Driving home from vacation, I read Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker. Several of the people I follow and admire on Twitter have been talking about it and I can understand why so many people appreciate this work. Whitaker emphasizes identifying monkeys, recognizing where the monkey should be, and figuring out ways to shift the monkey into the proper place. He emphasizes the fact that so much of the time, the same people in the workplace volunteer to take on extra work, while other people avoid work. Whitaker categorizes monkeys; there are Avoidance Monkeys, Yelling Monkeys, Crying Monkeys, Pouting Monkeys, and Rule Monkeys, among others. He gives specific strategies for dealing with all different types with humor and candor.
While I appreciated this book because I am just completing my Educational Leadership program, I also related to it as a teacher. We often make rules or have class meetings to address the negative behaviors of just a few students. In that sense, they are the monkeys of the classrooms and the rest of the class loses valuable instructional time. Whitaker’s contention is that if we address workplace monkeys without confrontation by coming up next to them in a way that makes our expectations for them clear, then we minimize their negative power. Many times, even in a generally positive climate, as teachers, we stop instructional time and use it to address behavioral issues. When we do this don’t the rule-abiding students shoulder monkeys? They sit and listen to a discussion that isn’t really directed at them while their less compliant counterparts tune out the conversation and bask in the fact that they are avoiding work.
Whitaker asks tough questions in his book, especially when I am thinking in terms of classrooms as well as workplaces. “Do the managers issue rules that make the good people resentful?” and “Are your top performers forced to follow procedures that may be helpful for the so-so ones, but get in the way of the best people?” Shifting the Monkey emphasizes the idea that treating everyone well validates the responsible people and makes the less productive people feel uncomfortable. Whitaker writes that “treating all people as if they were good can do much to keep the monkeys in their proper place.”
When I think about it, monkeys exist everywhere. There's an old adage that if you want to get something done, ask the busiest person you know to do it. That being said, I appreciate Whitaker's points about the resentment that builds when the same people do more than their share. Shifting the Monkey will change how I approach adults and students and it will be a book that I return to for reminders about how to motivate less driven people and make sure that no one is carrying around monkeys.