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5 ways neuroscience can help make change stick

Sue Webster | July 21, 2017
Five simple tips your change manager should be using to build brain-friendly change in your business.

Credit: PhotoPin 

Last month Commonwealth Bank’s CIO David Whiteing delivered a warning to his peers: “If your business transformation plans don’t scare you, they’re not bold enough and you’ll be left behind,” he said.

But what he didn’t mention is that bold plans and brain power are intrinsically connected – or at least they should be. The latest neuroscience can give us insights into emotion, attention, habit, creativity, intuition and resilience.

Here are five simple tips your change manager should be using to build brain-friendly change in your business.


 1. Harness the power of rewards

Threats and rewards are triggered in the prefrontal cortex. When we experience change, the brain goes into threat mode, so change managers should consider the threats that could be triggered by each project.

Start by getting clear on what people find threatening and override these mental events with something positive. Focus on things that matter to the group, and build rewards (perhaps something like training courses or team lunches) that keep staff feeling connected and satisfied while change is happening around them.

To shape this element of your change strategy, ask these fundamental questions at the outset:

What do people feel that they are losing?

  • What will they gain?
  • How clear is to them about what will change and when?
  • Prepare leaders to be honest, empathetic and transparent. They must acknowledge the change and treat people with respect.
  • Support frontline managers in communicating to their teams every step of the way. They are the most trusted source of information for teams. That means creating opportunities for team members to ask questions, express concerns and get answers. It’s also critical to outline what needs to be done – and when.
  • Appoint one or two trusted team members to be the “go to” people: they are local change agents who liaise between the team and management, and support and advocate for their teams throughout the change.


2. Build a ‘growth mindset’

Change and growth are intrinsically linked. But, the problem with change is that people typically resist it: most of us prefer the status quo, however imperfect, over the unknown.

If it’s done well, encouraging a ‘growth’ mindset to change can be fun and fruitful. Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychology professor developed the theory, which posits that change is easier when it’s seen as an opportunity.

She said: “Mindset is the single attitude that separates those who succeed from those who don’t.”

Still, how do we encourage staff to get to a growth mindset? By helping them to embrace the change, commit to the process and personalise the change: if something feels personal, it’s way more likely to stick.


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