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Image Credit: <www.logic-alphabet.net

Image Credit: <www.logic-alphabet.net>

Jacque Vilet, President of Vilet International, has a great post up on Compensation Cafe recounting a famous research experiment dealing with Rhesus monkeys.

I won’t go into details (Vilet does an incredible job of that herself here), but in a few sentences:

1. Five monkeys are put into a cage with a banana hanging from the ceiling.

2. Every time a monkey attempts to get the banana, it and its peers are blasted with cold water from a hose.

3. Eventually the monkeys associate attempting to get the banana with being blasted with cold water and don’t attempt to get it anymore

4. Even once the threat of the hose is removed, future monkeys to enter the cage are (physically) discouraged from attempting to climb the cage by the original monkeys to have experienced the cold water.

5. As such, when the original monkeys are (gradually) removed from the cage, the remaining monkeys (who have never experienced the cold water) become enforcers of the “no going after the banana” policy despite having no firsthand experience on why they shouldn’t.

Vilet asks us to consider the above story when thinking about the utility of our own workplace policies. This is good advice, but the challenge here is knowing the scope of the reasoning behind why a policy was put into place to begin with. Many of the seemingly asinine policies, rules, and yardsticks put in place 1. Human Workplace CEO Liz Ryan calls them Godzilla Policies.to govern employee behaviors 1 were put in place to manage the behaviors of the small minority of employees who would cross a line in the absence of such rules. Dress codes and attendance point systems and the like exist because of the 5% of people that would wear flip flops and show up 15 minutes late to everything in their absence. And so it’s easier to hold everyone to a rigid policy than it is to manage outliers on a case by case basis.

It could be argued that in such instances a more common sense approach would be to coach managers on how to address deviant behavior (as opposed to 2. The relative rarity of great managers admittedly makes this admittedly easier said than done.treating the entire population like children). But conversely, some policies exist because the absence of them would expose an organization to significant legal liability or because of a specific business need. For example, scheduling breaks for production line workers makes sense because not having enough employees present to make sure it runs smoothly would harm the business.

Identifying which policies are in place because no one wants to do the harder (but ultimately better for employee engagement) work of managing exceptions versus the ones that are in place because their absence would cause mayhem is not an easy job.

What are you doing in your organization to identify that line?

As always, please share your thoughts in the comment section below.