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Keep the Monkey Off Your Back! Problem Solving Analysis

Many years ago, I was fortunate to have a manager who cared about coaching and helped me develop many skills that have served me well ever since. One lesson I will never forget is the first time I went into his office and said “Boss, we have a problem”. He immediately put up his hand and loudly said “stop right there…you cannot put that monkey on my back until you can also answer these questions”. Here are those questions:

  1. What, specifically, is the problem?
  2. Why is it a problem?
  3. What will happen if it is ignored?
  4. What are 2 or 3 possible solutions?
  5. What are the pros and cons for each solution?
  6. Which solution will be easiest and most effective to implement (consider time, budget, resources, commitment, relationships)?
  7. Weighing all of these factors, what is the best solution?

While I did not have a lot of experience with the “problem”, I did have another helpful mentor who coached me through this method the first time. When I presented my “recommendations” to my manager, his first words were “I agree with you, please go ahead with your solution.” He then sat me down and gave me some “food for thought”, in case this problem should happen again. As I left his office, he said “I do not expect you to bring this problem to me again; you know how to solve it yourself in future”.

Imagine the boost in confidence this gave to me…and I can assure you that he never did take any “monkeys” until I could answer these questions. As a people manager, speaker and coach for many years, I have taught this model to hundreds of people, and know that many have adopted it as their own.

It makes life a lot easier for everyone, giving team members, colleagues, project teams, anyone another useful tool to solve problems, empowering them to make decisions, and freeing them up to concentrate on the tasks that require their expertise.

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