Monkey see Monkey do... Internal Culture


I had a colleague send me a story last year about an experiment with monkeys.. it has always stuck in my head when I see clients and companies continue down the path of least resistance.. essentially learned behavior that is neither productive or conducive to cultivating their most valuable resource.. the employee.  This analogy has two points.. ensure you evaluate a client's culture as to not find the perfect candidate to only send them off to Babylon and secondly, audit your own internal culture every 2 years.. ensure you aren't fostering monkey see monkey do.

Learning the Status Quo

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

In the cage, hang a banana on a string and put stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey will make an attempt with the same response - all of the monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Keep this up for several days.

Turn off the cold water.

If, later, another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it even though no water sprays them.

Now, remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.

The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Replace the third original monkey with a new one. The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well. Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys which have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.

Why not?

"Because that's the way it's always been done around here."

Over the years, all companies develop routines, habits and practices, which we call the “organizational culture”. As I am sure you know, these cultures can be quite different, in terms of what sort of behavior they value and what they don’t like to see, and what they punish. Always, these habits and conventions have been developed over the course of many years. Very often, nobody actually remembers why they were started in the first place... Quite possibly, the guy with the water hose has long gone.

Relating this to recruiting.. one of the hardest things to determine with a candidate when interviewing is will they fit in with a company's culture?  How do you determine a healthy culture versus one that is toxic? As a recruiter, it's just as much our responsibility to ensure the ones we represent are worth representing.

Original Scientific study:


Views: 10428

Comment by Jason Hargreaves on May 18, 2012 at 7:37am

hmmmm, I've got a pressure washer at home...

Comment by Darryl Dioso on May 18, 2012 at 9:58am

This is very tough. We do our best to gauge our client's culture (as 3rd party) but so often they put on a game face and portray themselves as "ideal" in the beginning. Only once the candidate is their for several months does the true culture come out.

We can only do so much. It's up to the hiring companies to create and foster "non-monkey" cultures. I bring you the date. It's up to you if you make it a marriage. 

Comment by Bill Schultz on May 18, 2012 at 12:15pm

I can talk to the receptionist for 2 minutes and know the culture of a company.  That's why it's crucial to visit your clients regularly.  


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