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Implementing Organizational Change With The Brain In Mind

Implementing Organizational Change

Implementing Organizational Change With The Brain In Mind

Implementing Organizational Change

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein

Think about where your business was five years ago, what has changed? In retrospect, what was the impact of the changes on your organization?  The pace and structure of our lives and the business world today is fast and continually moving. The more changes we institute the easier it is to either forget, ignore or get lazy about managing change down to the individual level where it happens.

We recently had Kristin Evenson from Junctures speak to us at EAG about the brain and change. The main message of her talk was how the brain organizes everything by threat or reward, even change! Things that are perceived as threat literally reduce our brain’s processing capacity and ability to respond. She explains how as leaders we have the opportunity to change and manage these perceptions to the greater good of the individuals and the organization as a whole. 

How the Brain Reacts to Change

First, it’s about being aware of the social threats—SCARF threats, as defined by David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute—that govern the brain.

The five SCARF threats are:

  • Status – feeling less than or better than others
  • Certainty – ability to predict outcomes
  • Autonomy – sense of control
  • Relatedness – in-group or out-of-group
  • Fairness – perception of fair exchange

Organizational change initiatives—whether large or small—can trigger any and all of these threats!  So how can we as leaders help mitigate and better manage these while keeping our employee’s minds open, positive and creative?

How to Implement Organizational Change

The most productive way to implement change is by thinking of each SCARF threat and be realistic with what will happen with change.

    • Status – “How will this impact my job, title, team, influence?”
      • Ask people’s opinion and seek their advice
      • Listen and demonstrate empathy
      • Include and show appreciation
      • Be transparent with what you do know
    • Certainty – “How will this all shake out?”
      • Refocus on what is certain
      • Be open about what you ARE certain about
      • Set goals & expectations and stay the course
      • Communicate often and with transparency
    • Autonomy – “Do I lose control over my work?”
      • Delegate clearly and co-decide on tasks
      • Coach and encourage self-directed learning
      • Allow the team to make their own decisions
      • Pay attention to when directive is needed
    • Relatedness – “Does my role change or might I lose my job and therefore all my colleagues at work?”
      • Find things everyone has in common
      • Get to know what motivates people
      • Encourage everyone’s input & team cohesion
      • Listen, coach and mentor
    • Fairness – “Will everyone be treated equally?”
      • Ensure everyone has access to information
      • Acknowledge emotions and show empathy
      • Understand that fair does not mean equal
      • Don’t shy away from behavioral issues

Our goal as leaders is to not only introduce and lead change but to also increase our people’s capacity to navigate and execute it.  Being proactive to address SCARF threats is a critical investment in ensuring needed change actually happens, and that your people are able to respond at their fullest capacity—able to think creatively and courageously about what’s next.