Monkey See, Monkey Do: Why Many Organizations are Dysfunctional
Updated March 4, 2014
I’ve enjoyed Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits over a number of years. Babauta writes about simple productivity and life issues. His book The Power of Less is a compact and practical guide to reclaiming your life from busyness and inefficiency. I highly recommend it.
Leo also has his Zen Family Habits blog, which contains helpful advice on all things simple and family happiness. A post that really caught my attention because of its application to organizations That’s the Way its Always Been tells the story of monkeys sharing a cage and how over time they’re conditioned to attack any monkey that breaks the behavioral norm, even after all of them are eventually replaced with new monkeys. I don’t want to spoil the story, so click the link.
How often have we seen this type of behavior in our organizations? As new employees, we don’t question the rituals, myths, implied scare tactics, penalty box, etc. If we dare to ask a seasoned employee, the reply is typically “I don’t know; that’s just how things are done around here.” Or, “Don’t ask why, just do what you’re told and keep your head down.”
When we enter an organization as a new employee, there’s what is called the Smell of the Place. I’m not talking about physical odors, but rather your intuitive sense of the work environment, as well as how the office is laid out. For example, I recall many years ago starting work in a new organization in which someone at a VP level banned others from using her bottled water dispenser, even though they worked just down the corridor. In another organization years later, I recall a colleague telling me that his VP had her area locked down.
When visiting other organizations, or even offices in your company’s other locations, pay attention to the subtle clues that speak to their corporate cultures. Do people seem happy and relaxed, or do they appear stiff and detached? Are they interacting, or hiding out in their cubicles? Is the work environment sterile, or have people helped personalize it?
If you’re in a job interview process and on the verge of getting an offer, it’s wise to ask the hiring manager to meet your potential co-workers. I’ve asked this in the past and when one hiring manager was reticent to agree, a warning flag went up. Why any manager would not enthusiastically consent to such a minor request should serve as a warning.
Yes, the economy is wobbly and it will be some time until the job situation improves significantly. So job hunting and getting an offer is still difficult. However, it’s very worthwhile–and important–to use your senses when making a career decision.
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