Why You Should Think of Culture like an Ecosystem

Companies with high-performance cultures have discovered the power of a holistic approach.

In high school biology class, we were taught that an ecosystem is a complex community of living things that interact with one another and with the environment around them. Each component of the system is interconnected and has a role in influencing the overall function of the system.

A corporate culture operates in a similar way. The culture – all of the written and unwritten rules of what is acceptable and how things get done inside a company – is the result of multiple influences that interact with one another to create the cultural environment.

Perhaps the best benefit of visualizing culture as an ecosystem is that it allows multiple decision makers within a company to discover the impact that their individual roles can have on influencing the culture.

When companies try to make one person or department solely responsible for creating the desired culture, they almost never succeed.

By using a more holistic, team-oriented approach, influencers at all levels of the organization work together to affect culture. Their combined efforts result in a much greater impact.

Another advantage of the corporate culture ecosystem concept is consistent communication and reinforcement. When leaders determine the cultural attributes they want to emphasize throughout the company, it is important that the systems, processes and communication throughout the organization are aligned with and support the development of those desired attitudes and behaviors.

Consistency is essential because it brings credibility and clarity to the cultural values that have been communicated to the workforce. Over time, because of the consistent reinforcement of those values, they become instinctive and second nature to employees at all levels.

Inconsistency, on the other hand, can undermine the effort and lead to confusion. If employees begin to question the credibility of the initiative, they are less likely to adopt the tenets of the culture.

For example, if a company wants to create a Culture of Action where employees are empowered to quickly and independently address customers’ concerns, it would be detrimental for supervisors to routinely question and criticize the action their employees take to protect the customer relationship.

However, if the employees were given the proper tools, training and instructions necessary to confidently make decisions in the best interest of the customer and they were recognized when they did so, they would be more likely to take action on their own.

By prioritizing consistent communication among core functions that influence the cultural ecosystem, leaders can increase employee engagement and effectively reinforce the attributes of the culture it wants to develop.

A version of Jessica’s article first appeared on JPL‘s website

Published by Jessica Walter, MS, APR

Speaker, Consultant, and Certified Leadership Coach

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