The 'Monkey Do, Monkey Don’t' Culture In Business

By Joseph Tan|05-02-2016 | 1 Min Read

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Talk about ‘Planet of the Apes’

“What got you here won’t get you there.” – Marshall Goldsmith

Someone once said, “I love people, I really do, it is just their behaviour that I cannot stand.” When it comes down to what really frustrates organisation leaders, it is not the lack of skills or knowledge of their employees. Rather it is a shortfall of desired behaviours.

As we usher in the Chinese Lunar New Year, it is a timely reminder that new results and new performance expectations cannot be achieved with the old behaviours of yesteryears. BAU (Behaviours As Usual) cannot be an acceptable leadership culture if the organisation desires to move collectively towards the place of sustainable high performance.

Upon the threshold of any fiscal year, company leaders are usually abuzz about the strategies going forward and are eager to witness a transformation in results and key performance indicators.

Yet, we all instinctively know that a well-written proposal and a persuasively-designed PowerPoint presentation cannot guarantee the delivery of results. Here is one often-neglected truth about performance – culture produces results.

Here’s one simple diagnostic question to ascertain if behavioural issues are holding your organisation back from achieving the intended key results: If everyone in your organisation continues to think and act in the same manner as they do today, can they achieve the expected results in the stated timeframe?

If the answer is a resounding “No”, then your organisation would need to embark on a cultural design initiative to determine the right cultural standard for achieving the right results. Companies with a thriving business do not leave their culture to chance, rather culture is intentionally designed and delivered.

Left on its own, the culture tends to degrade to a situation of territorialism whereby specific individuals create their own brand of sub-culture – their own monkey kingdoms.

How then do we address this monkey culture and rally the behavioural changes towards a common vision?

Behaviour is caught, not taught

It is what you do when no one is looking that determines the worth of your contribution.

It is interesting that the most common feedback I receive at the end of each behavioural-related training workshop is this, “Is my boss attending the same training as well?”

This highlights our human need for a moral reference when it comes to the motivation for changing our own personal behaviours and attitude.

Here are five common mistakes made by organisation leaders when they are too quick to implement strategic plans without giving thought to the foundational need for behavioural alignment.

  1. Communicating the results without clarifying the overall vision of the company.
  2. Growing the numbers without a specific plan to grow the employees.
  3. Non-performers are still rewarded – sending an inconsistent signal to those who do perform.
  4. Sending employees for training without involving the direct supervisors.
  5. The performance appraisal criteria do not reflect the desired behaviours.

Behaviour requires a moral standard

Everything is not relative.

When it comes to behaviour, one cannot assume that people, by default, would know what to do.

In fact, when left on our own, our behaviour tends to degrade towards the fulfilment of selfish agendas, not that of the common good.

I recall facilitating a visioning workshop where almost everyone in the room had their own interpretation of the company’s values, and it was a challenge coming to a consensus. It was not until we were crystal clear with the expectations of the group chief executive officer that there was a decision on the way moving forward.

In other words, we needed to first establish the true north as the absolute by which all other behaviours are measured against. Without a fixed reference, behaviours are just personal preferences leading to territorial mindset.

Here are three questions to ask when communicating behavioural expectations:

  1. Are the recognition practices consistent with the behaviours we want to promote?
  2. Are the leaders aware of their own behaviour and seen to be walking the talk?
  3. Are managers trained in the skill of having accountability conversations when there are misbehaviour and attitude issues?

Behaviour reinforces values

A child is known by his actions, not his intentions.

Many organisations are too hung up about corporate values until it becomes a copywriting debate.

The fact of the matter is that corporate values are there as a directional guide while a more
specific delivery guide requires something more observable.

Here is where we need an executable concept called key behaviours. Key behaviours are personal accountability statements that are communicated as behavioural expectations for every employee.

In Leaderonomics, we have five key behaviours which operationalise our core values:

  • Be Accountable: “I take personal ownership to deliver on all expectations entrusted to me.”
  • Be Excellent: “I accept challenges and exceed expectations in all that I do.”
  • Be Synergistic: “I actively seek out and lead collaborative opportunities.”
  • Be Courageous: “I am open to honest and authentic conversations.”
  • Be Agile: “I find opportunity in all circumstances and will adapt myself to thrive in them.”

Does your company have a set of key behaviours which are non-negotiable accountability statements for every employee?

Just propagating core values alone is insufficient to set the tone for real change that will impact productivity, profits and people. If your corporate values are just statements on the walls with little behavioural clarity, then do not be surprised if the culture does not reflect the aspiration.

Monkeys vs donkeys

In social experiments, monkeys have been shown to display mob mentality behaviours i.e. they will all do what is the social norm, but it requires a few brave ones to set the tone and then have it reinforced through a series of risk-and-reward responses.

Now, when it comes to setting the cultural tone of an organisation, we can also take a cue from this observation in that we need a few courageous ones to set the tone and make a stand as to what is expected from everyone else – in other words, change begins with courageous leadership.

The other option is to go the way of the donkey which makes a lot of noise but refuses to budge due to stubbornness. In this year of the monkey, let’s not go down the path of the donkey.

Joseph Tan is CEO of Leaderonomics Good Monday. His passion is to work with performance-focused leaders to capture the hearts and minds of their employees through a strengths-based and accountability-driven approach. Much of what is shared in the article above comes from his work as a Gallup-certified strengths coach. If you would like to enhance the engagement level of your organisation, email joseph.tan@leaderonomics.com for more details. For more Be A Leader articles, click here

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Joseph is a Leaderonomics faculty trainer who is passionate about engaging with leaders to transform culture in organisations. Previously, he was CEO of Leaderonomics Good Monday. He is currently based in the United States
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