Let’s start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of 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 makes an attempt with the same result – all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.
Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.Now, turn off the cold water. 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 surprise and 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. Note that the previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm. Again, replace a 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 that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been around here and that’s how company culture is formed, and that’s how you come about the smell of a place.
Every company has its smell. It’s the way it’s always been around there. Nobody can really explain why some things are the way they are anymore, it’s either that’s what management said, wants or expects. This subtly defines a culture for the organization. Imagine how the fifth monkey would have felt when it entered the cage, he’ll see opportunities all over the place in “banana’s untouched”, he’ll wonder in its mind why nobody is making use of those opportunities, he’ll also wonder how come the hostility when he tries to reach the banana. The other monkeys will attack it with glee, without having a clue why things are done that way. At that point, the one who can pick the smell of the place most is the new comer, but he/she looses the ability to see the difference in sometimes less than 3 months.
The smell of some places
Where do you work? Do you work in a hostile, high-pressure, cubicle-laden owner-centric labor camp with lousy benefits, bitter, talentless managers, and buzzing, green-tinted fluorescent lights? Or do you work in an open, airy, truly stylish converted warehouse with relaxed, competent coworkers and managers that not only care about your well-being and job satisfaction, but work continuously to improve it? Do you to set your own hours, banish your suit and tie in the deepest corner of your closet, and bask in the creativity of well-humored individuals who actually come to work (and leave) in a good mood?
Do you work in a company that allows total freedom in managing your priorities, decorating your workspace, and provides solid health, dental, and financial benefits? Do you work in a place where you never, ever see another cubicle again? Where there is no big fish and hence no aquarium? Or do you work in a ‘do as I say’, no initiative required environment, where the boss takes all the decisions, your bosses are addressed as ‘royal highnesses’ and you are rewarded on your ability to stay forever on a particular job?
Companies are so different, and most times unexplainably so, but if you by chance find yourself in a company that has gotten used to a particular way of doing things, there are a number of things you can do to change the game or at least be happy.
How did we get here?
Ask questions. The most stupid question in the world is the one we never ask. That question that hangs on the tip of our tongue and never finds expression is the dumbest question. Ask! Find out a little about the history of the place. Don’t just join in a practice. Ask. The monkeys in the story did the things that they did without knowing exactly why. Dig a bit; find out the things that create the smell of where you are.
How do we smell today?
There are many ways to assess your company culture. There are consultants who will do it for you, for a fee (I can connect you ;-). The easiest way to assess your company’s culture is to look around. How do the employees act; what do they do? Look for common behaviors and visible symbols. Listen. Listen to your employees, your suppliers, and your customers. Pay attention to what is written about your company, in print and online. These will also give you clues as to what your company’s smell really is. Your company can figuratively be a sweet smelling perfume, winning the hearts of customers, the passion of employees and the commitment of suppliers, or your company can be a stench, where employees hang around until they have a choice, suppliers are struggling businesses and your customers haven’t found alternatives.
What is our essence?
It’s also crucial to know what you stand for as a company. To consistently act in a manner inconsistent with our values and inner beliefs is another definition of insanity. Every company has an identity, a persona, a corporate culture. Corporate culture is a broad term used to define the unique personality or character of a particular company or organization, and includes such elements as core values and beliefs, corporate ethics, and rules of behavior. Corporate culture can be expressed in the company’s mission statement and other communications, in the architectural style or interior décor of offices, by what people wear to work, by how people address each other, and in the titles given to various employees. You need to be able to explain or describe the personality of your company.
How do you want your company to smell?
This is a two sided question, the top executive can ask this because he/she might want to change it, the freshman may ask this because he/she wants to consider and weigh his/her job options. Whichever side of the coin you fall in, you should have an idea what you want your corporate culture to be. Before you can change the company culture, you have to decide what you want the company culture to look like in the future. Different companies in different industries will have different cultures. Look at what kind of a culture will work best for your organization in its desired future state. Review your mission, vision and values and make sure the company culture you are designing supports them.
Here are some characteristics of company cultures that others have used successfully. Decide which work for your company and implement them, or on the other side of the coin, look for them.
Fully empowered employees
High integrity workplace
Strong trust relationships
Highly effective leadership
Effective systems and processes
Performance-based compensation and reward programs
Effective 360-degree communications
Commitment to learning and skill development
Emphasis on recruiting and retaining outstanding employees
High degree of adaptability
High accountability standards
Demonstrated support for innovation
Adeolu Akinyemi, an HR expert from Lagos, Nigeria