Put eight gorillas in a room (or how corporate culture is created)

812Imagine this…you’ve got eight gorillas in a room with a bunch of bananas hanging from the ceiling and a ladder under the bananas.

The gorillas will race to climb the ladder to get the bananas, right?

Now imagine this: every time a gorilla starts up the ladder, you spray him with a fire hose. The gorillas learn pretty quickly to quit trying to reach those bananas!

Then, remove one of the original gorillas and replace him with a new gorilla.

The first thing the new gorilla will do is head up the ladder for those bananas. The next thing that will happen is the seven veteran gorillas will grab him and drag him down.

Then, one by one, remove another veteran gorilla and replace him with a new gorilla.

Here’s what you’ll end up with — eight gorillas that have never been sprayed with a fire hose, yet they’ll make no attempt to go near the bananas. But the real issue is that they don’t even know why!

So why am I talking about gorillas and bananas? Because this little parable shows you how corporate culture is created and passed on over time.


The first thing to know is that your company has a corporate culture whether you have intentionally articulated it or not. Your business has a personality, just like every individual has a personality.

Corporate culture is not what YOU say it is…it’s a minestrone soup made from what OTHERS say about your business.

It’s what employees say to each other in the parking lot or over a beer. It’s what they say to friends and family. It’s what customers say when they talk ABOUT your business, not just TO you. It’s what vendors say about how it is to do business with you.

Your corporate culture is shaped by your values and your own behavior. You might say you want a culture of teamwork, initiative and respect. But are your actions consistently congruent with those values? You can write anything you want on a piece of paper and call it your values, but your true values are what you live.


So when you think about your corporate culture, the first place to look is in the mirror. Take a good look at yourself, then take 100% responsibility for the corporate culture you are creating.

There are no right and wrong values that make up your culture. (Well…I take that back. Aspiring to a culture of deception or dishonesty wouldn’t be very smart, would it?)

What I mean is that each business is different. Let’s say you run a marketing firm. Creativity and imagination would be important. But let’s say you run a pharmacy. I’m not sure I’d want to shop at a pharmacy that got creative with my prescriptions! But accuracy and precision would be important.

As a consultant and coach, it’s not up to me to decide or advise what your corporate culture SHOULD be. I have one client who is an absolute perfectionist. Perfection gives her a competitive advantage in her industry. I support that. I have another client who wants a culture of fun. I support that too.

However, I do suggest that you think very deeply about your corporate culture and what you’d like it to be. Once it’s established it’s very difficult to change. When you get clear on the culture you’d like to create, then make sure you live that out in your words and actions.

If you want a company with ambitious gorillas who reach for those bananas, then think twice before you spray them with a fire hose.

I’d love to learn more about your corporate culture. Tell me in the Comments section about the culture in your business, and how you created it.

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