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Get the Monkey Off Your Back

June 1, 2006
My employees often come to me looking for solutions to office problems. This causes me great distress as I spend so much time thinking and fretting over the issues until I come up with answers.


My employees often come to me looking for solutions to office problems. This causes me great distress as I spend so much time thinking and fretting over the issues until I come up with answers. What can I do about this?


Sounds like you are a classic monkey buyer. It doesn’t have to be this way if you recognize the unspoken process of monkey buying and monkey selling. In the book “The One-Minute Manager Meets the Monkey” by Kenneth Blanchard, William Oncken Jr., and Hal Burrows, a monkey buyer is described as someone who takes on the problems of others, the monkey sellers. The buyer, you, tends to carry the difficulties on her back, loses sleep over them, worries about them, and allows them to eat away at her time. What’s worse is that the monkey seller gets to enjoy freedom from the problem because it’s not hers anymore.

Do you recognize any of these traits in yourself? Monkey buyers often want to prove to the world how capable, helpful, and responsible they are and that they are indispensable to the workplace. What’s more, they might just want to be in control, or they could have trouble saying “no.” A person can view monkey buying as a means of increasing her likeability factor, for what’s not to like about someone who is willing to bend over backward to be helpful? Doctors, you pay the price for being a monkey buyer because this is a one-way ticket to stress.

As the doctor and owner of your business, you are responsible for the health of your practice, but that does not mean that you have to buy all the monkeys of your team members. Get the monkeys off your back and give them to their rightful owners.

How do you accomplish this? You must confront your patterns, recognize the toll they take on your personal and professional life, and have the desire to change. This desire, coupled with the four rules of monkey management designed by Oncken, will maximize your efforts:

Rule 1: Describe the monkey - Once the parties involved have identified the problem, then they must decide what the next move will be in order to solve it.

Rule 2: Assign the monkey - Someone must be in charge of the next move and be held accountable for its occurrence. This is where problems need to be placed in the hands of the rightful owners.

Rule 3: Insure the monkey - As the practice owner, you are responsible for your team’s actions, so install safeguards for the next moves while allowing for your team’s freedom to solve problems. Safeguards might include having a team member recommend several plans and then acting on one of them with your approval, or allowing a person to act first, then seek feedback from you. The latter presents a greater risk to the owner, but it gives greater responsibility and self confidence to employees. Judge which plan is appropriate.

Rule 4: Check on the monkey - Each monkey needs a specified checkup appointment(s) so progress can be monitored, praise can be given, and changes can be made.

Let’s take an example of a monkey exchange between a doctor and a hygienist. Your hygienist comes to you with the problem that she is getting too many last-minute cancellations. She can’t understand why it’s happening and wants you to fix it.

  • She has just described the monkey (Rule 1). You, however, are not automatically going to accept the monkey, so the two of you together or the hygienist alone will decide the next move.Come up with three possible solutions to the dilemma. In this case, one could be a review of the script emphasizing the need for continued care and what will occur at patients’ next visits. The second could be a review of what is said during confirmation phone calls before appointments. The third could be a network attempt to discover how other offices have successfully handled this issue.
  • Then, assign the monkey (Rule 2) to the hygienist and hold her accountable for coming up with answers. Schedule a team meeting (a must) during which the hygienist can present her findings and several solutions. The office team can determine which are plausible.
  • This is one example of insuring the monkey (Rule 3). Or, the hygienist could review the script on her own, change it, monitor the results, and then report back to the team on a predetermined schedule.
  • Once a plan is made, the results must be monitored (Rule 4) at designated times. Changes may be made at these times if necessary.

Acknowledge work done by your team members. Encourage, appreciate, and recognize their efforts, and give them constructive feedback. In this way, you can empower team members to be problem solvers, not monkey sellers. Their self-confidence will increase, and the next time problems occur, your team will not try to sell you monkeys.

P.S. Keep plenty of bananas around for the monkeys!

© 2006 Stephanie Houseman, DMD

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Stephanie Houseman, DMD
Dr. Houseman practiced dentistry in St. Louis for 25 years. She is married to a dentist, has two grown children, and understands all too well the demands we place on ourselves. She now works with dentists who want more balance and “life” in their lives. She is a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute, creator of the 7 Steps 2 a Balanced Life Program, and author of “The Balance Beam,” a weekly e-newsletter about balance and life. Reach Dr. Houseman at or (618) 639-5433.