We’ve Always Done It This Way

In your workplace, have you ever wondered why something is done the way it is? If you’ve ever received the answer, “We’ve always done it this way,” then you should read the true story of the five monkeys and a banana:

A researcher conducted an experiment where a banana was hung over a step ladder in a cage with five monkeys. Every time a monkey tried to climb up to reach the banana, ALL the monkeys were sprayed with freezing cold water. This collective punishment was so effective that soon, none of the monkeys attempted to grab the banana.

Then one monkey was removed and a new one brought in. Of course, the new one wanted the banana, but as soon as it tried, the other monkeys attacked it to avoid punishment. Eventually, one by one, the researcher replaced each monkey with a new one, with each new monkey being attacked for trying to get to the banana. Finally, none who had experienced the icy spray were left. But when yet another monkey was then introduced to the cage with the five new monkeys, it also was attacked for trying to reach the banana. It stopped trying to get the banana too. Even though none of these new monkeys had ever experienced the freezing water punishment, they still passed on the message they had learned, that the banana was out of bounds. And the banana remained untouched.

Like these monkeys, over time, organized groups collect and maintain habits, attitudes, and rules that define and direct their members. People uphold and guard these practices in order to reach goals, gain acceptance, and fit in, often without stopping to question their origins. This is how a company’s culture develops and perpetuates, a topic we’ve written a lot about.

Perhaps your company’s culture is well designed and intentional. But if you discover you’re doing something you don’t understand, stop to question it. If you hear, “We’ve always done it this way,” take the opportunity to ask why and suggest a better way to approach it.

Why take the time to talk about company culture? It’s because if you’re an employer trying to make a good hire, you need to be sure your candidate fits your culture. And if you’re a job seeker, it’s just as crucial to take a company’s culture into account. As a recruiting agency, when we help to make a good match between employers and candidates, we look for the three Cs: Competence, Character, and Chemistry (or Culture), for the success of both.

Employers, click here or call (714) 993-1900 to request an employee or discuss a workforce management issue.

(Thanks to Impaq Solutions for reminding me about the details of this story which I, too, have told many times!)

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