Let Me Buy U A Keystone

Kylie Quetell Kylie Quetell, Talent Management

Ever heard of a Keystone Species? I’ll give you a hint, it is completely unrelated to that inexpensive beer that you drank in college. It’s a bio term first introduced in 1969 by Robert T. Paine (not the guy who will Buy U A Drank). The term was coined in 1969, but you could argue the concept goes back even further, to Alexander Von Humboldt during a 1799 expedition. Regardless, we’ve known about this concept in biology for a very long time.

A Keystone Species is one that is critical to the success of an ecosystem and the way in which it functions. Without it, the ecosystem would change perilously, or even crumble to non-existence.  -Wikipedia

Think of a keystone in a stone-structured arch. Take out that middle piece, and the entire archway crumbles. If you want to study up on your biology, I’ll let you do that on your own time. For now, let’s consider how this concept can be brought into your business.

Whether you work for yourself, or an organization, it is important to consider what (or who) your Keystone is.

  • Is it your culture?
  • A person?
  • A skill?
  • A tool?

Once you determine what your Keystone is, take some time to consider if it has a positive effect. What if it doesn’t?

If you believe you have a bad company culture – determine what is keeping that negative culture intact. Identifying this Keystone will be paramount in fixing the issue. Otherwise, you are spending your energy repairing outlying factors instead of getting to the root.

I hope you believe that your organization is a positive one. In this case, determining your Keystone can be very powerful. Oftentimes we take our Keystones for granted, or unwittingly neglect its maintenance.

If your Keystone is your culture:

  • Consider ways to keep it intact. An easy way to do this is to name it. Naming something gives it value and also allows others to refer to it in a meaningful way. It gives folks the ability to spread it, advocate for it, and nurture it.

What if you think your Keystone is a person?

  • Often times our Keystone people get overlooked when we are considering where to spend our energy on Talent Development. Just like the smart kids in an elementary school classroom. The teacher spends so much energy tending to the lower achieving students, that the smart kid often gets neglected. Developing our Keystone people can actually help to drive a business further. They feel valued, so they stay longer. They feel the value of development, so they in turn develop others. They are reinvigorated and energized, so they are able to give back a little bit more.

Is your Keystone a system, tool, or platform?

  • Don’t let it fall to the wayside. Investing time, energy, and money into this system will help it maintain its value, which in turn will give you a strong return on investment. The squeaky wheel often gets the oil, which can be detrimental to the sustainability of your Keystone tools. Maintenance and improvements are key to survival.

Perhaps you are a one-person-team.

  • In this instance, what skill is your Keystone? Name it. Develop it. Advertise it. Keep that garden watered.

Taking time to stop and consider what your Keystone is will be important in helping to maintain your status as an excellent organization. It will also help you push ahead. The competition is busy trying to fix what is broken. While this is important to do, additionally we must monitor the vitality of our Keystone so we are able to foster its health. This will prove to be a good delineator between you and the competition.


Thank you, T. Paine!