Potent Compound Corner

Who's got the monkey?

Back in the spring of 1986, I was in Kellyville, OK attending the Dowell-Schlumberger (DS) field engineers training school. I remember it quite well because I was there when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded and we also got to spin doughnuts with 18-wheel tractor units.

However, besides rooming with a bunch of Texans and picking up a Texan accent in a matter of weeks, one of the important things that I experienced in training school was how to manage roughnecks and how to delegate (BTW - roughnecks could come up with swear words that I couldn't even imagine).

One of our readings and discussions on delegating was about "Who's Got the Monkey?" This was based an article written in 1974 in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), but then republished in 1999. The gist of the article is how employees attempt to put the next move on the back of their managers, so when something gets held up or doesn't turn out right it's the manager’s fault and not theirs.

The instructors at DS explained it in no uncertain terms on how they were working ten hours per day, seven-days a week while driving by the golf course and seeing their employees playing golf, simply because all the monkeys were thrown on their backs and leaving them on their backs to finish the job.

Key quotes from this HBR article include:

At no time while I am helping you with 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 back. You may ask my help at any appointed time, and we will 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.

As an EHS manager, director or whatever, you need to make it perfectly clear that while you're open to discuss problems and suggest approaches, at no point will their problem become your problem. [Read the article](https://hbr.org/1999/11/management-time-whos-got-the-monkey, it makes a lot of sense.

As always, if you have any questions regarding EHS management, potent compound safety or occupational toxicology, please contact us at Affygility Solutions.

Published April 2, 2018

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