How brain psychology can help improve business performance

A fundamental change management premise is that people function better when they’re not operating from a place of fear

Change management has long been recognised as an integral part of business growth. After all, if teams aren’t on board for the journey, it becomes impossible for businesses to achieve value from the changes. This applies to incremental changes as much as it does to wholesale changes. 

Australian IT organisations are experiencing an accelerated rate of change. New and emerging technologies continue to alter the business landscape and businesses that haven’t embraced the concept of digital transformation are in the minority. 

The question for these businesses, therefore, is how to bring their team members along for the ride. I saw a presentation on neuroscience at a recent CompTIA ANZ Channel Community meeting and it got me thinking about the value of this approach when it comes to change. 

A fundamental change management premise to remember is that people function better when they’re not operating from a place of fear. Threat-based environments aren’t conducive to strong business performance. In a carrot-or-stick scenario, people’s brains simply respond better to the carrot. 

Technology can seem like a black and white area. However, human behaviour is far from black and white, although it can be explained through well-proven theories. Neuroplasticity, for example, involves understanding the brain’s ability to change itself. Business leaders can use these concepts to understand how the brain works and then use that understanding to help employees become more engaged and, ultimately, perform better. 

In her presentation, Vannessa McCamley, who is principal consultant, coach and facilitator at Link Success, talked about a research experiment where two separate test groups needed to find their way out of a maze. One group was shown a picture of an eagle and told they needed to get out of the maze or risk being attacked by the eagle.

The other group was shown a piece of cheese indicating that reaching the end of the maze would yield a reward. Unsurprisingly, the best-performing team by 50 per cent was the one that wasn’t under stress from a potential eagle attack, but working with the possibility of a cheesy reward. 

This type of understanding is important as business teams start to look for the kind of performance edge that was previously more suited to athletic endeavour. Just as a swimmer looks to beat their competitor by hundredths of a second, so a business team can outperform their rivals by the smallest of margins. Anything that helps boost performance and achieve incremental improvements is of high value in business these days. 

According to McCamley, one example of this is re-thinking where people’s best work happens. When asked where they come up with the best ideas, people tend to say it happens in the shower, while they’re walking or running, or when they’re in bed about to fall asleep. None of these examples are work-related. So it could be valuable to see how businesses could replicate that mindset at work; it’s possible that people will be more productive and creative outside the office. 

Read more: 2017 channel predictions: What came true and what’s in store for 2018

This could lead to a rise in activity-based working where work is no longer a destination but simply an activity that can happen anywhere. And, while this could lead to dramatic productivity increases, it’s also important to remember that different people respond differently to situations and some may prefer a desk-based environment. Having the flexibility to provide what the team needs is the key to managing performance more effectively. 

The more we understand about how the human brain works, the more productive businesses can be.  Karen Drewitt is chair of the CompTIA Executive Council and general manager at The Missing Link.

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