Changing “the way things are done around here” can take time. There is no easy fix and the legacy of a past culture often has a tight hold long after it has been changed.
There is a great story, based on a real study carried out in the early sixties, that illustrates the way behaviour may be influenced by “the way things were done around here!“.
Scientists placed five monkeys in a cage, which had a ladder in one corner. At the top of the steps was a large bunch of juicy bananas. The cage had also been fitted with sprinklers that would drench the monkeys, when activated.
Of course, as soon as the monkeys spot the bananas at the top of the ladder, they quickly start to climb up. But as soon as they do, the scientists turn on the sprinklers and drench the monkeys.
Now, as much as they love bananas, monkeys loathe being drenched by water, so they quickly retreat back down the steps.
As you’d expect, the monkeys quickly try again so the scientists hit the sprinkler button, drenching the monkeys once more!
Over the next few days the monkeys keep trying to grab the bananas. Sometimes they all go together, other times just one or two have a go. The result is always the same, with the monkeys ending up completely drenched and retreating. Eventually, after a number of days of trying to get the bananas, the monkeys give up.
Now the story gets interesting! The scientists now turn off the sprinklers and remove one of the original monkeys. In his place they put in a new monkey. As you’d expect, the new monkey spots the bananas and immediately steps onto the ladder.
But he doesn’t get far, as the other monkeys immediately jump on him, stopping him from going any further. The new monkey tries over and over again, but is always dragged down by the others.
Eventually he gives up.
The scientists then take out another of the original monkeys and replace him with another new monkey. The same thing happens, with the newest monkey spotting bananas and starting to climb. The other monkeys all jump on him to prevent him going further up the ladder.
Just like with the previous one, this newest monkey keeps trying with the same result until he eventually gives up, too.
Over time, all of the original monkeys are replaced by new ones. Each new monkey attempts to climb the ladder and each one is dragged back down by the others.
Every single time. Even though the sprinkler is no longer being used! Not one of the monkeys knows why, but it’s “the way things are done around here“.
How does this story play out in your organisation?