Over the last few weeks, ready for our new website, I have been filming some testimonial videos with our clients. As part of this process, I have asked them what they feel had the most impact. One thing that comes out loud and clear is that our diagnostic process has really helped them understand why current practices and mindsets exist within the business. Armed with this knowledge we then know how to support them, in not only changing the corporate mindset, but also helping the individuals change their mindset.
Why is this important? It’s because without that shift in mindset, the plan we help businesses create, will ultimately not be sustainable.
I love the story about the monkeys from Gary Hamel’s and C. K. Prahalad’s fable. It’s about four monkeys sitting in a cage staring at a bunch of bananas, accessible only by steps hanging from the roof. Whenever the monkeys try to climb the steps to reach the bananas, a blast of cold water blocks them. After a time, realizing there’s little point in trying to get the “forbidden fruit,” they understandably give up. Then the organisers remove the water hose and, simultaneously, replace one of the original monkeys with a new monkey. On seeing the bananas, the new monkey starts up the steps, but the other primates, being social creatures, pull it down before it gets blasted by water. The new monkey is startled, looks around, and tries repeatedly to climb the ladder, only to be repeatedly pulled back. Finally, the new monkey accepts the group code of conduct and doesn’t bother to go for the bananas.
Over the coming weeks, the organisers remove the rest of the original monkeys, one at a time, and replace them with new monkeys that have never seen the water. By the end of the experiment, with perfectly ripe bananas sitting on the platform above, and monkeys that have never seen a jet of water, none of the animals tries to climb the steps. They’ve all learned the unwritten rule: “you don’t grab the bananas around here.”
What this illustrates is that our beliefs and habits are ingrained by past management practices and remain ingrained far beyond the existence of the practices that formed them, even when new management practices have been put in place.
Hamel and Prahalad created this story, not to represent any actual findings from the field of primatology, but instead as a potent and memorable way to demonstrate a wider truth about organizational life—namely, that mind-sets ingrained by past management practices remain ingrained far beyond the existence of the practices that formed them, even when new management practices have been put in place.
At Mindset Associates, we believe that truly understanding the current management practices and why they exist is critical to ensure that changes are sustainable. That the company does not revert back to the old practices, becoming one of the 70% of change programmes that fail (McKinsey).