Neuroscience: Helping employees through change

Articles

Articles

Hilary Scarlett explains how the practice of neuroscience analysis can help leaders get underneath the physiological barriers to organizational change.

 

Changing employee behavior is difficult.

In fact, changing our own behavior is hard enough: it’s not easy to establish new habits such as taking more exercise, getting more sleep and eating less.

Similarly, it’s difficult to change our organization’s make-up, shift company culture, establish a collaborative culture and change the way leaders communicate.

As a profession, communicators know that these things don’t come easily, but what’s new is that the field of neuroscience is beginning to explain why these activities are often pain points and more interestingly, what we can do about it.

The idea of using neuroscience in change management and leadership communication has to be one of the most exciting developments witnessed in the Internal Communication sector.

At last, we can demonstrate that communicating with employees, involving them, building strong working relationships are not just “nice to do”, “the right thing to do” or “soft”, but are essential in enabling the brain to focus and in equipping people to think and perform at their best.

Our brains find change hard

To understand why our brains find change difficult to process we need to look to prehistoric times when mankind was at its earliest point of evolution.

Fundamentally, our brains still boast the same physical makeup as our ancestors, although we do have a larger and more developed prefrontal cortex (PFC) – the part of the brain that allows us to reflect and consider.

Back then, the brain had one key driver: survival. To do this it worked on the simple principle of avoiding threats and seeking out rewards. Of the two, avoiding threats, such as the sabre-toothed tiger, was far more important to survival and so our brains developed five times more neural networks to look for danger than they have for reward.

As a result, our brains today are still subconsciously looking out for threats, five times a second.

Why is all this relevant to today’s organizations? It matters because when it comes to uncertainty, for example during a takeover, this represents a major threat. Our brains are not wired to handle this scenario calmly or objectively, so imagine an employee’s state of mind during a merger or acquisition.

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