The Care and Feeding of Monkeys


Have you ever had a monkey on your back?  Did you invite the monkey to take the ride or did it get put there by a subordinate? 

This article was originally published in the November–December 1974 issue of HBR and has been one of the publication’s two best-selling reprints ever.  Below are the five hard-and-fast rules governing the “Care and Feeding of Monkeys.”

Rule 1.

Monkeys should be fed or shot. Otherwise, they will starve to death, and the manager will waste valuable time on postmortems or attempted resurrections.

Rule 2.

The monkey population should be kept below the maximum number the manager has time to feed. Subordinates will find time to work as many monkeys as he or she finds time to feed, but no more. It shouldn’t take more than five to 15 minutes to feed a properly maintained monkey.

Rule 3.

Monkeys should be fed by appointment only. The manager should not have to hunt down starving monkeys and feed them on a catch-as-catch-can basis.

Rule 4.

Monkeys should be fed face-to-face or by telephone, but never by mail. (Remember—with mail, the next move will be the manager’s.) Documentation may add to the feeding process, but it cannot take the place of feeding.

Rule 5.

Every monkey should have an assigned next feeding time and degree of initiative. These may be revised at any time by mutual consent but never allowed to become vague or indefinite. Otherwise, the monkey will either starve to death or wind up on the manager’s back.