Leading Change With Brain Friendly Strategies

Lead the way, my friend.

Change can be hard!

All organizations face challenges of maintaining employee or volunteer engagement and motivation in the midst of uncertainty.

Organizational change is challenging even in the best situations. According to McKinsey Quarterly, 2010, only about 30% of organizations are successful with organizational change. For many people, the unknown is extremely frightening. We default to routine and resist change at all costs.

Case Study On Successful Organizational Change

Neuroscientists Dr. Jim Whiting, Elizabeth Jones, Dr. David Rock and Xenia Bendit, of the NeuroLeadership Institute, worked with a leading global telecommunication organization to incorporate key neuroscience principles into a major company-wide change initiative.

The company’s goals were to

  1. Minimize the impact of change while maintaining employee engagement and focus.
  2. Develop employee leadership abilities that would contribute to long-term effectiveness beyond the restructure.
  3. Intentionally address the importance of the social brain during work and optimal performance as an important leadership capability.

This organizational change included shifts in business strategies, major reorganization and layoffs. Due to the difficult and delicate changes needed, the company wanted to support and equip staff with the skills to lead the change and diminish the disruptions caused by change.

Five Steps To Adapt To Organizational Change

The company developed a virtual program that followed a specific procedure based on neuroscience principles for learning and changing attitudes, behaviors and skills. The virtual program included five live webinars focused on the key steps to organizational change.

All organizations facing change initiatives should consider and adopt these five strategies.

1. Create A Toward State Through Conversations

Set the direction through peer to peer conversations about what’s ahead. Help participants learn and understand what the brain needs in order to change. Have discussions about the future in the face of significant change.

Neuroscience Theory: Understanding the brain’s organizing principle of minimizing danger and maximizing reward is critical to change. Focusing on the benefits and positive opportunities of change, a toward state, helps us engage our brains resources for effective problem solving, creativity, collaboration and innovation.

2. Foster New Connections And Think In New Ways

Diagram and map the four stages of change conversations for all participants.

  1. Stalemate: being stuck and resisting change
  2. Insights: uncovering new thinking
  3. Actions: generating steps that will create change
  4. Habit: embedding new attitudes and behaviors over time

Neuroscience Theory: Successful change requires that we develop new mental maps for how to move forward with fresh perspectives. We have to think in new ways and develop questioning strategies that help us facilitate insights when facing challenges or problems rather than telling people the answers.

3. Regulate Our Emotions And The Emotions Of Others

Staying cool under pressure and avoiding emotional hijacks are important factors during stressful and complex organizational change environments. Instead, we need our brains’ resource for problem solving, creativity and innovations during change.

Neuroscience Theory: People naturally feel threatened and resist change when organizations most need their creativity and decision-making ability during organizational change. Understanding how our brains respond emotionally (anxiety, fear, anger and uncertainty) during change is critical to managing them. Developing and practicing skills to regulate our emotions during and after emotional hijacks helps identify emotional sensations. This allows for the brain’s natural resources (glucose and oxygen) to be directed toward thinking instead of emotional responses. Actually identifying and labeling the emotional response engages the brain’s natural brake system so critical resources can be used for thinking. It is one of the three techniques used to stay cool under pressure.

4. Go Deeper With Even Harder Conversations

Train staff leaders and managers on how to apply steps one through three to one-on-one and team conversations occurring face to face and remotely is the next step. Give these leaders a toolkit and framework to manage conversations and move their team members through the four stages identified in step two.

Neuroscience Theory: The toolkit and framework help structure the team member’s natural brain thought processes when dealing with threats and uncertainty. Leaders become facilitators, not drivers, so that team status is built and autonomy protected. Teams set expectations, create agendas and actively contribute ideas which helps create certainty. Identifying “stretch goals” creates just enough “healthy treat” to inspire the team to work together.

5. Embed New Wiring

Focus people on three ways to support others with developing new habits and behaviors during the change process:

  1. Generate greater accountability and ownership through change conversations and self-directed feed-forward by creating “if-then” goal statements
  2. Set implementation intentions for new habits and actions
  3. Use follow-up and feedback to deepen new learnings and behaviors

Neuroscience Theory: Self directed feed-forward strategies invite people to provide personal feedback on how to solve a problem or address a performance issue. People react negatively when others tell them what is wrong and how to fix it. Focusing on the problem during conversations also creates emotional hijacks. People react less defensively when given the opportunity to find their own solutions. Due to increased ownership of their insights, they are more likely to move forward. By forming an “if-then goal statement,” a mental image of the specific situation is more accessible and therefore more likely to occur. Also providing authentic positive feedback to others reinforces new wiring and releases positive neurochemicals thus driving a growth mindset.

Why do you think conversations and discussions on a peer to peer level are so critical to change initiatives? How do we help organizational leaders transition from driving or directing change to facilitating individual ownership of change?

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