I remember, looking back at my first job as a Personnel Officer that I took on all challenges with gusto and enthusiasm. But there was one particular area that seemed to bring sorrow and a sense of impending doom to employees, supervisors, union convener’s and managers alike – Performance Management.
On any particular day I would see a procession of individuals, all complaining about the latest poor performer and looking to me to ’ ‘sort it out’, which at times seemed a big responsibility.
However over the years I have had two enlightening moments, which turned the tables for me both as an HR professional and a leader of teams of my own.
The first was provided by the very capable but modest HR Director where I had my first job. After a few months of observing my progress he took me to one side and said:
Him: “You need to stop taking everyone’s monkey, young man”
Me: “I beg your pardon?!”
Him: “Look around you. Everyone has problems, and they wear them like monkeys on their backs, constantly niggling away at them and wearing them down. The more problems they have, the more monkeys they have on their back, and the bigger the burden. They can’t wait to get the monkey off their back and right now you are turning into Monkey Central!”
I know it probably sounds naive but as a green PO in my first gritty environment I hadn’t seen it and this was a light bulb moment. Suddenly I could see monkeys everywhere and with the guidance of my boss, learnt the skills to deflect the monkey back to its rightful owner.
“It’s their monkey, not yours”
His words still pop into my head to this day.
The other light bulb moment came much later after discovering Jim Collins and his excellent book Good to Great. Motivation is a much used term and as leaders we are often charged with ‘motivating’ our people. So much so that the challenge of motivating a team, especially during difficult times can seem like an impossible task.
Well, I credit Jim with teaching me that I don’t have to motivate anyone. It’s not my job. And neither is it yours if you manage or lead a team. Why? Because as Jim quite rightly points out, our job is not to motivate, but to remove barriers and blockers to an individuals SELF MOTIVATION.
Without self motivation for what they do, people are rarely going to be able to excel in their job.
Taking responsibility for someone’s motivation, and ultimately performance, is simply taking on their motivational or performance ‘monkey’. Pass it back and concentrate instead on what’s preventing them from finding the key to their own self-motivation.
Or, as my first boss said, rather mischievously at the end of that first conversation over 20 years ago:
“If ever you can’t pass the monkey back – then make sure you pass it on to someone else as quickly as possible!”
Remember, it’s not your monkey…