Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Is it performance review time? Your brain thinks its a mammoth and it probably is

Are performance ratings be a thing of the past - just like a mammoth?

One of the most significant things we know about our brain is that it's going to react the same way to a threat (at least initially) whether it is a physical one or a psychological one. Our brains simply don't register the difference until the cortex is actively engaged and even then, managing fear can still be difficult.

It's why we can get anxious, upset, or flippant or aggressive at performance review time. It's the fight or flight system, your amygdala reacting to 'protect' you - what I call 'The Almond Effect.

This video suggests that performance ratings run contrary to the neuroscience.

It suggests a strategic conversational approach instead.

At the last Neuroleadership Conference (San Francisco 2014), it seemed that some companies were leading the move away from ratings to this approach.

Makes sense to me. What do you think?

Watch the video here:

How your brain responds to performance ratings

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

'I just need to concentrate'

Change leaders have so much going on that it's easy to become overwhelmed by the multiple demands of their team, their colleagues, their bosses, the project managers, their regular workload - let alone home life demands.

More and more, mindfulness is practised as a way of dealing with the 'noise' and to enable focus to make headway through the workload.

This article from the HBR blog explains what happens in our brains when we practice Mindfulness.

It's a short, simple explanation that makes sense.

Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain

Thursday, January 15, 2015

4 Tips for Leaders to Minimise Fear, Maximize Trust

Times of uncertainty and volatility induce fear, and fear impedes people from feeling good and doing their best work. 

Here are 4 tips that Glaser suggests you adopt as a leader to eliminate fear and enable your employees to develop their identity as ‘leaders in their own right’:

Be present
Provide context in every communication
Tell people where they stand
Use honesty at all times

Read the complete article on Psychology Today by Judith Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, who has been studying the relationship between trust, communication and high performance for decades.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

You can't share this with anybody

You can't share this with anybody

Has your boss ever said something like the words in the title to you? Have you ever said it to a member of your team?
The secret might be about a restructure, change in product line, new technology, the company's financial results, a mistake, a failure, a possible merger, something about themselves, another employee or even about your role yet you are sworn to silence.

And what about at home? Have you ever withheld something from your partner or kids? An action that's left you feeling uncomfortable at best and dishonest at worst?

Apart from the discomfort you almost certainly experience, I am sure you've witnessed the effect of secrecy on people around you especially if they suspect something and already feel they are operating in an information vacuum.
People generally hate being kept in the dark. You are right if you suspect that our amygdalae are implicated in reactions to silence in ‘suspicious' circumstances.

We are so predictable!

Let's explore this. Most of what we do everyday we don't need to think about - we run on ‘automatic.' We consciously don't need to think about what to do next - we just ‘know'. Our brain guides us to take action based on pre-existing patterns of behaviour (habits) and predictability of outcomes.

So from the moment you get out of bed to the time you go back to bed, you probably follow a similar routine every day.
We don't like to think we are predictable but we are. We have to be otherwise our working memory would be exhausted and we would be whacked from the sheer effort of using our brains so much.

Routines are the basis of how we live

For me, my early morning outline is to get out of bed, go to the bathroom, then to the kitchen, turn on the electric jug, get my vitamins out, turn on my computer, open the sliding doors to the deck, open the front door and go down the steps to collect the newspaper, get my breakfast and so on. I don't actively think about it - it just happens like that most mornings.

My sub-conscious brain is guiding my actions and making decisions (like, is there enough water in the jug, stop pouring milk into the bowl) based on neural patterns laid down in its hardwiring that predicts outcomes.

Of course, if the paper hasn't been delivered or I've run out of vitamins then the routine is interrupted. I have to stop and think about what to do - well actually first, my amygdala automatically does some checking and assesses the risk to my survival with this break in pattern.

Usually it's no big deal because my amygdala knows based on history, that the lack of vitamins or a newspaper is not life threatening!

Pattern interrupter

However if my computer tells me when I turn it on that its hard drive has failed then that's another reaction entirely - my ‘almonds' (the english translation of amygdalae) kick in!

I immediately have to manage my survival response (manifesting as words that it's preferable not to use!) and stop panicking long enough to get my thinking brain (pre-frontal cortex PFC) to work out where I put the number and service code for Apple, what I backed up, what I lost and what my priorities are.

My predictable morning didn't go as planned so The Almond Effect® kicked in - and I haven't even been up longer than 10 minutes!

Is it the same at work?

What do you do when you get to work, do you follow the same routine? For example, it could be that you turn on the computer, get coffee, say hi to people at the workstation across from you, open your email, look at your calendar etc.
No drama, all normal just as your brain predicted, unless an unexpected message starts flashing on your screen to call your manager urgently. Your brain's hard-wired pattern-based operation is stopped in its tracks as it rapidly tries to assess the ‘threat' and predict what the urgency is all about.

Your amygdala is immediately on red alert asking whether the interruption is a threat to your survival. If your personal history indicates that an a message to call the boss immediately is likely to cause a problem, then The Almond Effect® kicks in.

That's when you'll be glad you've been to one of my workshops, because you'll immediately put STAR into operation and get your PFC engaged to think before you act!

Not knowing is worst for the brain than knowing

Uncertainty really throws our brains into a spin because in the absence of any pattern to the contrary, our brain defaults to predict the worst outcome The Almond Effect®) - even in non-life threatening situations at home or at work.
This is why you should never be surprised that withholding information, keeping secrets etc will lead to gossip (flocking) pessimism and worst case scenario interpretations.

Lack of certainty creates anxiety, frustration, gossip and innuendo - all expressions of The Almond Effect®.
And anxious people don't concentrate or perform well - their brains are distracted - focussing on the cause of the anxiety. They are searching for any kind of predictable outcome so that the brain can operate with certainty again.

The situation is exacerbated if we are already operating in an information vacuum because our brains will predict the worst case scenario so we can prepare ourselves to survive.

Applied at home, it means for example that if your teenager isn't at the place they said they were going to, your 'almonds' go off. If you unexpectedly find a hotel receipt in your spouse's pocket, if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere etc - you get the picture!


Whether you are implementing changes at work or trying to hide something from someone at home, be aware that if the other party's amygdala can't see a ‘safe' pattern, it will get suspicious. And the natural default reaction will be to focus on the worst case interpretation of the events with all the ramifications that will flow.

That's why most people say, just tell us what's going on - and then we can work out how to deal with it.
If you think you are doing people a favour by only giving information on a ‘need to know' basis, think again - brain biology wants just the opposite.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Do you sabotage your own change management?

Resistance from the start

David was really frustrated. He was the leader of a team that sold luxury cars. As part of the company's renewed focus on improving customer service, his boss asked him to make sure that his team followed up with 1 in 4 of their customers two weeks after a sale to ensure they were happy with their new car.

As part of this process the sales rep had to complete and send the customer's responses to the customer service department.

Some members of David's team were reluctant. They resisted the change in process.
They said things like:
  • we never had to do this before - they just want us to do more but without any extra resources
  • we haven't got time
  • why should we do it when we just cop flack because of problems that are not in our area
  • it's just a fad - we've tried it before and nothing happens even if we send them the feedback
And before long, the more often the ‘resistors' said such things, more team members started to put the follows ups on their backburner!

Had David implemented the change badly??

David thought he had worked with his team to minimize resistance to change. He said he had implemented the things I have talked about previously i.e. the RIV model:
  1. Reasons: he believed his team knew and understood the reasons for the new process. It was part of the company's drive to get employees to take responsibility for their role in the bigger business picture and improve the company's brand and reputation. That would translate into new, and importantly, repeat sales and loyalty. He had told them this in the weekly team meeting.
  1. Implications: David said that he told them about the change in work process at the team meeting, then asked them to identify and think about the implications and consequences of the new process.
He asked them to raise any questions, their ‘what if's' and any fears. As very few questions or concerns had been raised, David believed that the team was comfortable with the new way of doing things.
  1. Values: again David believed that the team would be comfortable that the new process fitted with their values.
He was confident that his team would be happy with any process that ensured the customer was satisfied with the way they and the company delivered on its promises.

So why was the team so reluctant to implement the new process?

When we asked the team members, they gave us a number of responses. For example, the work used to be done by another department that had just been closed down for ‘efficiency' reasons. The team felt they were just pawns in a cost cutting game.

They also said that their performance agreements were based on the number of sales they made so there was nothing in it for them to take the time to follow up with all the extra work involved, especially if the customer wasn't happy.

But some of the most interesting comments were about David. For example, "whenever we raise issues about work, David always promises to look into it and get back to us but he never does."

And this: "David told us about this new process one day before it came into operation. We just didn't have time to figure out how it would work and how we would fit it in."

One of the most revealing comments was this: "Well David himself doesn't agree with it. He told us that he thought it was a waste of time but that management said we had to do it."

David is a role model - for what?

What was David doing as the role model here? What behaviours and attitudes was he modelling? Has he sabotaged his own attempts to get his team following the new process?

Think about children. How do they learn what to do, what's acceptable and what's not? What will bring rewards, what won't?

Mostly it's about observation and copying. I remember a party and hearing the three year daughter of some friends saying to the child she was playing with: "I simply can't take this anymore" and slamming down her drink. Where on earth did that come from? All I know is that the mother turned bright red and the father looked equally as embarrassed.

Walk your talk

In the same way I remember the look on my mother's face and the tone of her voice when she said: "Do as I say, not as I do" in response to my cheeky responses like:" Why should I do that? You don't....." She knew I'd caught her out.

Whether we are at work or at home, our brains are always looking for shortcuts, for clues what to do and how to behave to ensure ‘survival'.

We subconsciously take our lead from those around us especially those who are higher up the pecking order. David has said he doesn't agree with the new process. He's the boss. So without thinking it's easy to just imitate. After all, he's the leader.

We call this vicarious learning where simply by observing what goes on around us our brain learns what will we enhance our quality of life, bring rewards, ensure in basic terms our ‘survival' and what won't.
If we see someone pick up a poisonous snake and be fatally bitten, we learn not to do that without having to do it ourselves.

If you see someone burned their hand on a barbeque plate, you know not to do it.
If you see someone at work being successful even though they are not adhering to the stated values like co-operation or teamwork or supporting the new work processes, then why wouldn't you do the same?

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

Mirror neurons may play a big role in this. We know that emotions are contagious. A sad or miserable person in an office can bring the whole mood of the office down. Just like a happy movie or upbeat music can change our mood and lift us if we are feeling blue. Why does this happen?

Way back in 1992, some neuroscientists working with monkeys discovered, by accident it seems, that when the monkeys observed a researcher eating an ice-cream, neurons lit up in the monkeys brain that mimicked the mechanical action of eating an ice-cream. The neurons fired as a mirror of what was being observed.

This research has been replicated in humans many times since. I know that you can think of examples. E.g. if you are watching a movie, the TV or in real life, do you wince when you see something painful happen to another person? I do it all the time when I'm watching rugby and see a heavy tackle. So does the crowd - even been there and part of a big ‘oooooowwwwwwhhhh'?

And I cringe if I hear someone say something sarcastic to a colleague. Because of our mirror neurons, our brain ‘feels' what the other person is feeling. It's not surprising that mirror neurons are sometimes called empathy neurons.

As a manager, you are always on show

The critical message for us as managers is that when we have to bring about changes in the behaviour of others at work (or at home for that matter) we need to be actively conscious that subconsciously our team's mirror neurons are watching us for information about how to behave.

We should also remember that if we are inconsistent in what we say and what we do, our employees' amygdalae will register the discrepancy and start working out what's the best course of action to take to ensure ‘survival' in the work environment.

Unless our staff is actively engaging their pre-frontal cortex, the logical and rational response, then without thinking they are likely to take the apparently proven route - i.e. to behave like the boss. And given how busy people are and how much pressure we are all under, we should not be surprised when people act just like us.

David was his own saboteur

As soon as David realized all this brain activity was going on, he realized that he was sending all the wrong subliminal messages about behaviour to his team.

If he didn't follow up on issues his own team raised with him, then what messages was he sending them about following up with customers especially as they perceived it to be an onerous task with no reward.

If David said he thought it was a waste of time anyway, what was it that his team's empathy neurons were figuring out? Probably that you don't have to agree with what management wants and you can still get to manager level. So why bother. The fad will pass anyway.

What do you do to reinforce the kind of behaviours you want in your team? Are you consistent with the messages that you deliver? Do you believe in what you want your people to do? Do you model the customer service behaviours you ask of them in the way you treat your staff?

They're not called mirror neurons for nothing. Go find a mirror and see if what you see is what they get.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dealing with Resistance to Change

Do your employees like change?

When I ask this question of participants in my change leadership workshops, the answer is almost overwhelmingly no.

But when I ask part two of the question: do YOU like change – the answer is usually overwhelmingly yes!

Isn’t that curious? What happens when you become the boss? Do you go through some magic door and change your mindset about change?

I think the answer is often yes.  And if we think about why this happens, it may give us some clues to getting our people on board not just in the short term but for the long haul so change is part of ‘business as usual’.

And change is ‘business as usual’, so why does it still consume vast amounts of our time? Why do managers still find themselves dealing with pockets of resistance and negative attitudes?

Let’s look at a couple of things about your role as a leader of change:

- your own mindset

- you as a role model

Your Mindset

What is the difference in your mindset when you are a driver of change and when you are a recipient of change?

For example: think about a time when you decided to move home. You might have been offered a promotion or opportunity that involves relocation.

On the other hand, you might have lost your job and need to find work elsewhere. You might want to move closer to (or further from!) other family members. You might just want a change of scenery or lifestyle – it could be for a myriad of reasons.

By the time you have reached your decision, you have thought about all the reasons why it’s a good thing to move as well as all the reasons why not. You have mulled over the consequences of doing it and the consequences of not. You have thought about the financial, physical and emotional costs.

You have worked out how all these changes may affect you. You have been excited by the best possible outcomes of the move and faced up to or at least given some thought to the worst possible outcomes. You’re ready. You know what you’re going to do and how to deal with whatever will, crop up.

Many of these thoughts will be conscious and deliberate (logical and reasoned) but some will also be just feelings and intuition (an emotional or intuitive response).

After what’s gone on in your mind, you’re now in the driver’s seat. You’re in control. It’s your decision.

Of course, there is that small issue of your partner’s objections – they love your existing home. It’s peaceful, all established. Everything in its place. The neighbours are great – they will even look after the mail and the cat and keep an eye out for intruders if you go away. A routine exists – and given how much is going on in your lives, at least your partner felt secure knowing something was stable, home.

Then there are the kids. Why should they have to change schools? They “couldn’t live without their friends”, “you are so cruel” – you know what I mean.

Spot the difference?

It’s obvious isn’t it? As the initiator of the decision to move you’ve completed a three-step process – the RIV approach.

1. Reasons: We know and understand the reason for the change

2. Implications: We’ve have thought about the implications and consequences – personal, social, financial, environmental etc. We’ve faced and answered the ‘what if’s’ and our fears. We’ve looks at the positives as well as the negatives. i.e. we’ve dealt with The Almond Effect®.

3. Values: We’re comfortable that the decision fits in with our values, the way we want to live our lives.

Contrast your partner and kids – they may be able to tick off step 1 but if they aren’t jumping up and down with excitement then they certainly aren’t yet fully across steps two and three.  In fact you might be facing overt and covert or passive resistance.

Unless you help them deal with steps 2 and 3, your move may be more trouble than its worth if you want to keep your relationships in tact.

Emotions not logic

The logical component of change is clearly in RIV step 1, knowing and understanding the reasons for the change. There’s a mixture of logic and emotion in step 2. It’s pretty well all emotion in step 3.

And we know which is the most powerful and the hardest. Dealing with emotional responses – a consequence of how our brains function.

How does this appy at work to facilitate change?

Interestingly, many organizations think they do step 1 (explaining the Reasons) very well. And many do. However, it is worth questioning this: if you are experiencing resistance, ask your people to share their understanding of:

  • Why the changes in systems, processes, procedures, behaviour etc are necessary? 
  • What’s driving the need for change?
  • What will be better because of the changes? 
  • What will be worse if things don't change?
  • How does this fit into the big picture, the overall plan or framework? 
  • Their "WIFM" (what's in it for me?) of the changes compared to the previous way of doing things? 

In fact, could you, as the manager/supervisor sum up the compelling need for change in plain language in 25 words or less?

I am surprised how often organizations think they have completed step 1 yet the feedback shows there are still gaps in understanding why, the reasons for change.

If it's not logical, it's emotional

If your resistors can tell you the reasons for the change, then obviously the logic is OK but there is still something holding them back. It can only be their emotional responses.

Some they might share with you. Others they might not either because they don’t want to (and that’s a big area for discussion in itself) or perhaps even more frustrating, they can’t even articulate them themselves.

Changing your own attitude to change

Usually, when you become the driver of change or at least the implementer as a supervisor, team leader or manager, you have had the benefit and experience of looking at change from a business level. You may have been involved in identifying the problems or challenges and coming up with the solutions.

As part of this process, you will have worked through the logic and had the opportunity to work through your emotional reactions as well.

e.g. what will this change mean for me and the company? How will it improve the way we do things around here and my workload? My bonus is riding on getting this done and that means a holiday for the family or maybe a new car. My boss will see that I have done a good job and so promotion or a raise may be an outcome.

So before you have to get others to change, you and most managers in change scenarios, have completed the 3 step RIV process – you understand the reasons, have looked at the implications and how it fits with your values. So you’re there, the change makes sense and you want to be part of it.

But your people (or your family!) may be lagging well behind you in the process. The RIV approach explains why you just want to get on with it - because you have already dealt with your logical and emotional reactions (consciously or unconsciously) – but if others haven't completed that process, don't be surprised that they don't share your enthusiasm yet

Different mindsets about change

So I think there often is a difference in mindset about change between managers and staff – usually because of the timing and opportunity to go through the 3 RIV step model.

The implication of this is that if your projects are off track, blowing out budgets, timeframes or requiring more resources – check how you are tracking on the RIV model with the people who are impacted, directly and indirectly, by the change. What assumptions have you made where your employees are in the RIV process? How can you find out and/or measure this? Where there are gaps, what are you doing to assist them through? It’s time consuming in the short-term but vastly more effective overall.

Would you like some more information and assistance with working this through with your people? 

Please don't hesitate to contact me Anne@AnneRiches.com if you would like some more in depth application, facilitation and tools for this process. It's amazing what a small intervention can do to get your business change on track.

Future Blog Post

One critical component to getting others to change is you – you as a role model.

In a future post we’ll look at your impact as a role model of change – do you unconsciously sabotage your own efforts?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It's coming - direct information download into your brain - hook me up now!

Want to learn to fly a helicopter in a few minutes? Learn a new language in seconds? Shakespeare's works before you go to the theatre?

According to Nicholas Negroponte - this is not just science fiction. It's almost here:

Watch now