Guest Blogger: Paul McGinniss, PCC (ICF) MSHR
Director, Training & Delivery – North America
We all know change is hard but it is not often we think about why it is so hard. Recent findings from the field of neuroscience are helping to explain this phenomenon and offering ways to manage change more effectively. A quick search of the “organizational change” literature indicates 70-75% of all change efforts fail or deliver mediocre results. The goal of this article is to present several ideas for you to think about to improve your results: knowing how the brain itself changes, working in alignment with the brain’s own structure, and understanding the brain’s own goals and needs.
In order to understand why change is hard, it helps to understand how the brain itself changes. Your brain is predisposed to hardwire as much as it can in order to preserve precious and limited energy and processing power and to stay on alert for (physical and social) threats to your survival. The brain creates this hardwiring by moving new connections or maps out of working memory and into the deeper processing regions of the brain so they become part of the automatic fabric of your beliefs and behaviors. The primary drivers to change the wiring in your brain are: time – frequent quick visits to the new wiring; attention – focusing on embedding the new wiring during those quick visits; repetition – doing so often using numerous modalities or approaches while paying close attention to the new wiring; and positive feedback – looking to acknowledge and reward yourself for doing the work to create a reward connection and enlist the help of powerful and desired biochemical agents.
A second component to facilitating change is to understand the brain’s own structure and then to work with it. The brain’s primary organizing principle is to use its predictive ability to avoid threats and keep us safe. The brain likes to be able to predict things in order to maintain a sense of certainty and safety. Change, from the brain’s perspective, is filled with uncertainty and, therefore, a significant threat. The change (a.k.a. threat) will trigger the brain’s limbic system and a “fight or flight” response to the change will be initiated. Believing and communicating, “Change is good,” simply flies in the face of how change is perceived and processed by the brain.
A third component to facilitating change is to understand the brain’s own goals and needs. When you know what the brain wants (and doesn’t want) and when you work with that, your change efforts will be tend to be more successful. Failing to take into account what the brain desires and working against its needs will create frustration, resistance, and failure (or at best compliance). What does the brain want? Neuroscience is indicating we are very social beings with significant primary social needs or drivers (which can also be thought of as social triggers or threats) including the need for Status, Certainty (as previously mentioned), Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. Change can be a significant threat to all of these needs.