Cookie cutter values? A simple search will demonstrate that most Mission & Values statements are repetitive; with so many companies touting similar values, why are so many companies underperforming, why are tenures shorter, and why do HR folks love talking about how great they are at engagement? That’s easy: Shit rolls downhill…
Ever heard about The Monkey, Banana & Water Spray Experiment? The experiment is “real” (some of the quotes at the bottom are “interpretive”); it involved 5 monkeys (10 altogether, including replacements), a cage, bananas, a ladder, and an ice-cold water hose.
The Experiment: Part 1
5 monkeys were locked in a cage, a banana was hung from the ceiling, and a ladder was placed right underneath it. As predicted, one of the monkeys immediately raced towards the ladder to grab the banana. However, as soon as he started to climb, the researcher sprayed the monkey with ice-cold water. In addition, he also sprayed the other 4 monkeys…
When a second monkey tried to climb the ladder, the researcher sprayed the monkey with ice-cold water, as well as the other 4 watching monkeys. This was repeated again and again until they learned their lesson – climbing equals being sprayed with ice-cold water for EVERYONE – so no one climbed the ladder.
The Experiment: Part 2
Once the 5 monkeys knew the drill, the researcher replaced one of the monkeys with a new inexperienced one. As predicted, the new monkey spotted the banana, and went for the ladder. The other 4 monkeys, knowing the drill, jumped on the new monkey and beat him up. The beat-up new guy thus learned “don’t go for the ladder and no banana – period” without even knowing why and also without ever being sprayed with water.
These actions were repeated 3 more times, each time with a new monkey; each time each of the previous new monkeys – who had never received the ice-cold water spray himself (and didn’t even know anything about it) – would join the beating of the new guy. Eventually, none of the original ones that had been sprayed by water are left in the cage.
The Experiment: Part 3
Finally, a new monkey was introduced into the cage. It ran toward the ladder only to get beaten up by the others. The new monkey turned with a curious face and asked the other monkeys, “Why do you beat me up when I try to get the banana?” (a monkey translator was present).
The other 4 monkeys stopped and looked at each other puzzled – none of them had been sprayed and so they really had no clue why the new guy can’t get the banana – but it didn’t matter, it was too late, the rules had been set. Although they didn’t know WHY they beat up the monkey, one of them spoke up and said, “That’s just the way we do things around here…”
And people wonder why changing a culture is so difficult…
Changing culture requires far more than fluffy things like paying high-priced consultants to create new M&V elements; it’s far more than changing the brand of beer on Fridays, climbing retreats for executives, or yoga on Wednesdays for all employees. It involves a drastic and dramatic unraveling of a can of worms and a pile of pickup sticks in search of a special needle in a haystack.
#Tchat and #NextChat participants take note.
FYI, this culture joke is loosely based upon Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288.