I have to say, there doesn’t seem to be a LinkedIn update, best selling list, or conference outline that isn’t referencing Neuroscience and management at the moment.  Tis tres sexy! Get on board…

Rewire your recalcitrant employees brains, make the most of that neuro plasticity and create neural pathways that support change!

Or something like that…

So a couple of weekends ago, I found myself in a full day workshop on neuroscience and change management.  It was run by CMI and Sue Langley of Emotional Intelligence Worldwide and was top notch in content and facilitation.  Sue gave us a primer on the triumvirate brain (amygdala, frontal cortex and the lizard brain) and then walked us through David Rock’s SCARF model of change. For me it was a terrific consolidation of 18 years of formal and informal learning of communication, psychology, sociology, management, organisational behaviour and NLP studies.  Langley integrates science with well-being and emotional intelligence concepts and it packages up really nicely.  It confirmed for me why a number of the things I do work so well, and reminded me of opportunities to do things a little differently.

In a related Organisational Change Practitioners discussion on the topic, John Barbuto of Limbic Zen asks “ Is business ready to work with neuroscience for leadership and execution?  One of the thoughts shared in this discussion by Bill Braun that really resonated with me is that neuroscience (eg the diagnostic side, the MRIs, and brain imaging studies) prove what we always thought we knew from theory.

John writes, “I believe one problem facing neuroscience at this time is that the average person is not clear if it is a repackaging of long-standing psychology (new paint, new sales pitch, same building), or if it is difficult-to-use laboratory science (fMRI, high definition EEG, etc.).”

There may be a ray of hope in that – “What you thought you knew you now know for sure.”

If that psychology stuff is good enough for carefully crafted marketing campaigns (and it always has been, whether C-Levels are aware of that or not), and we now know why it works, then NS informing the theory and practice of management and leadership may have merit

So for instance, if you unpack the SCARF model there is very little new in the constructs. Each of the five elements (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness) are critical to reducing the potential for the emotional brain to over engage (what Daniel Goleman refers to as the Amygdala Hijack). When the emotional brain overheats – performance suffers, as does well being.

So for instance…

Status – if you reduce threat to status, people will cope with change better.  Threat to status has long been known to be a critical reason for “resistance to change”. From a theoretical perspective it can be explained by Mead’s symbolic interactionalism, and Goffman’s Presentation of Self

Certainty – the brain likes certainty, and uncertainty during change is a source of great distress.  Change communicators know the importance of communicating what stays the same, at the same time as communicating what changes. From a theoretical perspective it can be explained by Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory, and  Berger’s Uncertainty Reduction Theory.

Autonomy – I have blogged earlier on the importance of perceived control in change.

Relatedness – people trust people they can relate to.  As I have said in a previous post

Establish commonalities –  People are more easily influenced by People Like Them. It’s a tribal association thing hard-wired in the brain. When you are listening and seeking to understand you can find areas of commonality. This establishes that you are Like Them and can have influence.

 Fairness – perceptions of fairness and justice in change processes also reduce the Amygdala Hijack. Procedural justice has received a lot of academic attention in the change management literature – here is a good abstract of a 2006 study published by Deloittes from the  International Journal of Stress Management.

So the concepts and their importance in change management are not new. What is new is the packaging of the proof.  If you were to do nothing as else as a change manager or a change leader than design your interventions based on the SCARF model you would be in a pretty good position.

It may well be that simplicity and elegance of the SCARF model and “proof” of what we thought is true is true, is simply an entry for management to think about the more revolutionary aspects of neuroscience.

Later in the Organisational Change Practitioners discussion, Barbuto challenges us to think

In my view much psychological thinking proceeds on beliefs that are based on an old way of looking at the foundations of behaviour. To be sure, human brains are learning organs, and we can change our ways with proper stimulus. However, optimizing the processes of change now requires going deeper than many people go when employing psychological paradigms.

I like the challenge. It excites me to think that there is a deeper level we can go. Of course what is not discussed as yet (and almost too big a topic for an aside here) is the ethical dimensions of the neuroscience. In the same way that NLP can get a bad rap for manipulating people, a little bit of knowledge of neuroscience without consideration of the broader organisational context could be damaging.

It’s a fine neural pathway between using your super powers and knowledge for “good” and for “evil”?


Further reading and resources?

Highly recommend John’s blog on the topic – Limbic Zen. With a background in clinical neurology and change management, you can’t go past it. John’s writing is detailed, technical and still accessible.

Do check out Sue Langley’s work at Emotional Intelligence Worldwide – again, Sue’s academic background really shines through and adds considerable credibility to an area that is fraught with consultants jumping on a band wagon. She is also an excellent facilitator.

David Rock’s 2008 article – SCARF: a brain-based model or collaborating with and influencing others, in the NeuroLeadership Journal

A great primer on communication theories: A First Look at Communication Theories  by E.M .Griffin. I think I got this in first year of my organisational communication degree and have re-read it every year since.

But what of you? What are you thinking about the intersection of change management and neuroscience? Resources you would recommend? Something you are actively integrating in your practice? Or same old, same old? Would love to hear!



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