When the idea of Monkey Management first appeared in 1974, it was a big hit. And, rightly so. It clarifies how managers easily get drawn into over-work, and sets out rules for how they can avoid it.
The Monkey Management idea comes from William Oncken Jr. It first emerged in one of the most-requested Harvard Business Review articles. He then revised the details when it became the subject of one of the best-selling One Minute Manager books.
No self-respecting manager can afford to be unaware of the principles of Monkey Management. So, let’s take a look at it.
There are more models of leadership than you can shake a stick at. So how should you know which is the best? That’s the question that is answered by Situational Leadership.
The principle of Situational Leadership is simple. There is no one best approach to leadership. To lead well, you must adapt your approach to the situation.
Situational Leadership has deep roots. And let’s start by setting aside our certainty that people have been managing and leading by adapting their approach to the people in front of them, for centuries. The academic study of this approach goes back to the 1950s.
The One Minute Manager series is a landmark in book publishing and popular management education. We’ve covered it already in our assessment of one of its two authors, Ken Blanchard.
But the series began with a book co-authored by two equally prolific thinkers and writers, and it’s time to redress the balance. This article started life with the title Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson: One Minute Manager.
But that just won’t do.
As author of books with sales claimed at over 50 million copies, Spencer Johnson deserves his own article in full, so here it is.
Spencer Johnson was born in 1940, in South Dakota. His undergraduate degree was at the University of Southern California, where he got his BA degree in Psychology in1963 (avgy). He then went on to study medicine in Dublin, at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
From there, he worked at the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School, before joining Medtronic as their Director of Communications.
Through the 1970s, Johnson was writing a series of books called ‘Value Tales’. These drew lessons from famous lives, like Elizabeth Fry, Louis Pasteur, and the Mayo brothers, who founded the Mayo Clinic, where Johnson had worked.
Johnson and Blanchard began their collaboration with The One Minute Manager, published in1982. This was to lead to both of them writing a clutch of other titles, sometimes with other co-authors.
However, Johnson’s other biggest sellers were not One Minute books, but:
For managers, it is Who Moved My Cheese that you will want to be aware of.
Who Moved My Cheese?
Like many of Johnson’s books, Who Moved My Cheese is written as a parable: a simple tale that encapsulates the message Johnson wants to communicate.
In this case, it is about the choice to fight or embrace change. And the tale concerns four characters, who respond differently to finding their cheese has been moved.
In Johnson’s parable, cheese represents what we want in life – or perhaps what we think we want. Because two characters, ‘littlepeople’ called Hem and Haw, turn up at the cheese station every morning, much as many bigpeople turn up to work.
Hem and Haw are resistant to change, fearing its impacts, and only learn how to adapt when the benefits are proven.
Their counterparts are two mice called Sniff and Scurry, who sniff out opportunities and scurry into action when they find them.
It’s a short book that you can read quickly, or absorb slowly.
Yes, to some readers it is ‘cheesy’ in the sense of corny, homey, and lacking in sophistication. But my opinion is that it is well worth the time to read and absorb it. Like all parables, the wrapper is far less important than the message.
The messages in Who Moved My Cheese
Who Moved My Cheese has simple but relevant messages for organisational life:
Change happens – all the time. Tomorrow, your cheese won’t be where it was yesterday.
You can either anticipate and engage with this, or you can fight it. But the faster you adapt to the change, the sooner you’ll feel comfortable.
Embracing and enjoying change will be the best way to thrive
The simplicity of style coupled with the precision of its message has led to many abuses. Because in organisations where change occurs, there is often resistance. Managers promoting the change see that resistance as hem and haw behaviours. Who Moved My Cheese is too often seen as a simple antidote to a complex problem of resistance.
At its worst, a client once told me of a manager who, exasperated by the resistant behaviour of a team member, simply left a copy of Cheese on their desk. I don’t know how well that worked.
The best time to read and understand Cheese is not in the throes of change. Read it when you are comfortable, or on the edge of change. And take the time to think about it carefully. It is worth the effort.
It was tempting to describe Ken Blanchard as a simplifier, because that’s what he has done throughout his career; simplify the skills of management. But that is not the essence of what he does. He starts by telling a story and it is that process that both cuts away extraneous theory and also renders his ideas easy to access. Ken Blanchard has turned management theory into a successful training business to a degree that no one else has achieved.
Kenneth Hartley Blanchard was born in New Jersey in 1931 and grew up in New York. He attended Cornell and Colgate Universities, gaining a BA in Government and Philosophy, an MA in Sociology and Counselling, and a PhD in Education Administration and Leadership, in 1967. From there, he went to Ohio University to become an Assistant Dean. Here, he met collaborator, Paul Hersey.
Hersey had been developing a strong model of leadership, based on his industrial experiences before entering academia in 1966, incorporating ideas from researchers like Fiedler, and Blake and Mouton. The pair worked together on a book, Management of Organisational Behaviour, that was published in 1967 and is now in its tenth edition (2012). This book included a model, then called ‘a lifecycle theory of leadership’ but now better known as Situational Leadership. It was not the first situational theory of leadership (see the earlier Pocketblog article: ‘Situational Leadership‘) but it rapidly became the best known.
In 1979, while a professor of organisational behaviour and leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, he and Hersey agreed to split and Blanchard formed a company called Blanchard Training and Development – that was later (1998) renamed as The Ken Blanchard Companies and is today one of the most successful international businesses of its kind. In that year too, he published his own model of Situational Leadership: Situational Leadership II.
The following year, he was introduced to a psychologist called Spencer Johnson, with whom he rapidly collaborated to write a short book on management, in the form of a fable-like story. They self-published ‘The One Minute Manager‘ in 1980, and it was subsequently published by Morrow in 1982. It has become the kind of best-seller that truly justifies the title: the cover simply proclaims ‘multi-million’.
This became the start of an industry with subsequent collaborations with different authors – the first handful bearing the ‘One Minute Manger brand’ – appearing every few years. Most follow the format of a younger manager seeking the wisdom of an older, more experienced teacher.
Notable contributions (and personal favourites mixed in) include:
Blanchard’s contribution has been to systematise the skills of management and to explain them extremely clearly. Many British readers find the folksy fable style of his books not to their taste, but the fact is that they use simple language and compelling acronyms to make management techniques accessible and memorable.
The original One Minute Manager sets out just three simple tasks in management: one minute goal setting, to clarify what I expect of you, one minute praisings, to recognise progress and performance, and one minute reprimands, to show where you are going wrong.
Putting the One Minute Manager to Work extends this, looking at the management ABC of Activators (what a manager must do to set you up to succeed), Behaviours (your performance) and Consequences (how the manager responds to you with with support and feedback).
One of Blanchard’s most successful collaborations was with William Oncken Jr (and Hal Burrows), in The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey. This presents a simple metaphor (the Monkey) for the problems managers accept from their colleagues and team members. It is a powerful articulation of the processes of good delegation and effective management of workload.
In the 1990s, Blanchard wrote four books with Sheldon Bowles, of which my favourites are Gung Ho! and High Five! (2001 – now out of print – about team working). 2000’s Big Bucks! (also out of print) is about making money. The exclamation mark in the four titles is indicative of the amplified style of writing, but all were turned into successful training programmes (not all of which persist, I think).
There are many other books as well, some still available. Blanchard is a prodigious collaborator and his company is hugely successful in training managers across the world. I don’t think he will ever be seen as a great and innovative thinker, but without a doubt, he has a talent for tapping into oher people’s ideas and making them highly accessible, from Paul Hersey down to more recent collaborations with Don Shula (Everyone’s a Coach), Colleen Barrett from Southwest Airlines (Lead with LUV), and Garry Ridge, president of WD-40 Company (Helping People Win at Work).