Some basic approaches to using principles of neuroscience at work
Eric Kandel is neuropsychiatrist from Germany. In 2000, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. His principles are widely used in the application of neuroscience. Here is my summary of his 5 principles.
- Principle 1 – The brain function determines all conscious and unconscious cognitive actions which we associate with human behavior.
- Principle 2 – Genes are determinants of the interconnections between neurons in the brain, and exert some control over behavior.
- Principle 3 – Learning can produce alterations in gene expression.
- Principle 4 – Alterations in gene expression change the pattern of Neuronal connections, and so can change behavior.
- Principle 5 – Counselling or learning can strengthen the changes in the pattern of connections and structure of the brain.
Neuroscience is the big buzzword flying around in business right now. It is a perplexing subject unless you’re fully conversant with the terminology. What is being shown is that getting your employees to use their brains in ways which help them engage, be motivated, thrive and create is the way forward. This means considering new ways to tackle traditional systems or cultures in the workplace. I don’t pretend to understand all of the science but I do understand how some of the applications should be used. What follows is my take on the changes which will bring out the best in people, by using breakthrough findings in neuroscience.
Changing the language we use to tell our organisational story and the narrative is key to influencing how our employees and customers think and feel about our business. In my interview with Sir Richard Branson his advice when asked about what his single piece of advice for CEO’s and business leaders, was “to create something that everybody who works for you is really proud of”. If you wove that principle as a starter for 10 into every communication, then the language and story about your business will tell a story of success and meaning. If the language you use in your business isn’t changing the way your people think and feel about the business in a positive way, it needs to be changed.
Fi Hills of Cafe Style Speed Training has absolutely nailed the importance of using fun, games and activities to accelerate team and individual learning. Short and specific games contribute to experiential learning, and this means the learning changes our perception, raises awareness and increases emotional intelligence. Action learning and experiential learning are essential to building new pathways of thought and emotion. Experiential learning will change behaviour in a way which no informational or knowledge based learning will.
- Using Logical levels to instigate change
Robert Dilts an NLP practitioner, developed a hierarchy of cognitive levels of processes within an individual or group. I’ve used the levels extensively in my coaching practice. Briefly, the levels are:
- Spirituality – Ultimate purpose or meaning in life
- Identity – Who I am
- Belief System – Values and beliefs about the world
- Capabilities – Skills and abilities
- Behaviours – What I do, how I act and react
- Environment – The world about us, culture, physical environment
So many times, businesses attempt to instigate change at levels 4, 5 and 6 without even beginning to consider levels 1, 2 and 3 and then they wonder why change is slow. When you start off defining purpose, identify and beliefs about individuals and the organisation, the change can be swift and significant. Working with one client who was despairing about the ability of her team, just 12 months after working on those top levels, she told me “I now have a super team, a team I never dreamed I would ever be able to create”.
- Developing emotional intelligence
Help people to acknowledge and express their feelings appropriately at work. An open-minded leader or manager will demonstrate acceptance and understanding. Too often, how people feel is swept under the carpet in the workplace. Emotional intelligence can be developed at work in a number of ways, for example, when change is happening, give people a forum to be able to express how they feel. Help people to voice their discontent in empowering ways, and raise awareness about conflict resolution and techniques to counter stress and stressful situations.
- Developing positive thinking
This is not about being PollyAnna like, it is about genuinely creating a positive environment, where hope, success, creativity and solution orientation are at the fore of individual and organisation thinking. A positive thinking culture can be brought about by developing strategies including “no-blame” culture, celebrating success and overcoming negative influences. This doesn’t mean glossing over problems and issues, and it doesn’t mean being “realistic” and focusing on the negative. It is about reframing “what is”, to “wanted” and “not wanted” and finding strategies to improve as an opportunity to learn.
- Motivating and engaging
Helping develop purpose and meaning for individuals and teams alike, using interventions above cannot help but motivate and engage others. Helping people to articulate their own personal story of purpose, meaning and what gives them a buzz is essential. While it’s imperative to articulate the purpose and meaning of your business, unless individuals can relate to it, then it won’t motivate and engage. People need to think and feel they are making a difference, they matter, and they belong to the team/organisation. Unless those neural pathways and connections are made, there is a danger of disengagement and therefore mediocre performance.