Monkey see, Monkey do, but do they know WHY?


Leaders be aware, be vigilant  …

Workplace Culture is vitaly important … it shapes the organisation’s reputation, attractiveness, energy levels, creativeness, productivity and ultimate success.

Building the right culture is a crucial, marketable assest in a world full of talented people who are more willing to make choices, take chances and change jobs.  People like to feel that they belong, are valued, and achieving and surrounded with like-minded pople who are focused on the same outcomes an dvisions for the future. A happy work environment, full of staff that are passionate and proud of their contributions, produces results.

So, ultimately … the aim is to be an ‘employer of choice’ to attract the right people, and then importantly, to ensure you remain their ‘employer fo choice’, to retain them.

Do you wonder why your staff are really enthusiastic, passionate and striving to do their best every day  when they first start … maybe even for the first  6 – 12 months … then seem to either become another plodder like the rest of the longer-term staff, or leave?  Sure … you have shared strategic plans, espoused organisational values, written work procedures, outlined expectations in position descriptions, provide a nice workplace environment …  all good frameworks for setting up the right workplace culture. But do you know what’s really going on?  Are you watching and listening for the undercurrents … the unwritten ground rules … the entrenched behaviours of ‘the way we do stuff around here’;  especially when you’re not around?

Do you know why?  Take the time to read this short story – written by Steve Simpson in his explanation of what are: UGRs- Unwritten Ground Rules.

The Tale of Five Monkeys …………………………………………………………………..

Behavioural scientists apparently placed 5 monkeys in a cage. In the cage is a ladder, and at the top of the ladder is a nice bunch of ripe bananas. The cage is a normal cage, except for the fact that it has sprinklers in the ceiling through with water can flow. 

Not long after being placed in the cage, the 5 monkeys spot the delicious bananas.  They begin their climb up the ladder, and the behavioural scientists press a switch that turns on the sprinklers. The monkeys get drenched!

The monkeys try again, and the same happens. The sprinklers are turned on and they get drenched. This happens again and again, until eventually the monkeys give up trying to get the bananas. 

The scientists then remove one of the monkeys and put a new one into the cage. The new monkey spots the bananas straight away and naturally begins to climb the ladder. A facinating thing happens. The other monkeys aggressively jump on the new monkey and pull it down. They new monkey tries again, and again the other monkeys set upon him. Again it tries – the same consequence. Eventually the new monkey gives up trying. 

The scientists then take another of the original monkeys out and replace it with a new one. The new monkey tries to climb the ladder and it is set upon by the other 4 monkeys. This happens time and again, until the newest of the monkeys stops trying to climb the ladder. 

Eventually, each of the original monkeys is replaced. 

The scientists then place another new monkey in the cage and it is immediately jumped on aggressively and pulled down by the other monkeys.  

Why?  Not one of these monkeys know why … it’s just what they do. 


This story highlights the power of unwritten ground rules … these entrenched behaviours have enormous power to control behaviour. Anyone who has tried to join a workplace with strong negative cultures and tried to change that from within, are often not to subtly dragged down by others … put in their place … warned not to raise you head or get too big for your boots. Sound familiar?

Are your workplace supervisors and team leaders really motivated … do they know WHY they do what they do … are they open to new ideas from newly recruited talent? … 

… or have they become monkeys in a cage? 

Take the time to find out what’s really going on.  Start by watching – 56% of the message we receive [you,  your new staff members, your customers]  is visual – body language, attitude, observed behaviour, actions.  Visual messages speak the loudest … sometimes it’s a matter of taking your head out of the sand, or engaging an external set of eyes to see what you’re missing – have stopped noticing.

 37% of the message will be in the tone used – listen intently for the tone in which things are said in response. Importantly, listen to your own tone in the messages YOU deliver … are you inspiring them to get on board?

 Only 7 % of the message is in the words – written or spoken … so all that written framework about your organisation’s workplace expectations carries little weight if the staff are not walking and talking that with genuine belief and passion.

We can help you get your culture ‘humming’, through our 5 step VERVE – workplace culture review model.  Contact us for a chat about this …

Reference – recommend reading Steve Simpson’s book – Cracking the Corporate Culture Code

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