Why It’s Hard to Change a Corporate Culture – fantastic lesson in human psychology

One of the best movies I enjoyed watching was “A Few Good Men”. It starred Tom Cruise as a Naval Lawyer defending two young Marines. If you saw this movie, or if you plan to watch this movie it’s important to remember two things were not in THE BOOK = Code Red and directions to the Chow Hall.

This is a sad but true tale of how corporate cultures are created and maintained. The example you are about to read occurs in one form or another in all public and private organizations. Read this article carefully. Learn the concept and then reflect back on the time you joined an organization. Is this how you were taught the dos and don’ts of the corporate culture?

Imagine a large cage placed in the center of a large room. Now imagine five monkeys being placed in the cage. Now imagine someone hanging a small bunch of bananas on a string from the top of the cage. Finally, imagine a set of portable stairs being rolled into the cage and placed directly under the bananas.

Before long, one of the monkeys will get curious and walk over to the stairs and begin to climb toward the bananas. As soon as the monkey starts up the stairs, imagine someone immediately spraying the other four monkeys with cold water. The monkey walking up the stairs will stop, turn around and look at the commotion, then return to the other four monkeys. After a while another monkey will make a similar attempt to get a banana. When that happens, again imagine someone spraying the other four monkeys with cold water. Monkeys are intelligent creatures and soon, whenever any monkey starts to walk toward the stairs, the other monkeys will run over and prevent him from stepping on the stairs; they will assault him if necessary.

Now, put the hose and cold water away and remove one monkey from the cage. Replace the monkey with a new one. It will only be a matter of time before the new monkey sees the bananas and walks over to climb the stairs. To his shock, the other four monkeys will run over, jump up and down and prevent him from going up the stairs. After perhaps a second or a third attempt, the new monkey quickly learns that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted by the other monkeys in the cage.

Next, remove another one of the original five monkeys and replace it with a second new monkey. This newcomer will eventually get curious and head toward the stairs. If he begins to climb the stairs he will be attacked – not by just the original three monkeys but also by the newest one that was recently brought into the cage. Yes, the previous newcomer will now take part in preventing the monkey from trying to climb the stairs. Why, because he is now part of the “team” – he is a member of the old guard.

Now, replace a third original monkey with a new one, followed by the fourth and finally the fifth. Every time the newest monkey starts to walk toward the stairs he will be attacked and prevented from doing so by the other four monkeys in the cage. The majority of the monkeys will always prevent the newest monkey from climbing the stairs. It is clear that the monkeys have no idea or understand why they are not permitting the other monkey from climbing the stairs.

Finally, when the last original monkey is replaced, it is important to remember that none of the five monkeys now inhabiting the cage were ever sprayed with cold water; nevertheless, none of them will try to climb the stairs or allow any of the others to do so. Why, you ask? Because, in the minds of the five new monkeys in the cage, that is the corporate culture; that’s the way things have always been done in the cage!

Don’t kid yourself; every unit of local government and all private businesses operate within a corporate culture. So if you are a newly elected local public official or a recently hired business manager and want to change the existing corporate culture, understand it is going to be a difficult process. Everyone on the existing team will fight to keep the status quo.

The easiest way to change any corporate culture is to replace all the employees with new ones. Since that is neither possible nor practical – be patient. Changing the corporate culture of any organization takes hard work and patience. The key to succeeding is to keep working at it.

Gabe Gabrielsen is a retired USAF Officer who went on to a second career in Local Government. Gabe served two counties, in two states, as their County Administrator before writing his award winning book Pearls of Wisdom … The Unofficial Guide for Local Public Officials. To learn more about Gabe visit www.betterpublicofficialscom. And if you need a good laugh or just want to smile be sure to visit www.localgovernmenthumor.blogspot.com you won’t regret it.

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply