Why Building (and Maintaining) Culture Requires a Scientific Approach

Kosta Ligris is CEO and Managing Partner of Ligris. In Boston, MA and a member of the MIT EMBA class of 2018.

While there is no question that building culture in an organization is an art, it also requires more science than most people think. This is because culture is the behavior, actions and influences that affect and impact how individuals operate within an organization. All these interactions occur in a system, which can be mapped and modeled to see how relationships and connections impact decisions. By using the right scientific tools – especially system dynamics — you can assess the health of your culture and determine how to make the necessary changes.

Understanding your organization’s culture is critical because it impacts your ability to recruit and retain human capital, which affects the bottom line. Studies show that as much as employees are concerned about salary, they are equally if not more concerned about being in an organization where they feel appreciated. That means working for an organization with a healthy culture.

Building and maintaining a healthy culture requires continuous effort. This is where the science comes into play.

Get a lay of the land

Start to analyze your culture by creating a map (this may look more like a web) of who interacts with whom and who trusts who until you start to see what system dynamics calls feedback loops. This means that actions by one person can influence others in the organization. You can broaden the web to include all employees, vendors, suppliers, etc. within a department, division, region or an entire organization.

As you map out relationships, you can layer in problems in the organization. For example, if only 50% of people show up to a weekly meeting, that is something you can map out using relationships and influences. You can start by mapping out who comes to the meeting, who doesn’t come to the meeting, and who can influence the people in those groups. This will help determine how to start the process of getting “buy-in” for change.

Talk to people

Start talking to the people in those influence loops. In the meeting example, try to find out why people aren’t coming to the meeting. Do they feel that they won’t be heard or it’s not worth their time? Sometimes it’s as simple as going to a meeting and asking questions like how this meeting could be more appealing. Other times, you need to talk to their influencers to get feedback. It’s about getting information so that all parties can look at the issue from different perspectives. What you hear may cause you to change your perspective as a leader. And it sends a message to your group that they are part of the process.

See and Assess

At this point, you can probably hypothesize about the problem, which means that it’s time to go see and assess. It’s amazing how much you can learn just by observing: what is working well, what is not