Rich Critchfield found he was spending too much time “rescuing” his staff when they ran into problems.

In a take-off from the book The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, which begins, “If you are someone who feels overwhelmed with problems created by other people, what you are about to read can change your life,” Critchfield changed his life by throwing monkeys — plastic ones — at his employees.

“When someone would say, ‘I have a situation,' or ‘I need help with a situation,' I tended to respond with, ‘Let me see if I can help you,' rather than asking [the employee] what they would do and allowing them to figure it out themselves,” says Critchfield, owner of Critchfield Construction in Somerset, Pa.

The plastic monkeys represent problems — a monkey on your back. Critchfield bought the children's game Barrel of Monkeys to keep on his desk, as well as several plush monkeys hanging from a chain. In fact, everyone in the company gets monkeys to throw. If an employee comes to him with a problem, Critchfield jiggles the plush monkeys or tosses a plastic monkey and asks “Whose monkey is this?”

Employees can also toss monkeys to Critchfield or to one another.

“It's gotten everyone to think about whether they can handle a situation themselves,” says Critchfield, adding that “9 times out of 10, it's their monkey and they can take care of it with a bit of coaching.”

Everyone on staff has listened to an audio tape of the book, and the monkeys have put some fun into accountability. “It's changed the mood in the office, responsibility has improved, and it helps me guard my time,” Critchfield says.