Organizational Neuroscience – Company See, Employees Do

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Everyone talks about culture. Bad culture, good culture, and everything in between. However, rarely when I interview leaders do they truly grasp that similar to a person, an organization is a living and breathing entity as well. It has an environmental effect on all its inhabitants and acts as an established tribe or culture. So, what is culture exactly? From my perspective, it’s the personality of the company and depending on who leads, it sets the tone for how employees behave within an organization. Some see it as a mix of values, vision, and mission of an organization. I take it a step further, adding that it has its own behavioral style and motivations for existing.

So, what happens when the forces of leadership (highest status), employees (individuals with different experiences and perspectives) and the work (outside forces, environmental) collide? How is it that some organizations have unlocked the mystery behind establishing positive behaviors while most have not? I myself remain fascinated by the complexities of our brains, so for me, it just seems easier to counteract a problem if you consider the possible causes. Too often I hear “he or she is just not a fit,” but does a concrete measure exist to view a person’s deficiencies to begin with? Unfortunately, the source of an evaluation is the opinion, although well-meaning, of a decision maker.

Our hope is that with each blog we share, we get more and more individuals to reconsider an outdated human capital belief through advances in neuroscience. In other words, have leaders helped create thinking patterns that support or hinder the overall direction for the company they represent? Or instead are they functioning from on outdated operating system or leadership style? Copying others behaviors begins in the brain when an individual mirrors the same neurological patterns as the person who is observed (Lallese, Fadiga, Fogassi & Rizzolatti, 1996). This may explain how employees sometimes subconsciously take on the mood or emotions of their leaders. So, it’s important to consider that if a company is trying to work towards a cultural shift or some type of behavioral change, consider biology first. But with all this science talk, how do you break down the brain to better understand the way your employees behave?

At APA we find it most helpful to use “bridge terms” for describing the brain to assist in the leap to science, especially considering that even our most technical clients are prone to glazed eyes and confusion. That’s why we translate our research into terms relating to computers. Everyone uses them, most of us love them, and it seems to help. Let’s begin:

Hard-drive information:

Whether you’re a Mac or a PC, your subconscious operates outside of your awareness. The operation of your respiratory or cardiovascular systems as a means to survival is just part of its overall responsibility. Similar to the limited storage of a thumb drive, your conscious brain has nowhere near the capacity to direct all the mind / body requirements. Your personally developed hard-drive directs you to both survive, thrive and form the motivational drives that, conceivably, shape your every behavior. The brain is always in one of two modes; it is either in “protective mode” (to survive) or in “learning mode” (to thrive).


Your personal downloads tell your subconscious how you individually interpret your world at any given time in both a verbal and nonverbal format. They encompass language-based thoughts, words, and personal narratives that are inseparable from the nonverbal emotions and feelings they spark. These emotions give meaning to life and without them, your brain cannot think. When you experience certain emotions and physical sensations, it means your subconscious mind (body) is letting you know how you currently interpret (think about), and thus, feel about that situation.

So how can leaders use science to be more impactful?

It starts when they learn a way in which to communicate that is clear, concise, and calms the mind towards maximum efficiency and away from threat. Applying a servant leadership style can also allow for logic and emotion to work in tandem towards a brain-friendly learning environment. Clear expectations are provided in writing so as to avoid confusion about goals and outcomes. Those talented leaders who have established trust through achieving these goals are perceived by their team as having a genuine interest in their well-being.

Toxic leaders, on the other hand, speak one way and act another. They don’t act as role models for the vision and mission of an organization so others naturally can make the connections, and typically can be seen practicing different ideals. The fiscal cost is clear since we have the highest levels of disengagement, absenteeism and turnover than at any point in history.

So, when looking internally at your organization, the question becomes: do leaders effectively upload information to their teams in a manner that can be easily downloaded and truly sticks regardless of roles, generations, industries?


Are there moments when your employee engagement and productivity slides for some unknown reason? Do you encounter the unfortunate pitfalls associated with leadership behaviors that hinder the direction of the company? Let’s talk on-demand training and development!

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President and CEO

Joan Graci is an accomplished organizational consultant and executive coach with three decades of helping growing companies identify, retain, and develop top talent. Her time as President and Owner of APA Solutions, the premier brain-based human capital consulting firm of WNY, has been spent developing cutting edge, science-based solutions to the people pains of today.