Saturday, May 18, 2013

Personal and Professional Change

Doesn't it feel like the rate of change in the world is speeding up? All the most important things in life are affected by change - our health, our environment, our personal lives and relationships and our professional lives.

Yet change is one of the things we humans most fear; most of us innately aim for security, comfort and stability and change can become a serious stress-inducer for many. Wouldn't it be great if we had a resource that helped people cope with change better, seeing as the need to change seems to be coming at us thicker and faster than ever before? Something that helps people make the personal and professional changes that they need to make, but find so hard?

Neuroscience may be unlocking those resources and they are closer to home than we might imagine.

Personal and Professional Change

In the case of making big personal changes, nearly all attempts fail - something like 90%. How did you fare with this year's New Year resolutions? How about last year's?

At work how do you feel when your company announces that there will be big changes in the near future but you are not clear on the details? You probably feel under threat and that may start to stress you out.

This is why changing whole organizations is a huge challenge and why it takes specialist knowledge and experience.

But how can neuroscience help?

Neuroscience and Empathy

A few years ago, behavioral neuroscientists in Italy discovered a new class of brain cells called "mirror neurons" that appear to form the basis of empathy in humans. They seem to have the ability to mirror one person's actions in another person's brain.

While it's important not to read too much into individual studies by neuroscientists, it throws up some very interesting possibilities for explaining why mentoring can be such a powerful way for leaders to help people change their behavioral in teams and organizations.

The finding also has repercussions for the importance of strong human connections, collaboration and teamwork - especially in this day and age, where increased automation can lead to isolation and remoteness for team members in organizations.

Implications for Team Performance and Leadership

Successful team performance involves finding common ground and using it to drive the individuals and the team forward as one; a good leader focuses on directing this process and using the common ground as the binding force to keep everyone moving along the same track and helping them feel a sense of belonging.

This may mean going against the grain of using every single advance of technology to make our jobs easier and more productive, and instead focusing on the value of team members working creatively and collaboratively. There is no getting away from the social requirement of people to interact - as employees don't cease to be human beings when they walk through the office door on a Monday morning.
Understanding more about this aspect of neuroscience is important in many areas of business - not just in organizational change. It has repercussions for hiring policies and leadership appointments, where greater value might be given to a leader's emotional intelligence over his or her experience or academic achievements, for instance. It can also positively affect the bottom line, with lower staff turnover and a happier workplace meaning happier customers who will keep coming back for more.

In these days of growing disconnectedness amongst people, despite the growing technological connectedness around us, it is encouraging to find neuroscience helping us understand more about how we can improve personal, business and organizational relationships.

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