that I don’t.
I can’t imagine a boss saying something like that and not following it up with like, how do you feel about this? What’s your input, what’s your take? Like I think it’s so important now that we’re always encouraging and having open, honest, transparent two-way conversations. . Cuz I, I, I also love the idea of like the cartoon version of this article where it just all goes to hell, and like the manager walks out of his peaceful office one day and like 30 monkeys are hanging from the ceiling and setting things on fire essentially, because like nobody can communicate effectively, they couldn’t get the problem solved.
No one’s talking to the manager. Cause they’re afraid to say that they can’t solve the problem without his. They misunderstand what he says because he’s not checking in to like, you know, confirm things have been communicated and understood. It could, it could go south really fast. And so the communication side for me, I think that would not fly today.
As a manager, you have to work harder to make sure people understand and are aligned with what you’re saying and then, I also think that so many roles now, there’s more of an expectation of a player coach. If you’re gonna be in a big management role, the expectation is that you’re training and developing your folks for the most part to do what needs to be done it.
I feel like it would be rare for someone to be kind of just installed in a big leadership role where the team’s great, they’re already set. You’re just supervising people with 25 years experience and making sure things, you know, that everything’s. Continuing to run Well, I mean, I’m sure that happens.
I just, unless I don’t hear about those roles that much. So those are the two things for me. What about you? What do you feel like is, doesn’t work for you or for this day and age?
David: Yeah. No, I, I think, I think very, very similar. I mean, I think I definitely agree that, you know, the communication side of it. I, you know, in the scenario, you’re, you’re, you mentioned where, you know the manager, you know, or the scenario from the, the, the essay where the manager has all these meetings and they deliver that, you know, that line to every, every staff member.
all of the monkeys are put back onto the staff members’ backs. And the manager’s office is clear, clear of monkeys and, you know, he’s, he has a moment of peace, it seems. But then to your point, in that scenario, I can, I see that, you know, in the cartoon version like you’re describing, manager leaves the, the, the office and sees the monkeys aren’t on his back or in his office, but they’re also not on the employee’s back cause they’ve all quit and now there’s just like 30 monkeys running, running through the office, destroying everything.
I think that, you know, the reality is that certainly, you know, today, There, there are expectations on the employee side as to, you know, the kind of treatment you would receive from your manager and in a, and in a workplace. And as you know, you know, you and you and I and others who’ve been, you know, doing recruitment in the last year year plus you know, it, there’s a a lot of demand for, for a lot of, a lot of roles these days and people have options available to them.
And people wanna work in a workplace that compensates them, of course, but also workplace where they feel valued and they feel like they. You know, that the, the environment in general is productive and collaborative and, and congenial. And I think that, you know, a manager laying down the law in this sort of way, making it very clear that they’re not going to provide more than a very minimal degree of assistance.
That’s not going to fly for a lot of people. They’re gonna, they’re gonna look elsewhere, is the reality. So I think as a manager, you. , you know, you need to make sure you’re not taking on too many monkeys, but you are need to make sure your team stays intact if the team is in fact made of good quality people that you want to keep keep in keep in, in their, in their current roles.
Yeah, so I do, I do think that the reality is just that, you know, there are certain tactics that might have been viable at that time that are just simply too harsh. You know, it’s not the question whether they’re effective, they’re just simply too harsh for for the current, the current environment.
Meredith: Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s. in some ways as I read this article, I feel like the environment I’ve pictured in is one of those, you know, 50 years ago where people worked at the same company for 30 years. Mm-hmm. and their hope was just a continued to do a solid job and continue to ascend through the ranks.
And now there is so much more job movement, job hopping people. to a certain extent, like creating preferences or not creating preferences is not the right word, whatever I’m trying to say people like, I’m using inverted quotes here, but following their bliss a little bit more professionally and changing things up.
And so a lot of folks, I think, are looking for managers that they. Can learn from and who are gonna help them and support them and nurture them. So by being a manager and many, many folks, not everybody, but lots of people are looking for also a bit of a mentor. And I think that’s complex in some ways because the historical version was a little more transactional.
Like you didn’t have to feel like your boss was giving you archetypal parental approval or right nurturing and moving you along. You just had to know what they wanted you to do to think you were doing a good job and then try and. now it’s a little, it’s more complex and in some ways I feel like, oh, probably to the better.
Like we are all people. Of course, you want to be working with people that you can learn from, connect with, have a nice work relationship or friendship with. , but also work is still transactional. And every now and then, I think maybe that was easier, but I don’t know, , do you know what I mean?
David: I do. And I think, and I, I think back to something something that you said much earlier that I think is very common among, especially newer managers, which is this, this drive to be a people pleaser.
But I think that, you know, that, that sounds, you know, it sounds. , it sounds like a negative thing being a people pleaser. And usually the connotation there is that you just like are saying whatever it takes to, you know, to make somewhat happy in the moment and for, you know, in, in, in this essay, in this, you know, in the case of the employees at the beginning of the essay, you know, what makes them happy is, you know, taking the monkey off their back.
But I think that the reality is that, you know, a man, a good manager should be a people pleaser in the sense that they want their staff to be happy in their roles. People. , your staff are not going to be doing their jobs to the best of their abilities if they’re not happy in the roles and they’re not gonna stay in those roles, that they’re not ultimately happy.
But that doesn’t mean that you just do whatever they want or do their jobs for them. I think that if you have those sorts of people on your team, that that is what it would take to make them happy. You don’t want those people on your team long term. So the problem solves itself by virtue of, you know, not, not taking those monkeys on overly the people that you want to keep on your.
And I think this is generally true for, you know, most employees in my experience, they don’t want their jobs to be done for them, but they do wanna feel like they have clarity about what their job is and how they’re expected to go about doing it. But they still wanna be the ones to do it. And so a good manager is someone who I think, like you’re, you know, describing is you know, is providing, you know, a degree of.
Mentorship and is taking the approach of, you know, showing them how to be successful in the future. But that doesn’t mean that you were again, doing their jobs for them. So, so I think there is you know, an element of of people pleasing, quote unquote, but understanding that it’s not as, it’s not as necessarily it’s not as simply a matter of just doing someone’s job for them.
There’s a lot more that goes into. Staff pleased. But that is something that is important as a, as a manager, to keep a team productive and happy and in. .
Meredith: Yeah, totally. It’s such a calibration of not just mm-hmm. , you know, the whose problem is this? How, when do I reach my boundaries and solve it, versus when do I give it to them?
But then also, how are they feeling? What does that mean for, you know, if someone’s really stressed out, but they’re a key person, for example, a problem comes up that maybe in other weeks you’d be like, all right, you. I might, why don’t you think about this, bring a plan to me on Tuesday. Set some time with me, walk me through it.
I’ll give you any feedback. Now, as I say that, I’m like, that’s probably the right approach for nearly any problem. But you, maybe it’s, it’s a moment where you’re like, Hmm, they need a 15 minute chat with me later to kind of like, I can tell they’re frustrated about this and I wanna make sure that I hear them.
and two, I might suggest a more collaborative, let’s book time together and work through it. You know? So like the constant calibration of Yeah, how are they doing? And feeling and knowing, like you don’t wanna, if they’re struggling, not not giving them the straw that breaks the camels back in so far as how they’re doing that day or that week.
So there is that kind of like caretaking element of, of management too, which this article doesn’t, doesn’t really touch. at all. But also as you’re talking, I’m thinking something that I’ve found, which is like, you know, the idea of when we are training, coaching, mentoring, you have to make sure that the folks on your team are open to and interested in that from you most of the time.
Cuz if you hire in someone, especially into like any position, I was gonna say, especially management, but actually I don’t know if that’s true and they are. not interested at all in your thoughts, ethos approach to things, but also maybe not fully equipped to just handle the problems their own way perfectly.
Mm-hmm. , that’s when it’s really challenging because you almost are trying to convince someone to be open to your experience, input and feedback. and that can create a like, I think if you know someone’s gonna need mentorship and support from you and isn’t just gonna be a totally autonomous contributor, you have to feel out and make sure they’re gonna be open to that.
Otherwise, it’s gonna be pretty miserable for the both of you. .
David: Yeah, no, certainly. And I think, I think there is an element too. I, I, I, you know, I, as you were describing you, someone with that sort of mindset, I’m, I’m starting to think about, you know, people that I’ve managed over the years and the people who I’ve felt that way about that, you know, they’re probably not, it probably didn’t work out ultimately because I think that you know, there is an element to this of you, I guess going back to the notion of you know, people pleasing there is an o an element where you want to you know, you need to make sure you’re calibrating, like you said, finding the right way to to, to manage someone.
And sometimes there, I’m, I’m sure there are people who, you know, Not be open to the sort of approaches that we’re describing here, but would be still a able to be productive in their roles. But I think that more often than not, someone who’s so closed off to a such a, you know, general, and I would say benign approach that we’re describing here is someone who’s also probably going to come across problems that they are not either equipped to or interested in solving.
And ultimately that’s just not going to be viable from a long-term perspective in, in all, you know, in most roles, perhaps not all, but in most roles.
Meredith: All right. Well, I feel like this is kind of a good segue because I know one. that we’ve talked on a bit and we wanted to talk on a little bit is managing up.
I feel like you’ve talked a bit about managing up now. One, I wanna acknowledge, like, I don’t wanna put you in the awkward position of on a podcast being like, well, well, well, Meredith, finally, let me tell you about all the stuff I do to deal with your bullshit , which I’m sure you do. But, so maybe let’s fo I mean, if you want to, I could take it, but, or maybe we talk on it privately.
I would say for this maybe we focus on for our own teams, and I won’t be, you know, I won’t be speaking to you. I can be speaking in Theoreticals, but I think I’d love to start with you, like when it comes to folks on your team, what do you wish that, especially newer people knew about managing up? And I’m curious about your thoughts on this for both, like the staff level folks that reported to you, but also the managers and directors that you.
David: Yeah. So I think I think that there is an, a large element of the, the word you used before calibration comes to mind. I think that successful upward management is, and I guess also I’m, I’m thinking about the, the people pleasing s again I think that, you know, to be successful in whatever your role is, you wanna have, you know, a good relationship with your manager, your manager more than yourself dictates the, the, the, the, the ways in which your relationship operates.
but that doesn’t mean that you don’t, aren’t able to you know, to find ways to, you know, to, to work, work within that system for your own you know, to your own styling and to your own you know, to, to your own strengths, I suppose. So, I guess to get more specific than that Something you mentioned before, actually I keep alluding back to early parts of this conversation, but you mentioned the, the notion of agendas.
And I’ve definitely taken the approach that you’ve described where everyone who reports into me, we have a shared agenda document. I will you know, populate items onto it periodically in preparation for whatever we meet next. But I also very much expect that, that they do so themselves and I make it very clear to people that I expect them.
as time goes on, you know, this, I’m thinking of, you know, a new, a new hire or a new manager. As time goes on, I expect the majority of the items on our agenda to be items that they have added, not items so that I have added you. I will add certain things, but I want them to tell me what are the things we need to, to discuss.
And, you know, I I, I, I make that you know, pretty clear to them, but it’s not always, you know, it’s not always intuitive how to go about doing that. And I think there is a skill to, to knowing how, you know, what things to bring to that agenda and, and how to frame them. Something that I, I was talking with recently to someone who reports into me who is actually training a, another person who’s entering into management.
We’re having just a check-in sort of conversation and it suddenly occurred to me like, I want this new manager to. Manage me in this regard the same way the, the, the current manager does. So I said, I told the current manager, I want you to do an agenda training with the new manager. I want you to, you know, train her to build and deliver agendas for our one-to-ones the way you do with our one-to-ones.
Which I thought was, you know, For whether it’s, you know, getting the monkeyed out on my back, but onto the back of the, the person who reports into me, but also preparing the new person to, you know, work with me to manage me effectively in the way that I would wanna be managed. The person who I directed to do this training, I hadn’t given her this training.
She just over time clearly figured out this is the way I like the agendas to be set up. This is the sort of information I like to have a. This is what leads to the most productive conversations for both of us. And she just calibrated over time and, and to the point where the agendas are always, you know, I, I always open ’em up.
I’m like, perfect. This is what we need to talk about. Here’s all the information I need to get started. Where do we begin? . So I think that, you know, that’s, I, I think I, I would like to think that she probably learned a bit of that for myself. Cause I think that that’s the approach I strive to take with, you know, with you and me with, you know, I try to make sure that our, you know, I do think I, I, you know, try to own most of the agenda items and I try to come prepared to say like, here are the things we need to talk about.
Here are links to helpful materials that’ll be, you know, necessary for that conversation. I think I. Perhaps to some extent have just kind of subconsciously even perhaps spotted to what I found to be, you know, the, the ways that our conversations were most productive. I felt, I, I try to take approaches that I think that will yield those results consciously or subconsciously.
I think that there’s just certain things that you learn over time if you are actively calibrated at all times.
Meredith: Yeah, I think that’s, that’s 100% true. And as you’re talking about it, I’m kind of think. . Well, I mean, one, I feel like I need to say like you do a wonderful job with our agendas and meetings and like, it’s one of the many reasons I love working with you.
And two, I am aware that probably over the years the folks that I’ve managed in some ways have, maybe especially in earlier days, like unconsciously or on their own, figured out how to work with me, which I. You know, one, it’s humbling to work with people for 10 years cuz you like improve and get better and you think back and you’re like, oh God, I wish I hadn’t done that back in the day.
But also as you’re talking too, I feel like for me, and I, I’d imagine for you too, it sounds like you’re in the midst of it right now. Over the years I’ve gotten better at expressing and articulating to new managers how to best work with me. I remember like five or seven years ago maybe I had a new report and.
So you know, what do you like? How should I work with you as a manager? And I think back on that combo, and I think I did like a pretty shitty job of like articulating and expressing that because one, no one had ever asked me that before. And two, I just think I didn’t have, I didn’t yet have an answer at the ready or as fully formed a sense of my own.
Approach and ethos and expectations. And I hope that now I’m much better at that, at being like, this is what I like, this is how I’m like, this is what I need from you. This is what I’m really interested in your feedback on. Cuz for us to figure out how we all work, how we together, work together. Mm-hmm. And.
It sounds like you’re in the midst of that too, where you’re like, okay, well this manager I’ve been managing for a couple years, she figured it out and now you’re like, ah, now I can articulate to this new manager exactly what I’m looking for. Yeah. In ways that previously maybe it wouldn’t have been top of mind to do.
David: Yeah. It’s, it’s a, you know, an organic process that it can now be replaced by a more direct, you know, immediate process of just, you know, this is what we eventually landed it on, and it works really well. Let’s start there. Instead of getting there, even. .
Meredith: Yeah. Well, okay. I know we only have a couple of minutes left, but I wanna, you know, I wanna ask you, so you’ve been at Brafton for 10 years.
You started as a copywriter. Mm-hmm. , you’re now our VP of services and you oversee a large project management team with three divisions. Our consulting team with three separate divisions. Like why do you think you’ve done so well? What advice do you have for other folks who are working in a similar environment who might want to kind of do what you.
David: I think that you know, I, I was thinking about this prior our conversation. I think the, you know, the, the thing that the mistake I suppose I feel like I was making earlier on in my career that I, I do believe I eventually course corrected on the mo. One of, I shouldn’t say the one of was that I was not actively seeking out or trying to create opportunities for myself.
I think I was ultimately, in hindsight, very lucky that you know, as I, as I, you know, described to my, my my, you know, my career arc, I was very lucky that you happen to be creating a, a, a team. That when I heard about it, I’m like, oh, that really sounds like something I would like to be doing. I, up to that point, I was a writer and I thought of myself as a writer and, you know, full stop and.
But in, you know, as I look back and I think about the things that, you know, I feel like have made me successful, the things I enjoy about my, my current role and previous roles I’ve had I mean, I do still enjoy writing. I, I write a lot of emails and policy documents and things, so the writing is still relevant.
But there’s a lot of other things that go beyond that. You know, my, I, I appreciate workflow development. I appreciate people management and things like that, that just, I wasn’t really thinking about. as areas, areas for me to explore because I, you know, sort of had a narrow view of myself and my, you know, my, my potential, I guess career development.
So what I, so I guess, I guess there’s two parts. This one is, you know, there’s the sort of, you know, I guess advice I would’ve given to myself that would give to, you know younger people who are starting out is to not put yourself too much in a box and really try to think expansively about what are your skills and interests.
What are the sorts of things that you like doing and would like to do more of? I, I don’t really think. Was originally thinking in those terms, and I just happened to have my eyes open by an opportunity that really. With bla like really flashing lights and blaring sirens. It was like right in front of me and I couldn’t ignore it.
But I wasn’t actively looking for something like that. In hindsight, probably, you know, I should have been trying to find an opportunity that, you know, spoke to those skill sets and those interests cuz they, they are very, they’re, you know, they’re very much, you know, a big part of who I am. I think, and I’ve been fortuitous to, you know, to get to that role.
And then ever since then I’ve been developing those skills and I believe I have been, you know, more looking to seek it, you know, create and or seize opportunities that have presented themselves at Brafton. Either new roles or new responsibilities or new roles and responsibilities. But the, you know, since then, I don’t think they’ve necessarily been so obvious you know, to an, to an an objective observer from the outside.
I have had to be looking for them or trying to create them. And I and I do do that now in ways that I didn’t do, didn’t do so early in my career, early my career is much more passive, I suppose. So I do think that. To a certain extent, you know, they, these opportunities might present themselves, but you, you should not assume that they will, you should be looking for you should be looking for those opportunities.
But again, you can also, you can create those opportunities I find if you’re, if you see a, a, a, a need or you see an opportunity for improvements. , is there anything stopping you from being the person to say, I would like to do this thing? Not, you know, not just waiting for someone to ask for a show of hands or who wants to work on this thing.
And I think that sort of ethos has is very much how I approach my work now. And I think it would’ve been beneficial to even earlier, just wasn’t, you know, just wasn’t the way I was thinking back then. Yeah.
Meredith: That, that really resonates with me as well too. I. I think, I don’t know. I think too sometimes when folks are just like their first year or two into the workforce, sometimes it’s over.
It’s just overwhelming. Mm-hmm. to like figure out how it all works and you’re more in just a like, I dunno not exactly panic mode or fight or flight, but you’re just kind of like, just white knuckling it through the basics and then when, then there’s a moment at some point where you get to be like, okay, but what do I want?
Not just what do I need to like prove, I. Manage the basic functions of for sure. And yeah. But I agree with what you’re saying and I also think, you know, we gotta go in a minute, but I like what you said about creating your own opportunities because I think a lot of people would appreciate, you know, a boss or an off a job offer coming to them and being their dream job, essentially.
Like, I think you’re great at blank. Would you like to do X, Y, Z? Mm-hmm. . And I think that I’m, you know, those happen, but often you have. Kind of carve it out for yourself or push for it, or you have to have the vision for it before anybody else does. And I think for some people it can feel kind of uncomfortable.
They’re like, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna bulldoze my way into convincing people I can do X, Y, Z, but mm-hmm. sometimes that is what you have to do. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve it. It just means like, you know, it’s on you to, to express to people what you can do. .
David: Yeah, I, I agree. And I think that, you know, in some of these cases there are more immediate opportunities, like an, a new role opens up or can be created, but sometimes it’s more just around building up your expertise and your experience in.
Being able to say, this is a thing I have done. And it’s a, you know, it’s a, it’s a, you know, it’s a, it’s a feather in my cap and it, you know, I, I see it for myself. I think it’s true for, for most people who are in, you know, management and leadership positions they remember those people who, whose, who stood, stood up and said like, I want to do this thing.
And then in fact did do it. You know, whether maybe there’s not an opportunity to give to that person on a permanent basis at that moment, but time passes, opportunities, you know, do naturally become, you know, create themselves. And then you are now the person who’s top of mind. A decision has to be made about who’s gonna lead this new team or lead this new initiative or, or whatever the case may be.
So sometimes the, you know, the opportunities they’re creating are further down in the future than you can actually see at that time. But that doesn’t mean they’re not gonna appear.
Meredith: I think that’s really great advice. All right. Well Dave, thank you for doing this with me.
David: Thank you very much for having me.
I, I had fun. I appreciate it.
Meredith: All right, everyone. Hope you enjoyed our chat with Dave.
Ian: Next week we’ll be coming to you with an interview with career development expert Ellen Gillis.
Meredith: To support the show, you can rate, review, and subscribe. Those things make a huge difference. And if you like today’s conversation, you’ll probably like the content people newsletter.
Subscribe at the link in the show notes,
Ian: And that’s it, folks. Thanks so much for listening. If you want to get in touch, you can always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.