How to Change Organisational Culture Through Viral Behaviour

Whether organisational culture is spread  importance of integrity in the workplace from a top-down or bottom-up approach is a potato that has been lobbed around amongst leaders wanting to drive change.

Culture is constantly in a state of flux and the efforts of leadership in developing the committed individuals and teams that promote desired behaviour can start to spread quickly through an organisation; but it is only successful long-term if it is embedded, grows outward and then is pushed from the bottom upwards in a ‘viral’ way.

Both top-down and bottom-up approaches are required and neuroscience helps us understand why.

Starting with leadership importance of integrity in the workplace

Cultural change involves people adjusting their behaviour and attitudes. This is only possible when leadership is trusted and respected, and when people can see the benefit of following it. People must see value in the work they do, and be able to see meaning in how it connects to the overall purpose of the organisation; they must also be recognised and rewarded for their work.

Without these two basic leadership approaches, then developing individuals with the necessary motivation to change attitudes and behaviours, and to spread a new culture, is almost impossible.

Neuroscience shows good culture can spread as quickly as bad

Behaviour, emotions and attitudes can spread virally. Just like a YouTube video of a dog dancing or a cat attacking a printer can spread within minutes, so people’s habits and attitudes can quickly spread to other people! Perhaps not quite so rapidly, but just as unstoppably.

This doesn’t just apply in workplace situations. It is equally true outside- people can quickly tap into the moods and attitudes of those around them and it often has a subconscious effect on their own moods. Neuroscience has a word for this: imitation.

Studies at the University of Hawaii look at the concept of ’emotional contagion’ where one person’s emotions can quickly influence those of a group. Neuroscience has also uncovered that, when people see others acting in a particular way the ‘mirror neuron activity’ in the brain is exactly the same as if they had performed the action themselves.

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