(303) 204-0726 [email protected]

What Does Neuroscience Have to Do with Organizational Change?

I am always looking for effective ways to explain to people why the coaching process works so well, why changing behavior hurts and why managing change intentionally in an organization is so important.  In recent years, learning about the actual physical changes in our body has helped, but David Rock’s work in neuroscience and organizations’ really shined a light on the subject for me.

In a nutshell, what am I talking about?

When we are learning something new, whether it be driving in another country, a new software system or a new job, we are filling our conscious memory (also called working memory) with new information and that part of our brain tires easily. If we want to retain information, we must move it to our unconscious memory (this is where our routine and familiar habits reside).  When we try to force new routines other parts of our brain register it as an error or as fear and it hurts!

So, how do we ever change habits?  

There is indeed another part of our brain that likes change and helps us get information more easily to our unconscious memory. Basically, when we have a personal insight, self-problem solve or have that ‘a-ha’ moment, our brain fires neurotransmitters which feel similar to an adrenaline rush and it feels great! With repeated attention and focus, the pathways in our brain are literally shifting direction so that this new information becomes routine.

How do we make change feel better in our organization?

Thanks to recent integration between psychology and neuroscience, scientists have gained a better view of behavior change and human nature. As organizations are required to be more nimble and change faster, much can be learned and applied to move change initiatives forward more effectively. Think of a change in your organization and imagine the leaders painting a vision of the new process, structure, partnership, etc and then imagine opportunities being given for employees and/or customers to create personal insights about the upcoming change.  Imagine asking solution-based questions rather than telling people what to do (“What do you need to do to meet this deadline? ” versus “Based on your progress, I’m wondering if you are going to meet the deadline?”). Next, imagine giving or receiving a gentle reminder about that insight or solution-based question. Finally, imagine having progress that has been made the change reinforced with positive feedback. It works, because it is what our brain wants.

It is the self-insight and reinforcement that truly moves change forward. How many solution-based questions have you asked recently? How much positive reinforcement have you given in the last week?

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”

Winston Churchill